The pursuit of a college degree is no longer a straight-line trajectory. Switching between full and part-time status, taking time off, and transferring schools are common choices for 21st century students. In fact, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, about one-third of all students will swap institutions at least once before earning their degree.
It’s not so rare to find yourself at an institution that isn’t the right fit. Getting a degree is a big investment of time and effort, and it’s important to make sure you’re in the right place for your goals and having a positive experience as you study.
Why transfer colleges?
Most transfer students change schools due to three types of variables: social, geographic, and academic.
One excellent reason to transfer is because you are unhappy. If you find that the school you are attending is not the best-fit college for you, you don’t have to settle for four years of misery. Now that you have more clarity about what you want out of your college experience, you are even better equipped to find one that will meet your academic and social expectations.
Another reason to transfer is if your current school does not have a strong program in your major or area of interest. Some students who are rejected from their first-choice school attend another school with the intention of later transferring. Others begin their education at a two-year community college but ultimately want a four-year degree.
Whatever the reason, the good news is that today’s college students have more educational options than ever before. Follow our step-by-step guide to make the transition as smooth as possible.
1. Consider why you want to transfer
Before you begin researching and applying to schools, take a step back and decide if transferring is absolutely necessary. Struggles with bad roommates or difficult professors are likely to improve over time, and it’s important to give yourself adequate time to adjust to college life before considering a transfer. Many prospective transfer students can find it difficult to process their feelings about this decision.
Write out exactly what’s not clicking with your current college, or what you love about the place you’re thinking of transferring to. Write a couple pages without censoring yourself (and maybe even do the classic pro-con list).
2. Begin your college search, again!
Now that you’ve determined you definitely want to transfer, there are a few bases you’ll need to cover. First, do your research!
Although you’ve been through the college admissions process once, it’s different the second time around when you’re trying to transfer. Deadlines differ based on when you’re hoping to switch schools, and each college has to coordinate with the other on credits, financial aid, and more.
Establish a list of what you do and don’t want in a college. For instance, look for colleges that have your major, your desired location and social environment. Using College Board’s BigFuture college search can help you narrow down colleges that are a good fit for you based on your requirements and preferences.
Once you’ve narrowed down your search to a few schools you’re seriously interested in, be proactive about getting to know the school.
- Do a campus visit
- Meet with the director of the department you’re interested in
- Speak with students who are currently studying what you’re interested in studying
- Speak with other transfer students
- Sit in on a few classes
3. Meet with an academic advisor or transfer specialist
If you haven’t already, speak with your academic advisor about transferring. Chances are, they’ve gone through the process before with another student. They’ll know who to talk to in the registrar, admissions, and financial aid offices at your school. Plus, they should be able to give you an idea of which credits will transfer.
A school serious about making the transition easier for students will have professionals to do just that. Schools with a transfer counselor send a signal to prospective students that they understand the challenges and welcome transfer students to their institution. Talking to advisors on both ends will help you to devise a plan so you’re prepared for a successful transition. Come prepared with questions about the campus, student life, academics, and more.
4. Find out which of your credits will transfer
Every university has its own transfer policy. This should be listed on their website. Not only will this policy include important info like application deadlines, but will also tell you their policy regarding transfer credits.
The transfer policy will tell you if you can transfer credit from exams, or apply credits from two-year degrees towards the completion of a bachelor’s degree. Some universities require that students have earned a specific amount of credits (sometimes up to two years’ worth) at their home university before transferring, meaning that it might be worth it to wait another semester or two to make the transfer.
Some universities won’t accept credits if you are changing majors, but others will allow you to transfer these credits towards elective courses. Some universities won’t accept credits from courses in which you earned a grade lower than a C. Prospective transfer students quickly discover that there is incredible variety in transfer policies between universities.
Send your transcript to the university you hope to attend to find out which of your credits will transfer. There are some schools, however, that will not accept transfer credits. If that’s the case, you have to weigh whether starting totally fresh will be worth it.
Check out collegetransfer.net to simplify this research process. This website helps students easily navigate their options in transferring based on your exact situation, goals, and experience.
5. Plan financially for your transfer
Finances will, no doubt, play a huge role in your ability to transfer. Make sure you’ve spoken with a financial aid administrator at the school you hope to attend to get a clear picture of your financial aid.
There may be a price difference between your current college and the one you plan on transferring to, but this is only one piece of the equation. Other expenses to plan for are moving expenses, differences in cost of living between locations, and application fees. In addition to this, students may face having to retake certain credits if they are not able to transfer them.
Another note on financial planning – you should fill out the FAFSA each year. It can be harder for transfer students to get scholarship money but many schools have a fund especially designed for transfer students. As you research colleges and universities, make sure to look at the ins and outs of their financial aid policy, as well as researching other forms of funding (like scholarships and federal aid).
Scholarships.com is a great resource for funding in general, but also has specific scholarships for transfer students.
6. Apply! Transfer Application Process
Once you’ve got the deadlines figured out, make sure you stick to them. Universities have very different transfer deadlines. Some only accept transfer applications in the spring. Other schools will have deadlines in the fall for those that want to transfer mid-year and another in the spring for those who want to begin at the start of the official school year in August or September.
Your application to colleges as a transfer will be similar to the applications you submitted as a high schooler, except your college GPA will be considered in the process as well. Resist the temptation to copy and paste old application material when you transfer. You have a new perspective, new experience, and new insights. Make use of them.
Your application will likely require one or two essays, many schools will require transfer students to write specifically on the topic of why they are transferring. In general, you can expect to provide the following items to your prospective transfer school:
- College application
- High school transcript
- Letters of recommendation
- SAT or ACT scores
- College transcript
- Application fees (or fee waiver)
7. Secure your spot
Finally, to make it official, turn in deposits, housing preferences and any other forms you need to complete in order to commit to your new college. Also, take a deep breath; you did it! Now, get ready for new challenges, friends and opportunities.
8. Find your place
Many transfer students can feel separate from the rest of the community at their universities, most of whom bonded during freshman orientation already. You may need to take a more active role in building a satisfying social life for yourself.
This might mean joining social groups, actively approaching other students before and after class, spending time at the campus cafe, etc. Find out if your new university hosts a transfer orientation. Many do, and it’s a great way to connect with other students in the same situation as you. Remember – making friends and building a community for yourself can take time. The important thing is to stay open and put yourself out there.
No college is perfect. And most new experiences feel scary or uncomfortable at first. That scary feeling always precedes a great time in life – because it means you’re taking a risk and making an investment. Check out the support systems in place at your university. Feelings of displacement and insecurity are common with new students and your school can probably offer you some resources, including someone to talk to with whom students can process their feelings and make a plan for succeeding in a new environment.
Planning ahead is the key to making a successful transition. Remember: You’re on no one’s timeline but your own. Choose your classes wisely and dedicate yourself to getting the most out of this experience. The rest will fall into place with time!
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