Sometimes, transferring is a prudent decision, but students often don’t realize until they arrive at their new college that a lot of their credits don’t transfer. How can you avoid this dilemma happening to you or someone you care about?

Transferring is extremely common, and often it makes sense. I recommended transferring to four or five students I worked with this year after listening to them and really learning what they were looking for in their college experience. In fact, one out of every three students ends up transferring. A government study that was completed a few years ago revealed some stunning statistics: four out of 10 students get no credit for any of the courses they have taken when they transfer. On average, these students lose almost a full year of school. The average student who transfers loses 27 credits.

Most colleges use semester systems for credits, and the most common requirement is 120 credits to graduate, but according to the non-profit advocacy group Complete College America, the average student who gets a bachelor’s degree finishes with 135 credit hours.

In my earlier college coaching days, if a student told me that they wanted to transfer, I used to tell them: make sure that the courses you take will be counted as credits by the institution you are about to matriculate to. I was particularly adamant about this when a student was coming from a community college.

I still tell students and parents this, but I’ve learned that credits transferring is not the biggest problem. A university may accept the credits, but will the department that the student is applying to accept the credits? That is the $64,000 question. Usually it is the department chair that has the final say as to whether the credits will count toward the completion of the degree the student is pursuing.

There are times when even credits within a student’s major do not transfer. What is a student to do? How is a student or parent to know which credits will transfer within a major and which ones will not?

I recommend that students find out which administrator the department chair has given the authority to approve credits for the major. Next, I recommend that the student ask for a complete syllabus and transcript review. Finally, I suggest getting it in writing (an email is fine) that your credits will transfer. This may save you a year’s worth of college credits and several tens of thousands of dollars.