3 Things You Need to Graduate on Time as a Transfer

Worried about graduating in a traditional four-year time frame after transferring colleges? Just do these three things and you'll stay on the right track.

Years ago, if students decided to transfer from one college to another, it probably meant they couldn't transfer all their earned credits to the new college. In recent years, there has been a large growth in transfer student populations, and colleges and universities have recognized these students’ unique needs. Many schools now have transfer counselors, transfer courses, and even transfer centers, all designed to assist students in their transition to their new home. With these people and programs in place, it's much easier for students to ease into their transfer college and get on track to complete their bachelor’s degrees. And because of these resources, transferring schools doesn’t mean you have to set back your graduation timeline! You just need to know which tools to use to tackle certain issues so you can graduate on schedule. These include credit transfer, financial aid transfer, and the “need to know” people to help you through the move to your new college.

1. Make sure your credits transfer

Perhaps the most important issue for transfer students is credit transfer. Students want to know what classes will transfer to their new school and how. One of the most difficult conversations to have with transfer students happens when they learn their credits will not transfer because the school they are leaving is not regionally accredited. Accreditation ensures a school has met consistent quality standards, and each region in the United States has a commission that oversees and reviews colleges and universities. Most colleges are regionally accredited, but some common outliers include Bible colleges and for-profit colleges. It's important to research the accreditation of a college before you enroll. Even if you aren't planning to transfer, your school’s accreditation (or lack thereof) could affect your options to go on to graduate school, medical school, law school, or even your future career. For more information on accreditation, visit the Higher Learning Commission's website.

Work with the admission office

Each college that you consider transferring to will evaluate your current credits to see how those courses will transfer into their school. It's important to ask for this evaluation early on in your search, because each school will have a different process and timeline to complete the request. It's also important to provide transcripts from each college you have previously attended. Sometimes, students think their credits won’t transfer from a particular college, or they ask to “start over” as a freshman, but it's critical to the admission and financial aid process that you reveal every college you have attended, regardless of how you think the credits will transfer. This information is not only important to the admission office but the financial aid office too; they'll compare your self-reported data with the National Student Clearinghouse to confirm your eligibility for financial aid. The National Student Clearinghouse manages all student enrollment and verification for colleges and universities across the nation and has a record of each student’s enrollment history.

Keep your course information organized

After you receive your credit evaluation, review the information carefully with your admission counselor. If you see errors or think a course should transfer but didn’t, ask your admission counselor if you can have your courses reevaluated. Often, there's a petition process in which students can provide additional information to request a course transfer. Such reevaluations and petitions make it important to save syllabi and writing samples from your previous college courses. At the end of each semester, take care to organize your completed syllabi and paperwork into a folder and save it until you have completed your degree. This way, you'll have documentation ready should you decide to transfer in the future. Perhaps the most helpful information in a petition process is the official description of the course you are requesting for credit transfer. This will provide proof that the class is comparable with courses at the college you are transferring to.

Related: Our Best Advice for the Transfer Admission Process 

2. Figure out financial aid

After credit transfer, a key factor to graduating on time is figuring out your financial aid. Remember, you're transferring to a new school with a different process, different tuition, and different expectations. Financial aid is not universal, and it doesn't necessarily carry over to your new college when you transfer. There will be people to notify and forms to file, so the earlier you start this process, the better off you will be—and the more likely you'll be to graduate on time.


The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the first step in determining your financial aid eligibility. You may already be familiar with this form from your current school. Consequently, many transfer students procrastinate when it comes to completing the FAFSA because they have done it before and know “what they can get.” They put it off until late spring or early summer—but that is a big mistake. Delaying financial aid can have dire consequences and can even lead to students owing money to schools, stopping out (leaving school for a semester or two to earn tuition money), or even dropping out altogether. Never will it be so critical to complete the FAFSA as soon after October 1 as possible prior to the year you plan to transfer. Include all schools that you are considering, including your current school (in case you decide not to transfer after all) on the FAFSA. This way you can receive financial aid awards from each college you have been accepted to.

Look for institutional scholarships

Although the FAFSA may be familiar, the financial aid process may not be. Just like every college has a different tuition and fee structure, they will have a unique financial aid policy too. Once you complete the FAFSA, take a look at the other aid available at your new school. There may be transfer-specific scholarships available, especially if you are transferring to a private college. In addition to merit-based transfer scholarships, many four-year institutions offer scholarships to members of Phi Theta Kappa (PTK), the two-year college honor society. Be sure to include all activities, clubs, and organizations you are involved in at your current college on your transfer application. Many colleges use information on the application form to determine eligibility for other scholarships such as PTK.

Remember your student loans

Finally, if you have taken out any student loans at your current college, be sure to notify your lender that you plan to transfer. This will help make a smooth transition and assure that you can continue the relationship you have with your current lender into your new college. Be aware of any forms or deadlines that may be different than you’ve used at your current college, and get in touch with your new financial aid counselor as soon as possible. 

Related: 3 Important Things to Understand About Transfer Financial Aid 

3. Find the right people and resources

Whether it was your intention from the beginning or a last-minute change of plans, transferring to a new college can be an intimidating process. But in the past decade or so, colleges and universities have realized the growth in transfer student populations and have responded with better transfer credit policies, transfer-specific scholarships, and even transfer specialists who work directly with students.

Work with transfer and financial aid counselors

Most colleges now have transfer admission counselors who specialize in recruiting and counseling transfer students. These are the go-to people at your new college, and they're usually a powerful resource as you prepare to transfer. Transfer counselors can assist you with the admission process, show you the credit evaluation and petition process, and get you in contact with your degree advisor and financial aid counselor. This will likely be the person you work with through the end of your degree program, and knowing who your financial aid counselor is and how to get in touch with them will prove helpful as you continue through your college career. This person can also help you understand how to best maximize your financial aid in the timeline that you have planned to complete your degree. For example, if you are eligible for need-based grants, your financial aid counselor can outline the minimum credit requirements you must meet to receive this aid and will help you understand any time or credit limits associated with your grants and/or scholarships. These conversations will assure you are on track to graduate on time.

Take special transfer courses

In addition to the people you will work with to help you finish your degree on time, many colleges now offer transfer courses that students can take in their first term at their new school. These types of courses mirror freshman seminar classes but specifically teach transfer students about resources at their new college. It’s a great way to connect with clubs and organizations at your new school, learn about all the student services available, and—maybe best of all—meet other transfer students. Some colleges even have designated offices that specialize in transfer student services. Often students can use this as a one-stop shop for all their transfer needs: admission, credit evaluation, financial aid information, and campus resources.

Related: 4 Potential Obstacles for Transfer Students and How to Conquer Them

Remember, starting the college transfer process early is the best way to start on the right foot at your new school—and it may prove to be the best way to ensure that you can still graduate on time. Just keep these three things in mind and you'll be golden. Good luck—and have fun!

Still looking for the perfect place to transfer? Learn about all kinds of transfer-friendly schools with our lists of featured transfer colleges and request information from them instantly!

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