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How to Make Transferring Colleges as Seamless as Possible

Making the decision to transfer colleges is tough, but deciding when is even tougher. Read on to find out when the right time to transfer is—and why.

Thinking about transferring colleges but not sure when to do it? Once you’ve started to consider a transfer, you might be itching to hit the old dusty trail right away—but the importance of timing your school transfer correctly cannot be understated. Let’s dive into the considerations and steps you should take if you’ve got transferring on the brain. 

Why transfer colleges?

The first step in deciding when to transfer is figuring out why you want to transfer. There are some problems students frequently experience at school that can be addressed without transferring.

Common reasons students consider a college transfer

Some of the following college conundrums may have solutions other than packing your bags:

  • Roommate disagreements: Living with a new person or people can be challenging and frustrating, but it can also be a learning experience. Even if you don’t end up walking away from the situation as friends, you could learn valuable lessons about compromise, boundaries, and more. If all else fails, you can always request a new roommate!
  • Mental health: Managing stress in college is a whole new ballgame. Taking care of your mental health is so important, but there are resources at every college and university (and they’re getting better too!), so look into them before you choose whether or not to transfer.
  • Academic struggles: If your courses are proving more difficult than you anticipated, there are many things you can do, including talking to your professor, finding a tutor, or dropping the course. Challenging courses can seem daunting at first, but you’ll walk away from it having learned a lot—about the subject matter, your learning style, and your academic strengths and weaknesses.
  • Difficulty making friends: We get it—trying to make new friends when you don’t know a single soul at school is intimidating, especially if you’re not particularly outgoing. But guess what? There are plenty of people who would love to be your friend…if they only knew where you were hiding! Get out of your dorm and join a student club to meet like-minded folks, head to the gym and ask for a spotter, head to the quad and offer a bag of chips to a friendly-looking stranger…the possibilities are endless, but transferring isn’t necessary to cure your loneliness.
  • Missing home: Being away from your family and friends can be tough, but try to remember that you’re starting on the path to independence and a life that’s entirely your own. Your people will always be there for you, no matter where in the world you are. So before you throw in the towel, try some ways to overcome homesickness first. 

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with transferring, but it can create additional novel challenges that may make your prior woes seem like small potatoes…plus, transferring might not be the only solution for you. If transferring will unquestionably solve the issues you’re grappling with, then it’s a completely reasonable option. To reiterate, when you do it is critical.

Things to consider

Where to transfer

Deciding why you no longer want to attend your college should give you good insight into what you’re looking for in a new school. Let’s say your current institution is large, the student-faculty ratio is about 200:1, and you feel like you’re just a drop in the bucket; perhaps you should consider a smaller school with modest class sizes and a strong sense of community. If you’re bored to tears at a college in the middle of nowhere, perhaps a school in an urban location is better for you. 

Most important, you’ll want to apply to schools that have your desired program or major. Look into the curriculum, faculty, and student outcomes. Is the quality up to snuff? Above all, make sure to do your due diligence when it comes to finding out what your transfer schools offer. Act as an incoming first-year does: do your research, reach out to current students, schedule a campus tour, etc.

Related: 3 Important Factors to Finding Your Transfer College 

Transfer admission requirements

Transfer admission requirements are often different than freshman admission requirements, and the transfer application process is entirely different too. Many institutions will request a transfer essay, in which the hopeful transfer student explains why they want to change schools. Don’t rush this; it’s time-consuming to write and perfect your essay but also to “build your case.” If you’ve only been at your current school for a month, you may not have much of a claim to make—but every student’s story is different! Just be sure to give yourself time to tell yours with authority. 

Credits are also extremely important to consider. Most four-year universities require students to have taken at least 30 credit hours before transferring—and they all must be transferrable to the institution in question. If you’re thinking about transferring before hitting this mark, make sure each class you take at your current school will be eligible to transfer to your possible transfer schools. Also keep in mind that many schools also have a maximum of transferrable credits—typically between 60–90 credits, but sometimes as few as 45 for specific programs or majors. And while some credits may transfer, they may not fulfill major requirements at your new school (even if they're part of the major curriculum at your current school). So do plenty of research to find out which of the schools you’re looking into will accept your credits in the most beneficial way for you.

Related: Transfer Troubles: 3 Ways to Prevent Credit Leakage

Transfer financial aid and scholarships

When you transfer, you can’t always carry your financial aid over to your new school. Certain varieties of government aid are transferable, while campus-based aid—such as federal work-study—is not. So what happens to your financial aid when you transfer? Your destination school will recalculate your eligibility based on your FAFSA information—and their own requirements, policies, and available funds. In addition, any money awarded by your current college or university from its own funds will not transfer. Transfer students, especially mid-year transfers, often qualify for less financial aid than first-time and continuing students. Many schools and programs also offer scholarships that are specifically catered to transfer students. Be sure to explore your options before starting your transfer applications.

Transfer application deadlines

While some schools may accept applications on a rolling basis, many have specific transfer admission deadlines. It’s crucial to know and plan around these deadlines so you don’t find yourself scrambling to submit the necessary application materials at the last minute—or worse, miss them altogether! Make sure you give yourself enough time to request and gather letters of recommendation from your current professors, obtain your transcripts (from your high school and your current college or university), and revisit your SAT or ACT scores before the deadlines if necessary. A good strategy to keep track of all applicable deadlines is to mark the important “submit by” dates on a calendar that you see every day. This might be at your desk, on your fridge, or on your phone.

Related: How to Avoid These 5 Common Transfer Student Mistakes 

Above all, make sure your transfer decision is well thought out. We’d hate to see you leave your current school just to find out the problems you faced there followed you to a new school.

For more advice to help make your transfer easier, check out our Transfer Students section!

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About Abby Curtis

Abby Curtis

Abby Curtis is a freelance writer based in the Boston area. Writing is her favorite, with reading coming in second. She loves petting dogs (and cats, horses, bearded dragons, and so on). She also cooks and bakes a lot—hope you're hungry!


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