Case of the missing college credits

Keeping track of study abroad transfer and substitution credits

It’s not even Christmas break yet and I already have spring break on the mind.

Last Sunday evening, as I hammered out a long-procrastinated Latin American History paper due the following morning, an email from my advisor jingled as it popped into my inbox. It’s contents informed me that I’m several credits short for graduation, putting me more than a semester behind.

What ensued was a tantrum of stomping up and down the hallway of our home and yelling phrases of frustration at my laptop screen (not an unreasonable reaction when such news is sprung upon someone). How could I have possibly overlooked multiple courses despite meticulous planning of my college career? That just couldn’t be… something had to have been overlooked with my transfer credits from studying abroad.

The following blog is intended to share my experiences with other students who are currently or preparing to study abroad. While I can’t give exact advice on what to do if you encounter a situation like mine — simply because every university has their own, albeit similar procedures for transferring credits and substituting classes — I can help you understand the transfer credit process and how credits can be accidentally overlooked.



Hanging out on the Universidad Adolfo Ibáñez campus in Chile

The next day, once the paper was turned in, I analyzed the supposedly missing credits and compared them to my own paperwork. Then I made a list of my transfer courses and what they should be substituted for at NDSU. I sent the information in a flurry of emails to both my advisors, study abroad office personnel, and the office of Registration and Records.

Let me take a quick step back to sum up the transfer credit process.

Many students who go abroad take whatever classes make up an easy schedule, and this is smart because it allows more time for travel and immersive cultural experiences and less time studying.

I had to be more selective. During the spring of 2015, I spent the semester in Amarillo, Texas interning for the American Quarter Horse Association while remaining a full-time NDSU student. The tricky part about internship credits is that they can’t always be substituted for required courses, or you may only be able to substitute a specific amount. So by the time I selected my classes to take while studying abroad in Chile, I had to make sure all the coursework would substitute and satisfy required courses for my majors and minor so I could graduate in the spring of 2017. Because taking an extra semester to finish school was not on my agenda.

To substitute coursework, it must be approved by the respective departments in which it will be applied. For example, if I were to take classes for my Management Communication and International Studies majors and Spanish minor, they would all have to be individually approved by the various departments. You obtain approval by filling out Course Substitution forms, which must be signed by a student’s advisor and the respective department head, and submitted to Registration and Records. I completed all of this LAST November, and left to study abroad at the end of February.

Upon completion of study abroad, your foreign university sends a transcript to your home university. This can take one to five months or somewhere in between. Your home university then processes the transfer credits and applies any approved course substitutions, which can take an additional month or two.  

Long story short, my week of wild safari hunting the offices of the university and multitude of emails revealed that the credits hadn’t actually disappeared into thin air. They were just unaccounted for. While the Chilean transcripts had been received in August, the course substitutions hadn’t been applied, which made it look like I skipped an entire semester. 

My hint in all this is the squeaky wheel really does get the grease! The entire process, from receiving your foreign transcripts to processing of credits can take time and patience. But if something goes awry or doesn’t seem right, speak up. Meet with your adviser and make sure they know your target graduation date before going abroad. Keep records of past, current and future courses. And if a problem arises, don’t expect it to resolve itself. Be proactive, send emails and don’t let it go unattended.

Now that I worried a year off my own life thinking I wouldn’t graduate in time to accept my new job (which I learned about on Tuesday and I’m majorly pumped for), I’m heading to Google Flights to decide where I’m going to escape from reality over spring break.

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