What Is an Articulation Agreement?

An articulation agreement can help transfer students easily move from one institution to another and save money on a four-year degree.
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  • Articulation agreements define what courses transfer between colleges and how.
  • Agreements often exist between colleges within the same state, and their terms vary.
  • The successful transfer of credits can save money on a four-year degree.
  • Students should ask about existing agreements with the institution they want to transfer to.

Community college is the destination for over 40% of U.S. undergraduates, according to the Community College Research Center. Of those students, 80% intend to earn a bachelor's degree at a four-year school.

If you're one of these transfer students, you'll want to understand what an articulation agreement is and how it can impact your ability to transfer colleges.

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An articulation agreement exists between two higher education institutions — often a community college and a four-year college or university — to outline how courses will transfer.

How Does an Articulation Agreement Work?

An articulation agreement is a legal agreement between two schools, typically in the same state, that aims to preserve the progress made in one institution as a student transfers to another. This agreement can guarantee admission to a four-year college, acceptance of credits earned at a community college, or progress toward a specific major or program.

Agreements normally feature a program-to-program chart that shows how the programs at the two colleges align. A transfer student can use this resource to decide which courses to take at the community college for a smooth transfer to the four-year institution.

What Are the Different Types of Articulation Agreements?

Articulation agreement terms vary among institutions. Common types of agreements include the following:

  • Guaranteed Transfer/Admission: These agreements guarantee credits will transfer from one institution to the other.
  • Guaranteed Admission: A student who meets certain criteria (e.g., an associate degree or a minimum GPA) may be guaranteed admission to an institution.
  • Program-Specific Agreements: Articulation agreements within a specific major or program detail how the two academic programs align and what additional courses students must take to earn a degree.
  • Dual-Enrollment Programs: These agreements allow students to concurrently pursue an associate and a bachelor's degree by taking courses at both institutions.
  • State Credit Transfer Agreements: Varying graduation requirements between states can complicate transferring to a school in a new state. These agreements simplify transferring between states.

Where Do I Find a School's Articulation Agreement?

Using a search tool like CollegeTransfer.net can provide introductory information about transfer options if you're considering transferring. You can also find articulation agreement information within your state on your state's Department of Education webpage (like Florida's).

An institution's course catalog, enrollment office, and transfer student office can also provide articulation agreements.

When you're ready to start making decisions about transferring, you'll want to work with both your current academic advisor and the admissions office of the school you want to attend to get the most accurate information about articulation agreements in place.

How Does the Credit Transfer Process Work?

The school you're transferring to will look at the classes you've taken and your GPA to determine which credits will transfer.

How Do I Create a Transfer Strategy?

Begin meeting with the advisors from your current and future college as soon as possible to plan your transfer. They can look at the academic programs and course requirements at both schools to help you choose the best course of action. Your plan may include which courses to take and the timing of your transfer.

Other state resources, like California's ASSIST and Massachusetts's Commonwealth Commitment Program, can help inform a transfer student's strategy.

How to Start Transferring Credits

To begin transferring credits, you must fill out a transfer application. This application may ask for basic information, as a first-year application does, and information about coursework you've completed. Then, an admissions counselor at your future college will meet with you to examine your transcript and determine which credits will transfer.

The Benefit of Transferring Credits

Taking courses at a community college gives students access to more affordable tuition. Learners may also save on living expenses by staying at home. By transferring credits, students can build on what they've already completed, and they often spend less on the total cost of their four-year degree.

Frequently Asked Questions About Articulation Agreements

How do credits transfer between schools with different term systems?

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If two colleges have different term systems (e.g., quarter versus semester), the future college will likely calculate your credits to match them to their term system.

For example, say you want to transfer a three-credit English course from a semester program to a trimester program. You may transfer two credits for the transfer school's equivalent English course, and the leftover credit could be applied as an elective credit. You likely will not lose credits, but they may be redistributed.

Do articulation agreements exist between colleges in different states?

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Articulation agreements are commonly between institutions in the same state. However, many institutions also have regional articulation agreements with nearby colleges.

While an articulation agreement requires an institution to allow transferring, it may not regulate the institution's acceptance of credit from other institutions. Your credits could transfer to other institutions nationwide, but each institution ultimately decides whether to accept the credits.

Is financial aid included in an articulation agreement?

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If you received federal financial aid for your current school, that aid might not transfer to a new school with you. You may need to notify your current institution that you intend to transfer, ensure your account is settled, and update your FAFSA to include your new school.

There are also transfer scholarships available, so make sure to connect with the financial aid office if you need financial aid for your new school.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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