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College Transfer Guide

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Transferring colleges is common among students who want to save money and time by pursuing the education they want, when they want it.

College transfers are common in most student bodies in higher education, especially those from community colleges. According to data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, 48% of all students enroll in two-year programs before tackling a four-year degree. In fact, 40% of all transfers in higher education come from community colleges.

Still, transferring from one school to another can present challenges for students. For instance, they may not know how or when to move schools or programs. To help make the transition smoother, this page explores common transfer pathways and strategies, explaining when students should consider transferring and how to go about doing it.

When to Switch Schools

Students decide to switch schools for a variety of reasons. For example, degree-seekers may transfer for academic reasons, or they might move from two-year programs into four-year programs to gain more career opportunities and earning potential after graduation. They may also want to change majors to a discipline their current school does not offer, or they may just not function well with the educational model at their current institution.

For some transfer students, the reasons are more personal. For example, a student's financial situation may cause them to move; tuition rates or scholarship opportunities can often influence the decision to switch schools. The school atmosphere might also present issues for learners, such as bullying. Students may also simply find faculty, campus facilities, or extracurricular programs incompatible with their interests and goals.

Students decide to switch schools for a variety of reasons.

Sometimes, learners decide to move because their school changed. Schools can alter or even eliminate programs, and some might close altogether. No matter the reasoning behind the switch, transfer students should always go through the process carefully to ensure they optimize their credits and hit the ground running at their new school.

If at all possible, transfer students should always finish out their most recent academic term before switching schools, to ensure they complete their current courses and get the credits they deserve. Most schools offer transfer students a 90/30 credit opportunity, meaning they can transfer up to 90 credits toward the typical 120 credits for a bachelor's degree.

Learners should also consider their new living and employment situation before making the move. It might also be worthwhile to look into switching fraternity or sorority chapters, along with any clubs or associations of which they are members.

How to Find a New School

The right school depends entirely on each individual student, but following the steps below can help ensure transfer students have the best chance at success.

First, learners should consider what they want to change about their current school and program, and then find another program that addresses those issues. Explore the curriculum, the faculty, program length, school facilities, and any other factors that are important.

Next, transfer students should consider how their academic performance might influence their transfer decision. They should evaluate whether their college grades meet transfer requirements for their desired school; some schools require a different minimum grade to receive credit. Transfer grades may even qualify students for a program for which they were previously unqualified.

From there, students should speak to admissions counselors to determine if the program matches their needs. Counselors can help navigate transfer credits and set schedules to avoid unfortunate surprises. Learners may also wish to speak with financial aid representatives, who can help them get an accurate financial picture and explore scholarship and grant opportunities.

Transfer students can also get information from students and alumni at their new schools to learn what the school and program look like and if both will meet their expectations.

How to Transfer Schools

Though degree-seekers can take different paths when transferring schools, these common steps should help most transfer students.

  • Research Schools

    Students should start by closely examining any possible school and program. Learn about the curriculum, program structure, teachers, and campus facilities or online program resources. Most importantly, verify that any potential school or program has received proper accreditation.

  • Contact the School

    Learners should speak with admissions and financial aid officers to determine when they may receive an offer of admission, how many transfer credits they will receive, and what the resulting tuition will cost before committing to a program.

  • Collect the Documents

    Start collecting all required transfer documents, such as transcripts, letters of recommendation, and personal essays, before you need to turn them in. It is best not to be surprised by a deadline.

  • Complete the Applications

    All students should fill out the FAFSA to see what federal financial aid they qualify for. They should also complete all applications to schools that interest them, paying close attention to required application materials and deadlines.

  • Finish All Required Paperwork

    As part of the application process, learners need to complete a lot of paperwork, including deposit forms, housing applications, and course schedules. Make a checklist to stay organized.

How to Transfer From Community College

While many community colleges have articulation agreements with four-year schools to optimize the transfer process and make it seamless, some schools do not view all applicants and their credits equally. Transfer students also tend to enter programs as sophomores or juniors, so they may miss out on student orientation or the usual freshman experience. That means enrollees are on their own to ensure they take the right classes, follow the appropriate steps, and meet deadlines for things like declaring a major.

How to Transfer From Online College

The growth in online learning has made transferring from online schools more accessible than ever. Online learners can attend schools with limited travel or none at all, allowing them to expand their searches and find programs that meet their financial and academic needs. Transferring to or from online schools, however, may warrant additional consideration.

As with other delivery formats, online students should first ensure that both schools they are attending are accredited, as most schools do not accept transfer credits from unaccredited schools. In fact, some schools or programs may not accept transfer credits at all, so students should carefully research this in advance. You can learn more about transferring to an online college and transferring from an online college from our handy guides.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does Your GPA Change When You Transfer Colleges?

Since many schools and programs have unique grading systems, GPAs usually do not transfer with students. However, transfer students do typically need to meet a minimum GPA to earn transfer credits -- usually a C grade or higher. That means that when enrollees start their new programs, they often start with a new GPA.

Is It Better to Transfer From a Community College?

Many students find that transferring from a community college program into a four-year program benefits their studies and career prospects. This allows learners to establish a foundation in general education before they have to choose a major. The transfer route can be more affordable, too, as community college credits tend to be cheaper.

Is It Bad to Transfer Colleges?

Transferring colleges is a common part of the higher education system. Over the years, many colleges and universities have established relationships with other institutions to help students can move between them with ease. Moreover, regional accreditation and reciprocity agreements between states allow transfer credits, certifications, and licensure to move more freely between locations.

What Do Universities Look For in a Transfer Student?

Schools look for the same things in transfer students that they do in first-time students: academic promise, commitment, and dedication. Essentially, they are interested in students who might add positively to the school's reputation with their research, school work, and career after graduation.

Header Image Credit: Phil Boorman | Getty Images

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