Last Updated: Sep 21, 2015
Many students experience college in a similar way: traveling with the crowd down the well-known admission path, taking four to six years to complete their degree. But as a transfer student, your path is a little different.
Transferring happens for many reasons, from finding a better overall “fit” to family obligations, relocation, military commitments, and finances, to name a few. But whatever your reasons for transferring, the most important part of traveling this new and exciting path is planning out the journey.
You need to know: what classes count
As a transfer student, you have the opportunity to begin completing core curriculum courses while also exploring introductory-level courses in the major you think you’d like to pursue. Your professors and other faculty at your current institution can be great resources for discussing possible majors. Ask what type of work they are involved in, programs they pursued, and obstacles they encountered. This should allow you to solidify the type of program you are looking for in your transfer—or perhaps help you eliminate the majors you are definitely not interested in. Using your major as a key search point can help narrow down the schools you will be applying for transfer to. Keep in mind most schools have a maximum amount of transferable credit, so make sure you are taking classes that will actually count toward a degree program. The best way to do this is to meet with a transfer counselor at your future institution.
Don’t forget: admission offices have transfer counselors specifically for students like you! They are the ones (myself included) who will not only assist you in navigating the admission process but also in advising and helping you choose a class schedule that ensures a smooth transfer of credits. This is important because you have already spent time and money completing courses at another institution—and you want to make sure they count. Never assume spending two years at one school means only two years left at the next.
At my institution, the University of New Haven, our transfer staff will complete a preliminary transfer credit evaluation to map out exactly how the courses you have already taken might transfer through and what you still need to complete for your degree. Most students feel better seeing this on paper and understanding the game plan moving forward. The earlier you meet with a transfer counselor, the sooner you have a plan of classes to complete, and the clearer your path will be.
Of course, the path you are on might already be relatively clear if you are completing an associate degree with plans to transfer and continue elsewhere for your bachelor’s degree. However, it is still a good idea to check in with a transfer counselor to make sure the classes you are (or will be) taking for the associate degree will transfer directly into your chosen bachelor’s degree program at your new institution. Your transfer counselor can also offer advice on what specific electives to take if you have any available in your current curriculum.
Some institutions have articulation agreements for specific majors, which ensure a smooth transfer of credits. The classes you’ve completed and your GPA are significant factors. Find out about these agreements and any transfer programs between your current and future schools to see if you are eligible.
You need to know: how to apply
Though you may have already navigated the admission process after completing high school, this is not a time to rest on your laurels. The schools you’re considering for your transfer could have different admission procedures and standards for transfer applicants compared to freshman applicants. Make sure you know these nuances. Some schools have their own transfer application, and others might use standardized applications (Common Application, Universal Application, etc.). Find out exactly what each school requires of its transfer applicants. Will you still need a high school transcript? Standardized test scores? Letters of recommendation? It might vary depending on the number of credits you have earned at your current college.
One thing is certain: you will need to request official transcripts from each institution you have ever taken classes at. Full disclosure of your academic history is important. Though you might want to wait for your current semester to end before sending that transcript, take into consideration enrollment deadlines and semester start dates, especially if you are transferring midyear. Some schools can send official transcripts electronically, but be prepared for your current or previous schools to have to mail your official transcripts via postal service; this could take more than a few days. Within about two weeks of submitting your transfer application and requesting official transcripts from every institution you have attended, check in with your transfer counselor to see if everything has arrived and if your application is ready for review.
If you have a unique academic history, make sure your transfer school knows. If they request an application essay or offer the opportunity to submit a separate personal statement, take full advantage of this! Share your academic story, from where you started to what you have learned in the classes you have already taken, what you have learned from professors, the life experiences that have led you to transfer, obstacles you have overcome, and what you are looking for from your new institution. This essay is your chance to share something more personal in addition to your official transcripts and limited information gathered by the actual application itself.
You need to know: how to take advantage of your resources
Once you’ve decided where to transfer, continue making connections on your new campus. Get to know the specific support systems and campus resources available for you as a transfer student. Yes, you have been to college and taken classes, but you will be new to this institution and still need to get acclimated. Find out when transfer orientation takes place and make a point to attend these events. This is another chance to familiarize yourself with your new surroundings, meet some of the faculty and other transfer students, and get questions answered about class registration, financial aid, and any final steps you need to complete before beginning the semester. Since you will probably only have a few semesters left to complete your degree, meet with the career development center as soon as possible to discuss postgraduate options. These campus connections are invaluable; they will be the foundation of your experience at your new school.
Your college experience is what you make of it, whether you make it at one school or two, in four years or more. Use this information to create a plan and stick to it! Identify mentors early on, know what the transfer application process entails, and connect to the staff and community at your new school. Stay focused on the goal at the end of your path: completing your degree.