How to Transfer Colleges: A Guide To Transferring Colleges

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Transferring colleges is not a decision to be taken lightly.

Transferring Colleges

There are plenty of reasons why transferring to another college may be the right call for you. You may be enrolled at a local community college, not quite happy with your current school, or looking to get back on track after sitting on the sidelines for a few years,

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Transferring Colleges

Making the choice to transfer colleges can be a nerve-racking affair if you’re not familiar with all of the things that go into the process.

To help you come to a decision, we’ve put together this guide covering some of the most important things you need to know about transferring colleges.

This guide discusses the ins and outs of transferring colleges, including transferring from college to university, changing programs, changing majors, and more.

How to Transfer Colleges

Transfer student filling up admission form

If you’ve considered why you want to transfer and decided it is the best path for you, here are some common steps for transferring colleges:

  1. Select your new college. If you aren’t sure which school matches your goals and interests, you can use our College Search tool to help narrow down your choices and find the right program.
  2. Meet with an admissions counselor. Before committing to a college transfer, it is beneficial to meet with an admissions counselor to learn what your prospective school has to offer.
  3. Find out which course credits will transfer. Every school has different transfer policies. You can send your transcripts in for assessment to your prospective program to explore your options.
  4. Complete the college application process. Your prospective school will have specific admissions requirements that you’ll need to meet. These may include GPA requirements, essays, test scores, letters of recommendation, or admissions interviews.
  5. Know the deadlines for transfer. Some colleges have strict deadlines for when they will accept students for transfer, while others have open enrollment policies. When planning your transfer, it’s important to be aware of these deadlines.
  6. Secure your spot at the new school. Once your application is submitted and approved, you’ll need to make sure to turn in any required deposits or requested documents to finalize your admittance and secure your spot.

These are just some of the common basic steps required for transferring colleges. Your specific situation or prospective program may have further requirements, so it is beneficial to be in contact with an admissions counselor so they can help you throughout the process.

How to Transfer Colleges After One Semester

A student preparing requirements to transfer school

You may be wondering how early you can transfer colleges. Can you transfer colleges mid-year? Can you transfer colleges mid semester?

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It is often possible to transfer after one semester, and many students opt to do so for a variety of reasons. If you think that you’d like to transfer after your first semester of college, these are steps you may take to do so:

  1. Weigh the pros and cons of transferring. Transferring may give you access to degrees that better fit your goals, better course offerings, or more financial opportunities.
  2. Research transfer-friendly colleges. Each school has different transfer policies, so it’s important to research schools that fit your needs. You may wish to consider reapplying to colleges that previously accepted you.
  3. Speak with advisors. Your counselor at your current school can help you gather the materials you’ll need and help you understand the pros and cons. An advisor at your new school can help you fully understand their transfer policies and find out which of your semester credits may transfer.
  4. Schedule your college transfer. Most schools have deadlines for transfer students. It’s important to research these dates so that you can meet these deadlines and avoid delays in your education.
  5. Submit applications. The requirements for applying for transfer will vary by school. You will likely need to meet the admissions requirement for incoming freshmen because you don’t have many credits.
  6. Submit your high school transcripts. Since you don’t have many college credits, your target school will likely place a significant emphasis on your high school GPA and transcripts and potentially your SAT or ACT scores.
  7. Secure financial aid. Along with completing the FAFSA, it can be beneficial to meet with advisors at your new school to discuss financial aid opportunities.

There are many steps involved when wanting to transfer colleges, and it may be daunting to do it so soon after starting college, but with careful planning, it may be worth it.

Transferring Colleges Freshman Year

freshman students sitting in university campus

If you transfer schools in your first year of college, the institution you apply to for transfer will likely place a strong priority on your high school GPA and SAT or ACT scores.

When transferring in your freshman year of college, these are some likely steps you’ll need to follow:

  1. Consider the benefits and drawbacks of transferring schools. If you are not happy at your current school or if another school has more to offer in terms of majors and other opportunities, then transferring is likely a good option for you.
  2. Meet with an academic advisor. Academic advisors can help you review the transfer policies, review which of your credits will transfer, and explore your options.
  3. Submit a college transfer application. You’ll need to submit an application and required admissions materials to your new school and request that official transcripts be sent from your current college.
  4. Gather all necessary documentation. Documents for your application may include standardized test scores, high school transcripts, letters of recommendation, or personal essays.
  5. Secure financial aid. Once your application is accepted to transfer colleges, it’s beneficial to apply for all forms of financial aid that you may need.
  6. Withdraw or take a leave of absence from your current institution. Once you’ve secured your transfer, you’ll need to withdraw from your current college. It may also be possible to take a leave of absence if you are concerned about needing to return.

In some cases, the university in question will also place stipulations on students who decide to transfer this early in their academic career.

Transferring Colleges Sophomore Year

A sophomore transfer student asking his professor a question

Many of the common steps for transferring schools in your sophomore year are the same or similar to those we’ve discussed for earlier timeframes.

  1. Research colleges. It’s important to find universities that have transfer-friendly policies. Some colleges reserve places for transfer students, while others only accept a limited number of transfers.
  2. Gather all necessary documentation. Documents you may need include SAT or ACT scores, high school transcripts, and official college transcripts. Your high school GPA and test scores will still have some weight, but with each credit you complete, your college education will have more bearing.
  3. Submit mid-year college reports. If you are transferring mid-year, you may need to have your professors sign a mid-year report to submit with your application.
  4. Meet with an academic advisor. It’s important to talk with an academic advisor to discuss the options you have for credit transfer.
  5. Fill out the application for your new institution. You’ll need to apply for your prospective school and program and may have specific admissions materials you need to submit as a transfer student.
  6. Secure financial aid. Filling out the FASFA and applying for scholarships can potentially save you a lot of money. It may be necessary to apply for school loans as well.

These are the most common steps required for transferring, but it’s important to research the specific transfer policies of your prospective school for more information.

Transferring Colleges Junior Year

Sophomore college students checking options to transfer school

Once you hit your junior year, it’s time to start thinking about articulation agreements and credit transfer policies.

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Articulation agreements can help standardize the application of credits to programs of study between universities, but it’s still important to connect with a counselor to confirm the coverage provided.

The common steps for transferring colleges in your junior year are as follows:

  1. Meet with an academic advisor. It can be very beneficial to meet with an advisor at your current school to go over existing articulation agreements and help narrow down your choices.
  2. Explore transfer policies. It is also important to visit the schools you are interested in and speak with an advisor about their transfer policies.
  3. Apply to your prospective school. You’ll need to submit an application, required admissions materials, and your college transcripts for transfer assessment. At this stage of your education, high school transcripts and SAT or ACT scores may not be required.
  4. Secure letters of recommendation. You may need letters of recommendation from your current professors to demonstrate what you’ll be bringing to your prospective college as a transfer student.
  5. Finalize your transfer after admission. After your transfer application is accepted, you’ll need to notify your current school of your withdrawal date and look into financial aid for your new school.

Depending on your chosen school, the number of credits accepted – usually in the 60 to 66 range – can vary. This can lead to “lost” credits (credits that flow over the limit) and the need to complete a new set of prerequisites as you continue with upper-level courses.

Transferring Colleges Senior Year

senior students studying in library

Deciding to transfer in your senior year isn’t something to be taken lightly. The move can potentially delay your graduation because many transferring credit policies cap at 60 credits.

If you’re willing to complete your studies online, some accredited universities offering online programs accept up to 90 transfer credits.

When choosing to transfer colleges your senior year, these are some steps that likely need to be considered:

  1. Understand the implications of transferring this late. Would it make more sense to complete your education at your current school?
  2. Meet with an admissions advisor. At this late stage, it is even more important to ensure that you have a full understanding of your school’s credit transfer policies.
  3. Choose a transfer-friendly school. Some schools will only accept up to two years of credit, which could potentially set you back a full year, but there are accredited online degree programs that will accept up to 90 credit hours.
  4. Submit all required documents. There are a number of materials you’ll need to gather and submit with your application. These may include official transcripts, admissions requirements, and other documentation.
  5. Meet with your academic advisor. After accepting your transfer offer, it will be beneficial to meet with your academic advisor to ensure a smoother transition.

Facing the possibility of lost credits may not matter as much if you don’t have a choice in the matter. Relocating, dealing with personal or professional issues, and other major life considerations are all prime examples of extenuating circumstances that can force someone to need to transfer. But with careful planning, you can minimize the potential setback you may face when transferring.

Common Reasons Why Students Transfer to Another College

transfer student meeting with new schoolmates

There are plenty of reasons for transferring colleges. Some of the most popular reasons are:

  • Being unhappy with current institution
  • Lack of a strong program within desired major
  • Experiencing a shift in career outlook
  • Need or desire to move
  • Desire to switch to online education
  • Reduce tuition costs

Regardless of your motivations, taking the time to schedule an appointment with an academic advisor can help ensure your expectations for this new institution actually line up with the reality of the situation.

Can You Change Majors in College?

college students taking computer class

Many students change majors in college, and plenty of students decide to change majors when switching universities.

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The number of credits you can transfer will depend on the new major you choose and how much it relates to your previous major. Connecting with an academic counselor can help you choose a major and maximize your transfer credits.

When Can You Transfer Colleges?

The requirements for transfer students vary. Many schools only accept transfer students for the fall semester. Some schools require students to complete a certain number of credits before transferring. As a result, transferring colleges after one year is often easiest.

Some institutions accept transfer students during the spring semester, so transferring colleges after one semester is possible. Many colleges don’t allow students to transfer after their junior year. You can contact the admissions offices for programs of interest to learn about their specific rules for transfer students. 

Will My College Credits Transfer?

Two college students reviewing their school records

Transfer policies vary from school to school, but if your credits fit the following, then they are more likely to transfer:

  • From a school with have an articulation agreement with your prospective college
  • From a regionally-accredited university
  • Completed with a grade of C or better
  • Course descriptions line up with those at your prospective school
  • Are being transferred into an equivalent degree program

Accredited schools generally only accept transfer credits from other accredited schools. Additionally, your GPA, credit transfer caps, and differences between degree plans and coursework requirements can affect transfers.

Should I Transfer Colleges?

A transfer student changing college major

Moving colleges may seem intimidating and stressful, but here are a few signs that transferring may be worth it:

  • Your current college doesn’t have a major that fits your career goals.
  • You could save money by moving to a less expensive college.
  • You don’t fit in with your current campus culture.
  • You want to move closer to your family and friends.
  • You could access better extracurricular activities at a different college.

If one or more of these factors apply to you, transferring colleges could be a strategic decision.

Is It Hard to Transfer Colleges?

College students discussing with professor

Whether or not you will find it difficult to transfer colleges will depend on several factors, including your level of preparation and your new college’s transfer requirements. Generally, moving schools involves these steps:

  • Identify schools of interest.
  • Consult an admissions counselor to see how many of your earned credits will transfer.
  • Complete a transfer application, which often includes letters of recommendation, a personal essay, and transcripts.
  • Apply for financial aid.
  • Line up housing for your new campus, if applicable.

Some schools have additional requirements, such as interviews, which can make the transfer process more challenging.

What Do Colleges Look for in Transfer Students?

transfer student meeting her new classmates

Most colleges have lower acceptance rates for transfer students than first-year students, so the process can be more competitive. Typically, institutions evaluate prospective transfer students based on these criteria:

  • Your GPA at your previous institution
  • ACT and SAT scores, if required
  • The quality of your personal essay
  • Your intended major
  • The percentage of courses that you’re successfully completed
  • The total number of course credits you’ve earned
  • Letters of recommendation

Additionally, some programs require applicants to submit a portfolio of projects they’ve created at their previous institution.

Do Transfer Students Get Financial Aid?

Financial Aid for transfer students

Cost is a significant consideration for many students wanting to learn how to transfer out of a college. Typically, grants and scholarships from community organizations, professional associations, and your current employer will transfer to your new school.

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Transfer students must complete an updated Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The federal government will use this application to determine your eligibility for financial aid, like federal grants, scholarships, and student loans. Additionally, many schools offer grants and scholarships specifically for transfer students. For instance, you may receive a grant if you’re a community college to university transfer student.

Does Transferring Colleges Look Bad?

Some students fear transferring colleges will look like a red flag to potential employers or graduate schools, but many people view transferring positively, especially if:

  • You move to a more prestigious college or university
  • You switch to an in-demand major
  • Your GPA improves after you transfer
  • You build new professional connections through networking at your new school

Also, your degree will only list the school you graduated from, so no one will know you’re a transfer student unless you disclose that information.

Can You Go to Two Colleges at Once?

student studying in a cafe

Students may attend two colleges simultaneously through a process called dual or cross-enrollment. If you qualify for this, you must designate one college as your home school, which will grant your final degree. Credits from the second college will transfer to the home school and count towards your degree.

Dual enrollment has several potential advantages. You could access a broader range of courses and majors by attending two colleges at once, allowing you to diversify your knowledge and skills. Also, you may save money by taking classes at a school with lower tuition costs.

Transferring Colleges

students searching for colleges online

Transferring colleges can potentially enrich your academic and personal life. You may experience new courses, majors, and professional development opportunities by changing colleges. Additionally, you may expand your social network by transferring to an institution that aligns better with your interests and personality.

Moving schools can also be a strategic financial decision. For example, many students choose to complete a community college to university transfer to reduce the cost of their 4 year degree. You may also dual enroll in two schools and complete some courses at the less expensive institution.

If you’re interested in transferring colleges, you can explore your options by researching accredited universities today.

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Elizabeth Abner
WRITTEN BY Elizabeth Abner

Elizabeth is pursuing a Doctor of Philosophy in Foreign Policy and earned her master's degree in business administration. For her undergraduate studies, she earned a Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration with a concentration in international business. Elizabeth's research is focused on universities offering online degree programs.