Policy: Ways to Earn Credit

Procedures related to how credit can be earned at UW-Madison.

Ways to Earn Credit at UW–Madison

Policy Number


Responsible Office

Data, Academic Planning & Institutional Research


University Policy


This policy establishes and centralizes the various means by which students can earn credit at UW-Madison. The consistent application of course credit, regardless of source, is important in reducing time-to-degree, improving graduation rates, and minimizing the cost of attendance.


There are several ways a student can earn credit toward a UW–Madison degree. While different policies guide the determination of course equivalencies for different types of credit, once an equivalency is established, it holds true for all undergraduate students regardless of program.

UW–Madison follows UW System and Board of Regent policies in the awarding of test credit and transfer credit. These policies place responsibility for determining course and credit equivalencies at the institutional level. 

Following is a summary of the various ways that students earn credit at UW–Madison:

Table 1. Ways to Earn Credit
Course-Based Credit Military Credit Credit for Prior Learning
In-Residence (at UW-Madison) Transfer (from another institution) Transfer (from the Joint Service Transcript) Credit by Department Exam Retroactive Foreign Language Credit Third-Party Credit by Exam Portfolio Review (not currently available at UW-Madison)

Course-Based Credit

In-Residence at UW–Madison
Course credit is earned by completing for-credit courses offered by UW–Madison. These courses are approved through the curricular governance process and follow the credit hour policy.

Transfer from another institution
Transfer credit equivalency is determined by the faculty in the relevant academic unit in consultation with the Credit Evaluation Service offered through the Office of the Registrar. UW-Madison approved credit equivalencies are available online so that all prospective and current students can make decisions and plan accordingly. For undergraduate students, credit is awarded for college-level coursework completed at institutions accredited by a regional or national accrediting organization and recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). Foreign institutions must be recognized by the Ministry of Education in that country. Courses must be similar in nature, level, and content to a course at UW-Madison and applicable to one of the university's academic programs. Continuing education courses, graduate-level courses, and courses that are remedial, technical, vocational, or doctrinal in nature are not transferable. No more than 72 credits from two-year institutions may be transferred into UW–Madison and applied to degree requirements.

The Graduate School allows academic programs to transfer credits for previous coursework under certain conditions. Any prior coursework accepted must have been rigorous and meet the expectations of graduate work for the degree.

Military Credit

Some credit earned by students who serve(d) in the military can be transferred into UW–Madison when the credit is granted by an accredited institution or is transcripted on the Joint Services Transcript, per Wisconsin statutes, specifically Chapter 36.31(4). This method of earning credit applies only to undergraduates.

Credit for Prior Learning

Credit by Department Exam
Academic units may offer credit by departmental examination to students who acquire knowledge, skills, and competencies through experiences that are academic in nature yet exist outside the traditional means of transfer, e.g., course credit or third-party tests.

Retroactive Language Credit
Undergraduates at UW-Madison who have gained prior knowledge in a language other than English may be eligible to earn retrocredits. To earn these credits, students must take a language course at UW-Madison above the first-semester level in which they have some proficiency. 

This course must be designated with the Foreign Language attribute of 2nd, 3rd, 4th, or 5th semester language course and must be the first course in that language taken by the student after graduating from high school.

To be eligible, students must enroll in the language course prior to earning 30-degree credits and earn a grade of B or better. While transfer credits are included in the 30 credits, credits earned by students admitted as first-year students who took college level credits while in high school are not included. Test and other credit such as AP, IB, CLEP or retrocredits from another language are also not included.

Native speakers of a language are not eligible to earn retrocredits in that language.

Third-Party Credit by Exam
At UW-Madison, test credit equivalency is determined by the relevant academic unit and approved by the University Curriculum Committee. The university grants advanced credit for the successful completion of college-level coursework while in high school and for high achievement on exams offered by College Board (Advanced Placement and College-Level Examination Program); International Baccalaureate (IB); General Certificate of Education Advanced Level (A Level) through Assessment and Qualifications Alliance (AQA); Cambridge Assessment International Education (CAIE); Oxford, Cambridge and RSA Examinations (OCR); Pearson-Edexcel; and Singapore-Cambridge. Credits earned may be counted toward undergraduate general education requirements, degree requirements, or elective credits.

Portfolio Review
UW–Madison currently does not award credit for portfolio review.

Related UW–Madison Documents, Web Pages, or Other Resources

External References

Joint Services Transcript

Joint Statement on the Transfer and Award of Credit (from American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, the American Council on Education, and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation)

Regent Policy Document 7-1, UW System Transfer and Award of Credit for Extra-Institutional Learning

UW System Administrative Policy 135, Undergraduate Transfer Policy

Approval Authority

Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs

Policy Manager

Vice Provost for Data, Academic Planning & Institutional Research


Associate Director, Data, Academic Planning & Institutional Research -- Michelle Young, MEYOUNG@WISC.EDU, (608) 262-2143

Effective Date

Source: View policy UW-1048 in the UW-Madison Policy Library

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OwnerMelissa S.GroupAcademic Planning
Created2022-02-02 12:01:58Updated2024-06-27 12:49:57
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