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Do College Credits Expire?: Understanding the Shelf Life of Your College Credits

Whether you’re working your way through community college now with plans to transfer or you’re ready to get back in the classroom after a break due to life circumstances, understanding how your hard-earned credits will measure up is probably high on your list of questions. You worked hard for those credits, but how long do you have to use them? Do your college credits expire?

“Will my college credits expire?”

It’s a big question that impacts everything from your financial decisions to your career path. And, thankfully, the short answer is NO. Your college credits won’t expire. 

But, that’s not the whole answer. College credits do have a “shelf life,” depending on the relevance of the course, the reputation of the educational institution you attended, and your degree intentions. Let’s unpack some of the scenarios where your previously earned credits may not count the way you expect:

Some Course Change Faster Than Others

Many of your core, general education classes will remain evergreen. Absolutely there are innovations in pedagogy for core curriculum classes. But these courses will typically be the easiest to count on for transfer credit assuming they’re relevant to your new degree program. 

On the other hand, your STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) classes are going to fade faster. The advances in these fields move faster, so the likelihood of them counting as relevant and comparable to today’s version of the same class diminishes more quickly. If it’s been more than a decade since you worked on your degree, some of these credits may not count. If you are thinking about returning to college or transferring, make sure to consult the institution’s policy on transfer and acceptance of academic credit.

Reputation and Accreditations Matter

In Alabama, robust articulation networks like STARS Guide and 2to4 Transfer Guide help ensure that whether your credits come from a state community college or a private university there’s a clear pathway for credit transfer. If you’re transferring from a non-accredited institution or an out-of-state institution whose reputation is hard to validate, your situation will be more complicated to navigate. 

While the classroom experience and course content expectations may differ from one institution to another, transcripts do not. Every accredited institution maintains permanent records for every student as part of the value of these public credentials. We offer a Transfer Course Equivalency Guide to give students a sense of how they are previously completed coursework may transfer to a specific degree program.

Exceptions Always Exist

You may have heard the myth that “college credits expire after 5 years.” While this isn’t a national law or even a provable standard, it is often thrown around as a rule of thumb because some schools do impose their own expiration date on credits. It’s more common to see this kind of broad enforcement on graduate coursework because those courses have a more highly focused curriculum with methodologies and data specific to a professional field. 

Whatever you do, never give up on your dream to earn a degree and pursue your best future. It’s rarely as simple as checking the best-before date on your transcript. So, whether it’s been decades since you last stepped inside a classroom or you’re planning for tomorrow today, there are many resources available to help you understand what that journey will look like for you.

Get Started at Athens State University

At Athens State, our Adult Degree Program provides flexible and affordable online degree completion programs for working adults. This is your chance to earn college credit for your career experience and finish what you’ve started. 

Fill out our Adult Degree Program form and one of our Admissions Representatives will help you get started.