Should I Transfer?

Senior Assistant Editor, Carnegie Communications

Students who know they’ll be transferring from their two-year or four-year school into another college or university can go into the process feeling secure in their decision. But what if you’re on the fence? We explore some compelling reasons to transfer and how to deal with those situations.

The day had finally come. Kate received an acceptance letter to her first-choice college and she began planning right away. She couldn’t wait to move to her small state college campus and begin the wonderful college journey. She would make new friends, join new clubs, and soak in every last drop of the college experience. At least, this is what she thought would happen . . .

When Kate got to school she was placed in a room with four other girls, all perfect strangers. Her new upperclassmen roommates were not as eager as Kate to meet new people, so they often stayed in their rooms with the door shut. She found it very hard to meet new people, and events on campus were scarce. As time went on, Kate realized she wanted more out of her college experience. After some thought, she decided to transfer to a bigger state school, and she finally found the experience she was looking for.  

It can be difficult to get a good sense of something until you experience it firsthand, and it isn’t any different for the college you choose to attend. You can only tell so much about a campus from the few visits you make while you eat in the dining hall, take a look around the dorm rooms, and talk with a few of the students on campus. In deciding where you’ll spend the next four years of your life, it’s challenging just to work with a few experiences.

“The college selection process is one of life’s big and important decisions,” says Robbie Graves, Assistant Vice President of Undergraduate Admissions at Union University. “It is so important to be at the ‘right’ place.” In that effort to find the “right” place, one-third of students beginning at a two- or four-year institution transfer to anther school before they earn their bachelor’s degree. Whether it’s for financial reasons or the school just isn’t a good match, there are plenty of reasons to consider transferring schools. Some may seem more logical than others, but every circumstance is different. It’s also totally normal to feel a little bewildered by the whole experience, but how can you tell if transferring is the right step for you? You may find yourself stuck in one of the scenarios outlined here, so keep reading for tips on navigating—and transferring—your way out!

Too expensive

It is often said that a college shouldn’t be eliminated solely on its cost, since scholarships and financial aid are offered for help. But sometimes, these options just aren’t enough. No matter how many scholarships you have under your belt or the amount of aid you are receiving from the school, you may find it just isn’t covering as much as you need. If you have exhausted every option out there to fund your education, but it still isn’t cutting it, you may want to consider transferring to an affordable school. Breanna Foley, a 2010 college graduate, found herself in such a situation. Foley attended a school in North Carolina, and found that out-of-state tuition was putting a strain on her wallet. Attending a state-sponsored institution seemed like the way to go. She decided to transfer to a state college, and she saved money on room and board costs by commuting from home.

Socially uncomfortable

The culture on campus isn’t always what you anticipate. Maybe the majority of students always seem to be partying—like, keggers-on-Monday-night-before-midterms partying—and it just isn’t your scene. Or maybe the school is a little too serious and there isn’t enough happening socially that piques your interest. Whatever it may be, the social aspect of college can have a huge impact on your college experience as a whole, so it is important to enjoy your surroundings and find opportunities for fun while still focusing on academics.

College graduate Alexandra Kann knew her time was up at her university in Boston, Massachusetts, almost right away. “I came home every weekend first semester and didn’t make any friends that I was comfortable with,” Kann says, describing her decision to transfer. If you just don’t seem to click with your fellow students, it can be hard to imagine a life at that school for the next four years. “If the people around you are a distraction more than a help where you currently are, it is time to transfer,” advises Graves. When Kann transferred to her small, private college campus, she says she felt more comfortable and found it much easier to make friends due to the smaller and more intimate class settings.


If the major you wanted isn’t available, your classes aren’t challenging enough, or outside-of-class learning options, like internships, are scarce, transferring may be in the cards for you. You want to be engaged in your studies, gaining new skills, exploring promising careers, and learning how to learn! However, before you decide to transfer all together, try talking to your academic advisor first. You might be able to switch classes, join honors students, or even pursue an independent major with the help of a faculty advisor.

Give yourself a semester or two to feel it out. Most of the time, you will be taking prerequisite classes in your first few semesters that may seem less advanced than you’d like. Talk to your advisor and see if you can be steered in the right direction to harder classes. Graves recommends making a decision to transfer before the start of major-specific classes. “It becomes increasingly more difficult to transfer the further a student progresses in their actual academic classes,” he says.

If you look around and the school just doesn’t seem to offer what you are looking for, a more challenging college may be a better fit. A transfer may help your résumé, as you only need to list the institution you graduated from. But, attending a higher ranked college isn’t everything. Being in the top of your class at any school still looks good to employers. Keep this in mind before making the decision to transfer to a more advanced institution where you might fall shy of being a competitive student.

If family comes first

Life can sometimes throw a curve-ball, and there are times when family has to take priority over school. If you unexpectedly find out a family member is critically ill, it may make more sense for you to transfer to a school closer to home and even commute. Transferring schools because of a loved one is a sensible option, even though it might not be the ideal option for you.

On the other hand, students should be careful not to confuse a real family emergency with feelings of homesickness. Being away from home for the first time can be a scary thing. At a time where everything seems overwhelming and unfamiliar, homesickness can rear its ugly head. As a college student, it is important to not let these feelings affect your experience. It may seem like a quick fix to pack up and go home, but make sure you are certain it’s what you want to do. Ask yourself, is this a real family emergency? Or am I just missing the familiarity of home?

Although she was experiencing some financial troubles at her school in North Carolina, it was Foley’s feelings of homesickness that gave her the extra nudge to transfer schools. “In the beginning I was happy with my decision to transfer, but now it is my biggest regret. I wish I had stuck it out and stayed in North Carolina because it was an opportunity of a lifetime, but I left it because I was feeling a little homesick,” she says. “My new school was completely opposite from North Carolina, and I did not feel a part of the school at all. I didn’t even attend my college graduation.” Missing home is very common amongst college freshmen, but in some cases—like Breanna Foley’s—it is important to overcome those feelings and only leave if it’s necessary.

Just a bad fit

It may take a while to get adjusted to college and living on your own, but what happens if the adjustment just never clicks? Sometimes, a personality can clash with the atmosphere of a campus, and in such a case, that person may never find a place of comfort. “So much of who one becomes as a person and as a professional can be traced back to their college days,” says Graves. Trust your instincts—if a school just doesn’t seem to fit well, a transfer might be the best option. However, it is wise to give the school a chance before you jump to conclusions. Not feeling comfortable at her school after the first semester, Kann says she “realized [she] didn’t want to spend three more years there and figured it was time to find something else.” Instead, she found a school that was closer to home and had a smaller campus, which she felt fit her personality type better and made her feel more comfortable.

Giving yourself an adequate amount of time at your school is very important before making a decision. Adjusting to a new environment, new friends, and a whole new life can be overwhelming at first, but give the school a chance before you start applying to other schools and packing your bags. “[It] is imperative to surround yourself with students and professors who will speak into your life on a daily basis and help you develop into the person you truly want to become,” Graves advises. Give yourself a semester or two so you don’t end up in the same situation at a different school a year down the road. If you think it has been a sufficient amount of time and you can’t see yourself becoming any happier, start considering your transfer options.

Making the decision

There are many good reasons to consider transferring, but you should be confident in your final decision so you don’t have any regrets later. College can be some of the best years of your life, and luckily you have some control over where you spend them. If transferring schools is the only thing that will allow you to enjoy those years, then make that move, because you only get them once.

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