8 Keys to Unlocking Financial Aid as a Transfer Student

Whatever your reason for transferring, there are steps you can take to ensure your transition is smooth--and that you get the most financial aid possible.

Since you’ve already been through the college search process once, perhaps you feel like a pro as you prepare for your transfer. Then again, you might be one of the many students excited to pursue this process...but with just as many questions, if not more, than the first time you applied. Transferring is not quite as straightforward as starting as a “traditional” freshman. And transfer students typically have a variety of reasons for wanting to start anew. Whether you started at a community college and need to transfer to get your bachelor’s degree or because the school you initially chose did not meet your needs, there are steps you can take to ensure that your transition is as smooth as possible—including getting the most financial aid possible.

Key 1: Reflection and research

What are your career goals? What schools offer majors and internships that will help you reach them? What other factors are most important to you? Think about the size, academics, organizations, and location you want to pursue. Do you want to be close to home or hours away? Do you want to live in or near a major city, or would you prefer a more rural setting? Start looking for schools that meet the criteria you want. Check each school’s website to find out exactly what they offer. Many schools will have webpages dedicated to transfer students and likely transfer financial aid specifically.

Colleges and universities offer scholarships for transfer students too. If this is a priority to you, check their website, call, or visit to find out what is offered. There will likely be certain criteria for each scholarship. See if there is anything you can do to qualify for additional scholarships from a school before you apply. And always, always keep your grades up! Academic transfer scholarships may be directly tied to your incoming college GPA. Another thing you should look for on a college website is a list of deadlines. Many schools adhere to very similar deadlines for transfers and traditional first-year students. Make sure you know when applications for admission and scholarships, the FAFSA, and the enrollment deposit are due.

Related: 3 Important Factors to Finding Your Transfer College

Key 2: Applying early

If you know where you want to apply, why wait? Many colleges will review your application well before you have completed your current course work. The earlier you apply, the more opportunities you may have for course selection and scholarships. Additionally, make sure you provide all the information requested on the application. Many schools offer targeted awards and use the initial application as the scholarship application. Targeted awards could be for coming from out of state, having a family connection, or other factors such as ethnicity or religious background. Accordingly, don’t leave any section of your application blank, even if it’s not marked as required—it might be used for scholarship considerations!  Some colleges offer competitive scholarships for transfer students who apply by a specific deadline. If you meet the criteria, be sure to apply with plenty of time left for additional documents such as transcripts and letters of recommendation to arrive. Remember that colleges need time to process your application, review college credits for transfer course equivalents, and create your financial aid award.

Key 3: Submit all requested documents

This may sound obvious, but because many schools list courses from other colleges on a transcript, there are many students who neglect to list all colleges they have attended on their application. In order to accurately evaluate an application for admission and review credits that transfer, colleges need official copies of transcripts from all of the schools you’ve attended, even if you only took one class there. Waiting for additional college transcripts can hold up the process and possibly cause you to miss important deadlines. And don’t forget to submit a final transcript after all courses have been completed.  

Related: A Quick Guide to First-Year vs. Transfer College Admission

Key 4: Completing the FAFSA

The FAFSA needs to be filed each year you plan to use federal aid to help cover the cost of college. It can be completed after October 1, and many colleges have their own filing deadlines. Do your research and adhere to the earliest requested deadlines. The FAFSA will use your tax and financial information to create an Expected Family Contribution (EFC). This amount is what the government and colleges use to determine your eligibility for grants, loans, and work-study. If it is past October 1 and you have already completed a FAFSA for your current school, you can add any additional schools you are considering attending.

Key 5: Visiting campus

Once you have been accepted and received a financial aid package, schedule a visit to campus While on your tour, talk to an academic advisor to create a schedule that helps you determine how many classes you need to graduate and when you can take those courses. Spending three years at a college rather than two will significantly change your anticipated costs, so you want to weigh all options. Also meet with an admission counselor or financial aid officer. This is a great opportunity to better understand your financial aid package and total cost to attend. Be aware of which parts of your package are renewable, which are based on the FAFSA, and which are one-time awards. This will help you better understand your costs for future years.

Related: How to Graduate on Time as a Transfer Student

Key 6: Exploring your payment options

Learn about the different payment options. Your admission counselors or financial aid officers can clarify the options available at each school. Many schools offer a no-interest payment plan that spreads your payments out over the year to make the balance more manageable. Students will often use a combination of a payment plan, financial aid, and loans to cover the out-of-pocket amount. Discuss the available options with your family and/or significant other to determine which option works best for you.

Key 7: Transferring your outside scholarships

Not all scholarships apply to all colleges. However, most non-institutional scholarships should be transferrable. Contact the awarding organization to ensure you can transfer schools and still keep your scholarships. When you make the decision to transfer, let the scholarship distributer know that you are going to a different college, and tell the new institution’s financial aid office that you are bringing in a previously awarded third-party scholarship. This could also potentially include Phi Theta Kappa scholarships. Phi Theta Kappa is a national two-year college honor society. Some colleges offer specific scholarships to registered members. Be sure to ask if there are scholarship opportunities at the schools you are considering. If a school does offer a scholarship, find out what the criteria are for you to get the award.

Related: Important things to Understand About Transfer Air

While transferring schools—and financial aid—can be an intimidating process, it doesn’t have to be. Colleges want the transition to be smooth, especially if they’re considered transfer-friendly colleges which specially seek out transfer students. Remember to use the resources available to you to get the most aid possible and bring down your college costs, and when in doubt, ask for help.

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