Could the Transfer Credit Analysis Process Be Simplified Using ChatGPT?

There are many ways that people and companies are utilizing the features of ChatGPT. I thought I would try to utilize the AI tool to see if it could suggest a reasonable way to solve the very large problem of transferring credits from one college to another. The prompts are in bold and the ChatGPT3.5 responses are below each prompt.

After I received an answer to my first prompt, I changed each succeeding prompt to narrow down the conversation by being more specific, generally using part of the previous response to a prompt.

At the end of my fifth prompt, I asked a friend and previous co-author and collaborator, Dr. Phil Ice, to develop a methodology to compare course descriptions and syllabi for course equivalency using ChatGPT. His series of prompts follow mine.

Prompt #1 – Why do college students have so many problems transferring credits earned at one university to another?

Several factors contribute to the challenges college students often face when trying to transfer credits earned at one institution to another:

  1. **Differing Accreditation Standards:** Colleges and universities are accredited by different organizations with different standards. One institution may not recognize the accreditation of another, and therefore, might not accept the transfer credits.
  2. **Course Equivalency Issues:** Not all courses are created equal. A course taken at one institution may not have a direct equivalent at another, making it difficult to transfer the credit. This is particularly common when the curriculum or specific course content differs significantly between institutions.
  3. **Quality of Instruction:** Some schools may believe that the quality of instruction at another institution is not up to their standards, and thus may refuse to accept transfer credits.
  4. **Residency Requirements:** Many colleges and universities have residency requirements, meaning a certain number of credits must be earned at the institution granting the degree. This is often to ensure that students are sufficiently engaged with the campus and academic community.
  5. **Institutional Policies:** Some institutions may have strict policies about accepting credits from other institutions. For instance, some elite universities might not accept any transfer credits as a matter of policy.
  6. **Lack of Transparency and Information:** The transfer process can be complex and confusing, and students often lack clear information about which credits will and won’t transfer.
  7. **Degree and Major Requirements:** Some credits may not be accepted because they don’t fit into the degree program or major that the student is pursuing at the new institution.

To overcome these issues, students are encouraged to work closely with academic advisors at both their current and potential transfer institutions. Some states and regions also have articulation agreements between community colleges and four-year institutions to simplify the transfer process. However, it remains a complex issue with no one-size-fits-all solution.

After reviewing the answer to Prompt #1, I opted to focus on the second factor, course equivalency issues. Prompt #2 was drafted for that purpose.

Prompt #2 – What are the best practices for reviewing college courses for equivalency in order to approve the course for transfer credit?

Reviewing college courses for equivalency is a key part of ensuring that students can transfer credits between institutions. Here are some best practices for this process:

  1. **Standardization:** Develop a standardized process for reviewing courses. This might involve a formal application where students submit course descriptions, syllabi, and other relevant information for review.
  2. **Detailed Syllabi Review:** The syllabus for a course often provides the most detailed information about what was taught. This should include an overview of the course content, learning objectives, teaching methods, evaluation criteria, and textbooks or other materials used. This information can help reviewers determine if the course is equivalent to one offered at their institution.
  3. **Faculty Involvement:** Include faculty in the review process. They have the subject matter expertise needed to determine whether a course at another institution is truly equivalent to one at their own.
  4. **Articulation Agreements:** These are formal agreements between institutions that outline how courses will transfer. They can simplify the process for students and institutions alike.
  5. **Use of Technology:** There are software solutions that can facilitate the transfer process. For example, some programs allow students to see how their credits will transfer before they even apply to a new institution.
  6. **Regular Updates:** Course content can change over time, so it’s important to regularly review and update transfer policies and articulation agreements.
  7. **Transparency:** Make information about transfer policies and procedures easily accessible to students. This can help them make informed decisions about their education.
  8. **Training:** Ensure that staff involved in the review process are well-trained and understand the policies and procedures. This can help ensure that the process is consistent and fair.
  9. **Collaboration with Sending Institutions:** Working closely with the institutions where students are transferring from can help to ensure a smoother process. This can include understanding their curriculum changes and ensuring that the receiving institution’s requirements are clearly communicated.
  10. **Appeals Process:** Have a clear process in place for students to appeal decisions about transfer credits. This ensures students have a voice in the process and can challenge decisions they believe to be unfair.

Following these best practices can help to ensure a fair and transparent process for reviewing college courses for equivalency.

I have never participated in the review of a transcript for transfer credit, so I don’t claim to be an expert. When I reviewed the response to Prompt #2, I opted to craft Prompt #3 related to syllabi review.

Prompt #3 – What are the best practices for detailed syllabi review for course equivalency and transfer of college credits?

Conducting a detailed syllabi review is a critical step in evaluating course equivalency for the purpose of transferring college credits. Here are some best practices for this process:

  1. **Understand the Course Objectives:** Review the course objectives in the syllabus. These should provide a clear outline of what students are expected to know or be able to do by the end of the course. They can be compared to the objectives of a similar course at the receiving institution to help determine equivalency.
  2. **Assess Course Content:** Look at the topics covered in the course. The syllabus should outline the main themes, subjects, or topics that are addressed. This content can be compared to the content in a similar course at the receiving institution.
  3. **Examine the Assessment Methods:** Look at how students’ understanding and skills were assessed. This could include exams, papers, projects, presentations, or other forms of assessment. The rigor and types of assessments can give an indication of the course’s academic rigor.
  4. **Review Textbooks and Reading Materials:** The textbooks and other reading materials used in a course can also provide important information about its content and level. Compare these to the materials used in the equivalent course at your institution.
  5. **Consider the Course Level:** Ensure the level of the course matches. A 200-level course at one institution might not be equivalent to a 200-level course at another.
  6. **Check Course Hours:** Review the number of contact hours (the time students spend in lectures, labs, or seminars) and expected study time outside of class. The credit hours assigned to a course often depend on these factors.
  7. **Evaluate Course Prerequisites:** Course prerequisites can give an indication of the course’s academic level and the background knowledge required.
  8. **Faculty Qualifications:** In some cases, the qualifications of the instructor may be relevant, especially for specialized or upper-level courses.

Remember, the goal is to ensure that the student has indeed learned equivalent material and that the rigor of the course matches up. In some cases, a portfolio review or a challenge exam might be required to further assess a student’s knowledge and skills.

Finally, it’s important to document these review processes and decisions to ensure transparency and consistency, and to facilitate future reviews.

I created Prompt #4 to see if the answers to Prompt #3 were similar.

Prompt #4 – How can I use ChatGPT to conduct a detailed syllabi review by comparing my college’s course syllabi to the syllabi of courses with requests to transfer credits?

As of my knowledge cutoff in September 2021, ChatGPT itself cannot directly review or compare course syllabi. However, you can use it to help guide you through the process and to ask questions about how to conduct this review.Here are some steps you can follow using ChatGPT:

  1. **Understand the process:** You can ask ChatGPT to explain the process of reviewing course syllabi, as we have discussed previously.
  2. **Identify key components:** You can ask ChatGPT to help you identify the key components of a syllabus and what to look for when comparing two syllabi, such as course objectives, content, assessment methods, textbooks, course hours, and prerequisites.
  3. **Ask for clarification:** If you’re not sure about something while reviewing the syllabi, you can ask ChatGPT for clarification. For example, if you’re not sure how to evaluate the assessment methods, ChatGPT can provide guidance.
  4. **Ask for advice:** If you’re facing a difficult decision or are unsure how to proceed, you can ask ChatGPT for advice.
  5. **Learn about best practices:** You can ask ChatGPT about the best practices for conducting a syllabi review.

While ChatGPT can’t do the actual review for you, it can be a valuable tool to guide you through the process, provide clarification, and help you make informed decisions. It’s important to remember that the ultimate decision will depend on your understanding of your institution’s policies and the specific content of each course.

Remember, any advice given by ChatGPT should be used as a guide and not a substitute for professional judgement. Always consult with colleagues or superiors as needed, and follow your institution’s policies and procedures.

I decided to see if ChatGPT could provide me with more detailed guidance related to Step #2 in Prompt #4, “identify key components.”

Prompt #5 – If I copy a syllabus into a ChatGPT prompt, can ChatGPT identify the course objectives, content, assessment methods, textbooks, course hours, and prerequisites?

While it’s possible to input a syllabus into a ChatGPT prompt, there are a few things to note. First, the AI doesn’t currently have the ability to “read” and “understand” a syllabus in the way a human would. It can, however, respond to prompts about specific elements in the text you’ve provided.For instance, if you input a portion of a syllabus that clearly delineates course objectives, content, assessment methods, textbooks, course hours, and prerequisites, and you ask ChatGPT about these elements, it can generate responses based on that data.

Here’s an example of how this might work:

User: “Here is a course description and objectives for a potential transfer course:

Course Title: Introduction to Sociology

Course Description: This course provides an overview of the principles of sociology, including the study of social interaction, social structures, and social change.

Course Objectives:

  1. Understand basic sociological concepts and theories.
  2. Analyze social phenomena using a sociological perspective.
  3. Understand how social structures influence individual behavior.

What are the objectives for this course?”

ChatGPT: “The objectives for the ‘Introduction to Sociology’ course, as listed in the information you provided, are as follows:

  1. Understand basic sociological concepts and theories.
  2. Analyze social phenomena using a sociological perspective.
  3. Understand how social structures influence individual behavior.”

Remember, you will need to ask specific questions about the syllabus content. Simply pasting the syllabus and expecting the AI to provide an analysis will not yield useful results. Be aware that the AI’s responses are based on the data it was trained on up until September 2021, so it cannot provide real-time or updated information, and its understanding is based on pattern recognition rather than human-like comprehension. Always use AI responses as a guide and apply your own judgment and understanding.

As I mentioned previously, I asked my friend and colleague, Dr. Phil Ice, to see if he could prompt ChatGPT to compare course descriptions and syllabi with a purpose of evaluating transfer credit. I’ve included his response in the paragraphs below.

Phil Ice:

 ChatGPT and generative AI in general are incredible tools that provide us with the ability to access, compare, and create knowledge at a level never previously dreamed of. To optimize what you get back, it is imperative to be very clear about what you ask – an art form that is known as prompt engineering. At present there are numerous AI apps on the market that are essentially little more than front ends that are connected to Open AI’s API, with the sole function of writing very specific technical prompts in the background that are applied to requests, documents, images, etc. that users provide. In some cases, there is other work going on under the hood before data is sent to ChatGPT, but at the heart of the transaction is the provisioning of high-quality prompts.

You don’t have to be a computer scientist to write good prompts. The real skills that are needed are:

  1. The ability to think critically about what data you want.
  2. The ability to understand what you have to work with
  3. The ability to create the right set of instructions to get from what you have to what you want.

An example of this comes from some playing around I did, following a conversation with Wally, related to transfer credit evaluation. One of the problems that plagues higher education is a lack of uniform standards related to what is considered equitable enough to award a student credit for a class they took at the UofA, when they want to transfer credit to the UofB. The process to determine if enough similarities exist between two similarly named courses is beyond Byzantine, even by higher ed standards. Often there is little to look at other than a course description and/or syllabus. In cases where those documents specifically state the objectives covered, the comparison can be rather straightforward (sometimes). If not, then comparing the descriptions is a practice more often associated with witchcraft as opposed to any well-defined analytical process.

After thinking about this problem, I began to wonder what ChaptGPT could do, as I had already used it for some other comparative analyses that I had been working on. To test this, I went online and located two syllabi that were freely available for anyone to look at. Notably, one had specific learning objectives and the other didn’t – this was the perfect use case to test out the idea of evaluating the courses with a narrative only. I extracted the course descriptions, labeled them, then asked ChatGPT (4, for the record) to tell me what differences existed between the two courses, based on the descriptions. The results weren’t that impressive – as I had suspected would be the case. What ChatGPT needs, as alluded to above, is clear instructions. While creating these instructions using very precise language that is typically used in prompt engineering might have produced the cleanest results, I wanted to see what could be done using straightforward wording that anyone could easily produce. Thus, I laid out the following prompt.

Following are descriptions from two different courses that cover the same topic, Microeconomics. Determine what skills a student would acquire in each course. Then determine what similarities there are between the two courses. Next determine what differences there are between the two courses. Then provide an opinion on how the two courses compare and contrast with each other.

As you can see, I told ChatGPT,

  1. The information that followed would be from two different courses that taught the same topic.
  2. I identified the topic so ChatGPT could relate what it was looking at to the body of knowledge that it had been trained on.
  3. I defined the two activities that I wanted ChatGPT to engage in, identifying differences and similarities. Notably, I did this with two separate statements, because I have learned that if you try to ask more than one thing at a time, the answers will sometimes be murky.
  4. I ended with asking ChatGPT to compare and contrast the two courses.

Below are the course descriptions, clearly labeled as being from separate courses.

Description of Course 1

This course introduces you to the basic methods and models of economics.  Economics includes the study of how people, firms, and even governments use their (usually limited or scarce) resources to achieve their goals.  One of the most interesting uses of economics is to design government policy, and we will focus on economic policy a great deal in this course.    This course has two main goals.  The first goal is to help you learn to think systematically about economic issues and questions.  We will do this by learning some fundamental models such as the supply and demand model and applying these models to different situations.  The second goal is to acquaint students with economic issues—both the main questions in economics, and also the main questions or problems in society that economists are asked to address.  It turns out that economists are also pretty good at addressing questions that nobody asked them to, and that is frankly a lot of the fun of being an economist.

Description of Course 2

Econ 001 provides a thorough introduction to microeconomic theory. Starting from the basic ideas of tradeoffs, opportunity cost, and the benefits of trade, we will study how the market forces of supply and demand cause prices to be what they are. We will see the sense in which market economies are efficient, and the way governments can make our economy less or more efficient. We will delve behind the supply curve to see how firms choose their production levels to maximize profits, culminating in the model of perfect competition. We will look at market failures such as imperfect competition (monopoly, oligopoly), externalities and asymmetric information.

Here is the output:

Skills acquired in Course 1:

  1. Ability to think systematically about economic issues and questions
  2. Knowledge of fundamental models such as supply and demand and their applications to different situations
  3. Familiarity with economic issues and the main questions or problems in society that economists are asked to address
  4. Understanding of economic policy and the design of government policy

Skills acquired in Course 2:

  1. Understanding of microeconomic theory
  2. Knowledge of tradeoffs, opportunity cost, and the benefits of trade
  3. Understanding of how market forces of supply and demand determine prices
  4. Ability to analyze the efficiency of market economies and the impact of government intervention
  5. Knowledge of production decisions made by firms to maximize profits
  6. Ability to identify market failures such as imperfect competition, externalities, and asymmetric information

Similarities between the courses:

  1. Both courses cover fundamental models such as supply and demand
  2. Both courses address economic issues and the main questions or problems in society
  3. Both courses discuss the role of government in economic policy and intervention
  4. Both courses provide students with the ability to analyze and think systematically about economic issues

There are a few differences between the courses:

  1. Course 1 is a general introduction to economics, while Course 2 specifically focuses on microeconomic theory.
  2. Course 1 emphasizes the design of economic policy and how economists address questions that nobody asked them, while Course 2 focuses more on market forces and the efficiency of market economies.
  3. Course 1 covers a broader range of economic issues, while Course 2 focuses specifically on market failures such as imperfect competition, externalities, and asymmetric information.
  4. Course 1 does not specifically mention tradeoffs, opportunity cost, or production decisions made by firms, which are covered in Course 2.

 Overall, both courses cover important concepts and skills related to microeconomics, but with slightly different emphases and coverage.

Given what I know about the two institutions where the courses were taught, I concur with the analysis and initially, I was pleased with the result. To me, this indicated that with a modicum of work, building an application to perform this task at scale, vastly simplifying the transfer credit process, would be relatively simple.

However, when I input other components of the syllabi, I did not receive information adequate to assess whether the course was similar enough to award credit. For example, inputting the assignments or the specific course materials assigned for reading, did not provide any notable differences between the courses. This exercise led me to believe that evaluating transcripts for transfer credit may be an art versus a science. Given the difficulty in obtaining the full course syllabi for most college courses from the web, I wondered if the course descriptions were what most transfer credit evaluators use for their analysis. If the syllabus for each course included learning outcomes objectives, that could have been an additional analysis that I could have asked ChatGPT4 to perform.


At the end of this process, Phil and I determined that the first response to Prompt #2 – What are the best practices for reviewing college courses for equivalency to approve the course for transfer credit? could be the best way to pursue a solution. Instead of creating a solution by ourselves, we believe we should ask a faculty member with transfer credit evaluation experience to work with us to create a standard process that could take advantage of ChatGPT’s capabilities. Until then, we’re not ready to assume AI can shorten the time required for course equivalency evaluations.

Subjects of Interest


Higher Education

Independent Schools


Student Persistence