University Credit for U.S. Students


Students at U.S. universities and colleges often ask about receiving credit for their volunteer and internship experiences. Is it possible? Can ELI give credit? Can you give a transcript? We received this question again today, so I finally decided to write about how credit works. This does not pertain to non-U.S. universities.

The first thing that needs to be said is that in the U.S., credit = money. No one gives it away for free. The second thing to be aware of is that credit can only be granted by "accredited" institutions. Traditional universities and colleges all are governed by regional accrediting associations that monitor standards. This assures students that their degrees will be legitimate. So the answer to the question "Can ELI give me credit?", is simple. No, we cannot. No volunteer or internship organization can. Only an accredited academic institution can.

You may come across an organization that offers credit, but this is done in partnership with an college or university. There are some schools who choose to partner as a source of income, a side business to their academic mission. They will charge the organization a fee for this. Organizations will either pass that fee on to you as an add-on, or they will charge enough in their program fee to cover it. It is never free. In theory, there should be some form of academic oversight by the credit-granting institution, though there are some schools that are lax about this, basically becoming credit mills.

Buyer beware! If you receive credit from another institution, you will not necessarily be able to transfer it to your home institution. Credit is not universally transferable. Every college and university has the right to accept, reject, or modify credit from other institutions. Your local community college can reject credit from MIT (and vice versa). Most try to be reasonable about this, but alternative types of credit like credit for internships might be viewed with a suspicious eye. In addition, some schools are hesitant to accept credit from other institutions because they see it as a loss of tuition revenue. If you choose to pursue third-party credit, the best course of action is to check first with your school. Will they agree in advance to accept the credit?

The safest way to go about receiving credit for you experience abroad is to work through your own university. Go to the office that handles internships or cooperative education on your campus. Find out what requirements they have and how much it will cost. Your academic advisor might also be able to give you guidance, but some have never had to deal with international internships. This all takes a lot of planning. You should never expect to be allowed retroactive credit. It may be allowed, but bureaucrats love to stick to process!


By Kevin O'Neill


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