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 ole dusty trail right away (I want out, now), but the importance of timing your school transfer correctly cannot be understated.
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—like roommate disagreements, feeling overwhelmed with schoolwork, or trying to scale mental health hurdles—that can be addressed without transferring.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with transferring, but it might not be the only solution for you. However, 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?
Do your due diligence when it comes to finding out what your transfer schools offer—act as an incoming freshman does: do your research, reach out to current students, schedule a campus tour, etc.
Related: How to Find 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.
Some credits may transfer but won’t fulfill major requirements at your new school (even if they are part of the major curriculum at your current school). 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.
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 look into your options before starting your transfer applications.
Transfer application deadlines
While some schools may accept applications on a rolling basis, many have specific transfer application 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 and/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.
For more advice on transferring colleges, check out our Transfer Students section.