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How to Avoid These 5 Common Transfer Student Mistakes

The transfer process presents unique challenges and potential pitfalls. That's why we asked a transfer admission insider help you avoid these common mistakes.

Everybody makes mistakes. That’s true in life and certainly true in the college search. Because the transfer process is fraught with unique challenges, it comes with unique potential pitfalls as well. But don’t worry—we asked a transfer admission insider to point them out for you so you can watch your step. Here are some of the top mistakes transfer students tend to make and the best ways to avoid them.

Mistake #1: Not visiting campus

Transfer students often choose not to visit schools because they feel it’s unnecessary. You’ve already done this once, so no need to do it again, right? Wrong! Now that you’re looking to transfer to a four-year institution, it’s time to visit and see what else is out there. The best way to determine if a college is the right fit for you is to visit its campus. And if you have never made an official visit to a college, now is definitely the time!

When you visit your prospective school(s), you'll be given the opportunity to take a tour, see a dorm room, sit in on a class, meet with a faculty member from the major you’re interested in, and learn more about the admission and financial aid processes. The best time to visit a college is when school is in session, so you can see what a “typical” day is like on campus. Be sure to ask a lot of questions, for example: Where do students hang out? What activities are offered? And the ever-important question, will my credits transfer—and how?

Start early with visiting campuses too. Ideally, you should get the ball rolling on your transfer during the very first semester at your current college so you know what the requirements are for any school you are considering transferring to. Then you also have plenty of time to visit all of the schools you are interested in. This will give you the chance to see if one stands out in your mind and compare the differences. Can you see yourself on that campus for the remainder of your college career and becoming a proud graduate?

Related: A Quick List of Transfer-Specific Campus Visit Questions

Mistake #2: Applying too late

Many students wait to send in their transfer applications, perhaps because they haven’t felt urgency from their two-year school. However, when you are looking to transfer, the ideal timeline would be to contact the schools you are interested in transferring to about one year to a year and a half in advance. That may sound like overkill, but the extra time will give you a cushion to work through any logistical problems you may encounter before you transfer. You'll also want to check on deadlines for the major you are interested in, as some majors, like Nursing, might have different timelines than other fields of study. If you know you want to transfer, it is never too early to contact a college or university to see when you should apply and have your transcripts sent in. After all, that’s what the admission office is there for! Another advantage to applying early is that your transcripts will be reviewed early too, and you’ll know how your credits will transfer.

Mistake #3: Going it alone

It’s easy to distance yourself from your admission and/or transfer counselor and not ask questions, but you’d be doing yourself a great disservice! The admission counselor is your advocate at any college you hope to transfer into. It’s great to have conversations with the advisors at your current institution too, but make sure you are reaching out to the admission departments at the schools you would like to transfer to as well.

Open the door of conversation with the different schools you are considering transferring to and determine what the transfer requirements are with the admission department. Make sure you have a clear plan for what classes you should be taking at your current school. Admission counselors are more up to speed on any changes in admission/major requirements—and it’s their job to make sure you get the correct answers! Don’t be shy. If you start talking to an admission counselor about a year and a half before you transfer, you will be in the loop, and they will work hard to make sure your transition to their school is a good one.

Related: Useful College Resources Transfers Need to Know About

Mistake #4: Not filing the FAFSA

If you’re currently attending a community college, you may be able to afford it by paying out of pocket. Perhaps you have not needed to file for financial aid, or you filed but did not receive anything while at your current school. This is typically not the case when transferring to a four-year institution. Apply as soon as possible once the FAFSA opens up on October 1 (prior to the year you plan to transfer and enroll). Some states offer their own grants with their own deadlines too, so don’t miss out by not filing your FAFSA early!

Once you have officially been accepted and you have filed the FAFSA, you can expect a financial aid award letter from each school you are considering, typically in March or April. Once you receive the award letter, you can compare your offers from different schools. Contact your admission counselor or financial aid office with any questions you may have. They can also walk you through the contents of your award letter and explain what each item means. Here are some common and necessary financial topics to ask about—and to make sure you understand completely:

  • Spelling out your financial aid award letter and everything in it
  • Grants and scholarships vs. loans
  • The difference between subsidized and unsubsidized loans
  • Payment plan options
  • Living on or off campus and if that impacts your aid award

These things play an important role in choosing the right school for you. Don’t be afraid to set up an appointment with a school representative to go over any questions you have about financial aid.

Mistake #5: Putting off figuring out living arrangements

Are you looking for the total college experience? Have you considered living in the dorms or getting an apartment close to campus? If this is something you’re interested in, you need to make the decision sooner rather than later. Most residence hall contracts and deposits are due by May 1, but keep in mind that dorm space might be at a premium, so the sooner you decide the better. The same goes for apartments; many returning students sign their leases early in the year and perhaps up to a year in advance. Where you live will also be a factor in your financial aid award letter. Because of this, you should notify your admission counselor or the financial aid department if you plan to move from on campus to off (or vice versa) so they can update your financial aid to reflect your decision.

Related: The Ups and Downs of the Transfer Experience

The transfer process represents the culmination of tremendous growth and effort. It’s normal to be nervous about transferring to another school, but if you follow the aforementioned tips, the transition should be a smooth one. Take advantage of orientation events for incoming transfer students, and make time to meet current students as well. Remember: once you have settled and are familiar with a school, you're not labeled as a transfer student anymore—you're all students at the same institution working toward the same goal.

Find more tips and tricks for the transfer admission process with the articles and advice in our Transfer Students section.

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