Many college students decide early on that their original school of choice is not a good fit for them and decide to transfer to another college. Here's why students transfer schools and what you should know before starting the transfer process yourself.
College students might realize early on in their undergraduate tenure that their current school is not actually a good fit for their educational, financial, and/or professional goals. As a result, they might decide to transfer to another college. It's more common than you might think — in the 2020-2021 academic year, 2.1 million college students transferred to another institution, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.
As a college student, you're in charge of your education, and the college transfer process is available to help you find your ideal college experience.
Why Students Decide to Transfer Colleges
The regular college admission process is an overwhelming time for students, and it's not uncommon that high school students will pick a school without a campus visit or serious consideration whether or not their prospective school's academic programs are a good fit for them. It's hard to find out solely from the application process exactly what the campus environment looks like at a given college beyond the brochure. So they might end up on campus unsatisfied or unhappy with their current college, leading them to look elsewhere.
Sometimes, students are looking for a more challenging experience and attempt to transfer into more competitive schools like Ivy Leagues, since the admissions process can seem statistically easier. That almost is never the case — for instance, Harvard College accepts, on average, 12 transfer students per year among 1,500 transfer applications. However, at University of California Schools, almost one-third of students are transfer students, many of whom began their education at two-year colleges and/or community colleges.
In fact, these prestigious schools do like increasing enrollment of students from community colleges. Tania LaViolet, Ph.D., director of the College Excellence Program (CEP) at the Aspen Institute commented on the subject: “Community college transfer students bring a really important perspective to campus... they also have more diverse backgrounds." This can also be a more viable financial option for some students and can give them the necessary educational foundation for attending a more rigorous four-year institution. Still, just wanting to transfer into a school with a "bigger name" is not a sufficient reason, which is readily obvious to admissions officers on transfer applications.
However, the most common reasons students transfer simply revolve around being dissatisfied with their current institution. Say, for instance, a student has entered a liberal arts school's Pre-Med program only to realize they want a more STEM-focused school to offer them more resources and opportunities. Or, for some, it was always the plan to start out at a two-year college and then transfer to a four-year college. With the rising cost of higher education and especially during the isolation and strangeness of education during the pandemic, students are increasingly becoming more intentional with what they want out of their college careers.
How to Start the College Transfer Process
The college transfer process begins once you've decided your current school is definitely not a fit, and there isn't a viable way to continue your education there. So, you've researched extensively, refined your initial college search, and compiled a list of schools that would better suit your interests, and you're ready to start your application for admission to your future school (you don't want to have to repeat the transfer process if you can help it!). If you can, try to make a campus visit and speak to current students to get an insider perspective on campus life.
The first thing you should know is that transfer applicants go through a different admissions process than first-year applicants do, even if the basic components seem the same. The pool of applicants is smaller, and the academic credentials and admissions requirements a first-year needs usually differ from that of transfer students. For instance, students must complete at least a year of college before transferring or at least need to join a transfer program upon admission to the school. And, of course, transfer students need to complete a transfer application.
Additional Materials Needed for the Transfer Application Process
The most important component of the transfer application is your official college transcript and grades from your courses, and many schools and degree programs require that you've achieved a certain amount of credits before you can transfer. You may still have to submit your official test scores from the SAT/ACT, but these will likely be de-emphasized in favor of your other materials.
Note that credits at two different schools are not always 1:1, meaning that you may be behind in your degree requirements at your new institution if you don't have enough transfer credits. That might put you one to two semesters behind, delaying your school graduation, so make sure you consult with the admissions office and your desired program of study to figure out your potential educational timelines and necessary college credits. Some schools and degree programs may even have minimum grade requirements or grade point average cutoffs as well.
Simply put: even if you've decided that your school isn't a good fit, you need to stay on top of your college coursework and academic requirements to increase your potential opportunities at a future college. And make sure you've notified any relevant school officials or academic advisers at your current school of your decision to transfer — they can advise you more on specific issues of academic credit and school transcripts. Colleges are required to provide details of articulation agreements, or partnerships with other colleges that clearly outline transfer policies, they may already have with other schools.
You will also need letters of recommendation from college professors and will also likely have to write an application essay of some kind. Much like your initial college applications, you will need to stay on top of application deadlines by asking professors for recommendation letters and outlining essays well in advance to increase your chances of admission, particularly at schools with low acceptance rates. You should also note whether or not the school lets you transfer in the spring semester or fall semester and adjust accordingly, depending on where you are in your academic term.
Luckily, you can use the Common Application for transfer students to apply to over 600 schools. This helps streamline the process and make sure you don't have to completely rewrite any of your extracurricular descriptions of essays. However, you should make sure your materials have been updated from your high school days. For instance, your personal statement should more explicitly detail why you're deciding to transfer, unless the prompt directs you otherwise.
Once you've tackled all of these steps, you should have a complete application in no time.
Can I Get Financial Aid if I Transfer Colleges?
Yes, you can apply for financial aid at your new school, but usually your financial aid at your current school will not transfer with you. It's important that you check with your prospective school's financial aid office, and then, if available at your new school, you can update your FAFSA with this information. If you are receiving a private, recurring scholarship that is external to your current school's financial aid office, then you should check with them regarding their policies surrounding the transfer process.
Transferring colleges can be a stressful process, but in the end, it can be a great decision for many students if approached properly.