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How to Transfer Colleges: A Step-by Step Guide

Do you want to transfer colleges, but are not sure how to go about it? No need to worry – we’ve compiled a complete guide (with steps included!) on how to transfer colleges. At this point, we’re sure you have already applied to colleges once, so you already have a head start. The transfer application process is really not too different from the one you completed a few years back. So, let’s dive in and learn how to transfer!

Related: How to write a college transfer essay (with example!)

Why transfer colleges?

Before you even begin the process of transferring colleges, you should ask yourself a very important question: Why do you want to transfer colleges?

Your answer to this question is very important. In the case that you change your mind about transferring later on, you don’t want to waste precious time, money, and effort. However, there is also nothing shameful about changing your mind if you decide to stay at your current college!

Did you know that one-third of all students transfer colleges at some point? Ultimately, there are a huge variety of reasons students have for transferring colleges. Let’s go over a few of the most common ones:

Cost 

College is a big investment, with some schools being more expensive than others. If you’re not satisfied with your current school and anticipate that you’ll have trouble paying off your student loans, it may be time for a change. 

If your primary reason for transferring is to save money on tuition, we recommend looking into in-state public schools or private schools. These schools are typically cheaper or will provide sufficient financial aid.

On the other hand, if you’re happy at your current school but worry about student loans, we recommend talking to an advisor at your school’s financial aid office. You may qualify for work-study or be able to apply for scholarships you didn’t even know existed! 

See also: Top scholarships for transfer students

Location

Bored in your college town, missing home, or just wanting something new? Whatever your reason, if you don’t quite feel that you can thrive in your current college environment, maybe consider transferring!

Alternatively, if you are sure that you want to live or work in a particular place after graduation, transferring to a school in that same area may be a good option. Not only will local employers be familiar with your school, but you will be able to gain experiences and network in the area, which may help you score that dream job later on.

However, we would probably not recommend transferring colleges solely for the chance to work somewhere later on (especially if you’re enjoying your current school!). Remember – employers hire students from all around the country all the time! Unless your school’s location or environment is starting to have a negative impact on your mental health, the location of your school should probably not be the only reason you’re transferring.

Major

If you’re going into college unsure of your major, don’t worry! If your interests have changed throughout college or you’ve found a new passion, you may be thinking about changing your major. In the case that you’ve found a new major to pursue, but it isn’t offered at your current university, transferring to a new college (which does offer your new major) may be a good option.

However, we urge you to be completely sure about changing your major before you choose to go to a new university just to find it. Alternatively, if you really love your current school and want to stay (but your desired major isn’t offered), you can also talk to a registrar or advisor about the possibility of creating your major.

See also: How to choose a major

Social scene

Social environments of campuses definitely vary, with some hosting parties all the time, and some barely at all. Some schools, alternatively, hold many social or club events in addition to parties, which may seem more attractive to those students who prefer a calmer social environment.

If you feel that your social tastes and preferences don’t mesh with that of your current school and that this has started to make you unhappy, it might be time to consider transferring.

However, before you make this new change and start applying to colleges, we highly recommend that you explore all (yes, all!) the types of social events you may have previously ignored (just don’t search for too long to the point that you miss the application deadlines!). Who knows, you may find something you really like that you didn’t even know was there before. That’s what college is all about anyways – getting to know yourself by trying and learning new things. 

See also: How to get involved on campus

Prestige

Maybe there’s a school you applied to right out of high school, but it was a reach school and you didn’t get that acceptance letter you were hoping for. If you have a school like this, and it truly is your “dream” school, you may have the option of transferring if your grades (and extracurriculars, etc.) in college so far have been better than those you received in high school.

It certainly doesn’t hurt to send in an application to transfer if you are looking for a more prestigious college. However, before you actually hit “Accept” on that college offer, we recommend you truly think about how much you like your current school, and whether or not you think you’ll like your “dream” school more. It may be more prestigious, of course, but prestige should not be the only factor when choosing a college. We recommend talking it over with close friends and family to think about how your new “dream” school will really change (or not change) your college experience (and post-graduation plans).

Also see: Can you transfer into an ivy league school?

Wanting something new

Last, but certainly not least, if you feel that you just aren’t happy at your college anymore, it’s never too late to consider transferring. Whether your unhappiness is due to social, mental, or other reasons, it’s hard to thrive in an environment which doesn’t suit your needs, and finding a new place to be for the next few years could be of immense help.

Before you actually go through with transferring though, we do recommend you think over why you want to transfer schools. Could the reason be fixed quite easily (but you otherwise like your school), or is it hindering your ability to enjoy anything at your current school? Think it over, and if you still want to transfer afterwards, start looking for schools that will best suit your needs for the next few years! 

Common admission requirements for transfer students

As mentioned before, transferring to a new college is not too different from applying to one straight out of high school – the application components are largely the same. On the bright side, at least, this means you’re likely already familiar with the process!

Normally, to transfer colleges, you’ll need:

  • High school transcripts (typically only if you’ve accumulated under a certain number of credits at your current college)
  • Current and past college transcripts
  • Letters of recommendation (depends on school)
  • School-specific application essays
  • A resume or activities list (alternatively, these can typically be entered directly on your college application)
  • SAT or ACT scores (depends on school, as more and more schools are becoming test-optional)

While this will do it for most colleges, transfer requirements also vary by school. So, depending on where you’re applying there may be more (or less!) application components to submit than the ones listed above. Make sure to check the websites of the colleges you’re applying to for more details, and submit all the necessary components listed on your application site (e.g. the Common App transfer application).

Now that we’ve gone over some common reasons for transferring and the standards colleges use to assess transfer applicants, let’s get to what you’ve been waiting for – how to transfer colleges!

What are the steps I should take to transfer colleges?

Although applying to transfer is certainly a similar process to applying to colleges the first time, there are also slight differences. You once had to coordinate and submit documents from your high school to university, but now you also have to submit them from your current university to all those you’re applying to. Besides that, you need to consider how your credits will transfer, financial aid at your new university, and more.

So, it may take a little preparation and thinking ahead to successfully submit everything on time. But, not to worry, it’s definitely doable (and we’re here to help)! Keep on reading to find out about the steps you should take when transferring colleges to make the process go as smoothly as possible.

1. Think about why you want to transfer

For the most part, we’ve already reviewed this! Whether or not your reason for wanting to transfer is included under “Why Transfer Colleges,” we recommend talking over your choice with a college advisor, family, and friends.

Ideally, they’ll give you new perspectives and a better insight into whether you should transfer or not. However, the decision is ultimately up to you – your happiness should come first (you’re the one transferring, after all).

Remember: Take your time! Just keep the application deadlines in mind – you don’t want to think about your decision for so long that you forget to apply on time.

2. Start your college search!

Now, if you’ve thought it over and still want to transfer, it’s time to start searching for colleges! First, we recommend making a list of what you want and what you don’t want from your new college. Some things that you could include on your list are: ideal location type (big city or small town), whether they have your major or not, and the type of social environment at school. Having already been in college for some time now should help with this, as you’ve grown to see what you like, and what you don’t.

Using what you’ve written down, we recommend using a college search engine to find a few schools that match your desired criteria. This College Board College Search Engine is particularly helpful, allowing students to customize filters and easily narrow down school choices to those that offer everything they want.

3. Talk with your advisor

Now, if you haven’t done so yet, we recommend talking with your advisor about your plans for transferring. Chances are they’ve helped other students through the process before and can give you good advice on what to do and what to include in your application.

They can likely also give you an idea of what credits will transfer, so you know how long you’ll have until graduation at your new college. Besides this, they can also direct you to other people or offices who may have more knowledge on the subject, or can suggest colleges that seem to fit what you’re looking for.

4. Compare your potential schools 

With your list of colleges in hand, it’s now time to compare! If you can, look up what current students (especially transfers) at the institutions you’re applying to think of their schools. They’re likely to be honest about their experiences and can give you an idea of what it’s like as a student there. However, keep in mind that each student has a different experience, and yours could very well be different (either better or worse) than the students you’re asking.

It would also be very beneficial to talk to admissions officers and financial aid advisors at each of your potential schools, to get an idea of what they’re looking for and the financial aid typically offered. Admissions officers can also tell you if they think they’re school is a match for what you’re looking for, and can even schedule for you to speak with a current student about their experiences. 

If you have the chance, visiting campuses could also be a great opportunity to get a feel for what it’s like on campus. If you’re unable to do this, however, many schools have tours posted online by the schools themselves or from students who go there, so feel free to check those out instead!

5. Check which credits will transfer

Hopefully, most of your college credits will transfer to your new school. The easiest way to find this out is by sending a transcript from your current university to the one(s) you want to go to. Transcripts can typically be ordered online for most universities and sent directly to your new school(s), but check what is preferred by both colleges before doing so. It is uncommon, but some universities prefer that transcripts are sent by physical mail.

Some schools, however, do not accept transfer credits at all. If this is the case for a school you want to attend, we really consider whether you feel it is worth it, as you would be entering your new college as a freshman and starting all over.

If you’re okay with this, just understand that you will have to repeat the years you already completed at your current college, at your new one. Also, keep in mind that you will have to pay for these extra years of college. Hopefully, though, financial aid will come in handy, and the extra cost won’t be too much of a burden. Now, let’s go over financial aid!

6. Consider Financial aid

Financial aid plays a huge role in all parts of college, from your (first) undergraduate school, to your next (if you transfer), to your graduate school, and even beyond. 

Thus, we highly recommend talking with financial aid advisors or administrators for those schools you hope to transfer to. Complete the FAFSA and any additional forms your schools request, as these will help them determine how much financial aid they can offer. 

If you receive your financial aid offer and feel that it is not sufficient, consider asking for a professional judgement which is more commonly known as a financial aid appeal. A financial aid appeal will allow you to present more information to the financial aid office, so they can get a better picture of your finances and hopefully offer more aid. Remember that college is a huge investment, and that you’re allowed to negotiate.

Prospective students can also receive an estimate of need-based (and in some cases merit based financial aid) by completing the Net Price Calculator. This is a free tool that you can find on every college’s website (generally it is on the financial aid page).

Limits on Federal Financial Aid

Additionally, students who are transferring will need to remember that federal financial aid can only be used for 8 semesters of an undergraduate education. This is important for transfer students, because if your credits do not transfer and you need need-based financial aid, you may not be able to rely upon federal financial aid for the entire duration of your time at your new college. 

This is especially important to keep in mind if you are transferring colleges and intend to pursue a very different majors than at your previous college.

See also: This year’s FAFSA guide

7. Compile everything you need for your application

Now’s the time to compile all the documents and forms you need to send out to your new college, and send them out (or submit them online, whichever works). Check out your school’s website, as many schools offer valuable information to transfers about what they should send in.

Besides transcripts, colleges often ask transfers to write application essays, ask for recommendation letters, request SAT or ACT scores, and sometimes ask to interview applicants as well.

8. Apply!

With everything compiled, you should be ready to submit your applications! If you still need a little time to get everything ready, that’s fine – just make sure to keep track of your application deadlines. Just like when you applied to college the first time, each school has different transfer deadlines as well. 

Some schools only accept transfer applications in the spring, while others have both fall (for those who want to transfer mid-year) and spring deadlines.

Just make sure to get your applications in on time, and good luck! 

9. Accept your offer

Hopefully, by now, you’ve been accepted to at least one of the schools you’ve applied to. If so, great! If you’ve been accepted to more than one, we would recommend weighing your choices and talking with family, friends, or advisors (from each school) about your options.

After you’ve decided which school you want to attend, accept the offer! Congratulations!

On the other hand, if you did not receive an acceptance, do not worry. There is always the chance of transferring next year (or even next semester). If you truly are unhappy at your current school and do not want to attend another semester, you also have the option of attending community college for a semester or year, and then transferring to another four-year university.

What do I do after I accept my offer?

After you’ve accepted your offer, it’s time to do some final steps!

These typically include:

  • Turning in deposits
  • Applying for financial aid (if you haven’t yet)
  • Submitting a housing application/Finding housing
  • Scheduling an orientation date
  • Scheduling a meeting with an advisor to discuss classes and credits
  • Registering for classes on time!

Last but not least, remember to enjoy your new college! We hope you have a great time, learn a lot, and make amazing friends.

Happy transferring!

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Frequently asked questions about how to transfer colleges

Can transfer students apply for scholarships?

Yes–there are plenty of scholarship opportunities for transfer students! Students should search for scholarships by major, by state, by background, and more!

Does transferring colleges look bad?

Not at all! What is more important is how you perform and what you get involved in at each school. As long as you maintain a high GPA and gain experiences relevant to the field you want to go into, you should be set for whatever your future holds. Just make sure you’re confident about your reasons for transferring first!

Can you transfer to a college that rejected you?

Definitely! (Trust me, I did it myself!) Being rejected from a college the first time around does not disqualify you from applying again or from being accepted the second (or even third) time you apply. A rejection simply means that you were not chosen from the pool of applicants that particular year, but whichever factors prevented you from being accepted can be changed before your next application!

Just keep in mind that some universities have a higher acceptance rate for transfers than for high school applicants, while others accept fewer transfers and will be harder to get into. So, just make sure to apply to some safety schools you could picture yourself at as well!

What are my transfer chances if I was admitted to the college before?

Some students might realize that they should have made a different choice when they originally went through the admissions process. That’s why it is not uncommon for students to return to colleges that they may have applied to or even were accepted to. In these situations, it is important to remember that while the application you submitted as a high school student is still important, your current college grades and experiences will be even more emphasized.