Applying for financial aid as a transfer student is easy, because you've already been through the process, right? Well, not exactly. While that previous experience may be helpful, transfer students encounter a few unique financial aid issues.
Get the facts
Know what forms are required
Transfer student or not, to apply for federal, state, and/or institutional aid, you must submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). You should complete the FAFSA as soon after October 1 as possible. The FAFSA is completely free and can be found at fafsa.ed.gov. If you filed a FAFSA last year, you can file a renewal this year. This makes the process easier by auto-populating some of last year’s answers for you.
Some schools will require the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE (College Scholarship Service PROFILE) and/or their own institutional forms. The PROFILE provides additional information about the family’s financial situation that the FAFSA doesn’t cover. Unlike the FAFSA, the PROFILE does cost money, so make sure it is required before paying to have it filed at a potential college or university. More information about the PROFILE can be found at collegeboard.com.
It could happen that the information required where you are now will be different at your next institution. Make sure to research the needed documents and know which school requires which forms.
Know the deadlines
The deadline for applying for aid as a transfer student varies from institution to institution and depends on when you plan to transfer. Deadlines for students interested in merit-based scholarships can also catch you off guard if you are not diligent. Make sure to stay on top of dates. Make a spreadsheet of all potential deadlines—it will help you keep track.
Communicate directly with the financial aid office
You’ve done this before, so you may be tempted to leave this aspect of your transfer decision to the last minute. Don’t! Be sure to talk with a financial aid officer about any special financial circumstances you or your family may have. Ask all the important questions you learned your first time through the process, and seek advice and direction from your new institution.
What’s different this time?
Unlike freshmen moving to sophomore year at the same college, transfers need to understand that financial aid they received from their prior institution does not “carry over” in any way to the next college or university. The financial aid application process simply starts anew. Transfer students also need to update their FAFSA with information from their prior institution. This entails nothing more than adding the six-digit federal institution code to the list on the FAFSA form. Students attending schools requiring the CSS/PROFILE will need to pay an additional fee to send it to their new school.
One of the most significant aspects in the financial aid process for transfer students concerns the management of government education loan information from the prior institution. Since your previous school will only report that you have left their institution to the U.S. Department of Education (via the National Student Loan Data System), it is important for you to communicate with all prior lenders that you are attending a new school. In order to qualify for deferment of payments on education loans based on your continued enrollment status, you must complete a loan deferment form, telling their former lenders that they are at a different institution. Failure to do this can result in loan payments becoming due while you are in school. Stay in very close contact with all your education lenders, private and government, as they both offer deferment options of some kind.
Some institutions may offer less financial assistance through institutional grant and scholarship programs to transfer students than to incoming freshmen. Some institutions may offer less college-based assistance to students transferring in the spring, relative to those planning the move in the fall. Some schools may not offer college-funded grants/scholarships to transfer students at all! However, some schools offer very generous scholarship programs for transfer students. Get these questions answered early in the process to avoid any surprises later.
Finally, as a transfer student, you should be very careful to weigh the number of credits you will receive from a particular institution against the total amount of aid offered. Plot out the amount of time it will take you to graduate, along with the aid offered to figure out the best financial fit. You might have to take an additional semester or year to fulfill requirements, so make sure to consider this when you’re looking at financial aid packages. And remember, while scholarships generally require some minimum level of academic performance to be renewed from one year to the next, need-based grants can fluctuate annually with your family’s financial situation.
By applying this transfer-friendly advice to what you already know about financial aid, you’ll be well prepared for whatever money matters your new school throws at you.