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Expert Advice for Transfer Students

Feb. 4, 2014
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Did you earn your associate’s degree from a community college and now you’re ready to move on to getting your bachelor’s degree? Or maybe you’re already enrolled at a four-year school but it’s just not the right fit for you? Or is the cost of tuition at your current school too much for your budget?

For any number of reasons, one-third of all students transfer at least once before earning a degree, according to a report by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. Of those students, more than one-fourth transfer to an institution in a different state, most commonly during their second year.

At four-year institutions, the most common transfer-type may come as a surprise: students moving to community colleges. According to the report, 52 percent of students transferring from four-year colleges are making a move “in reverse” by switching to a community college.

No matter which way a student chooses to move, the process almost always proves to be a tricky one. To make the transition a bit smoother, NerdScholar spoke to some experts to come up with best practices for transferring colleges.


1. Apply early—and follow up.

“Time is of essence to transfer students,” O’More College of Design’s Jamie Atlas points out. So get started researching schools as soon as you’ve made the decision to transfer. Compile a list of important deadlines and make sure to submit all documents, such as transcripts, as far in advance of those deadlines as possible. Then follow up with the institution you are transferring to and confirm that everything has been received and is in good order, Atlas advises.


2. Use a transfer credit tool.

“Check to see if the college you’re leaving or going to has a transfer credit tool on their website,” Penn State Berks associate professor Michele Ramsey says.

This tool, which is available at the majority of colleges, allows students to enter courses that they have taken or plan to take to see how the credits match up to their intended transfer school’s requirements. If a school doesn’t have an electronic version, they will often have articulation agreements with other nearby institutions that are in paper format, Ramsey adds. “Get any information you can on what transfers out of your first school and into your new one.”


3. Meet with advisors at both schools.

Just as you don’t want to rely on any one person for all of your information, you also don’t want to rely on just one school for all of your transfer information. “Use the transfer resources available to you and meet with advisors both at your current school and the school you are looking to transfer to early in the process,” University of the Sciences associate director Aimee Viggiani says. If you’re unsure where you want to transfer, counselors at your current college can help you to compare schools based on your interests. “Once you have narrowed it down, meeting with or emailing the transfer counselor at the school you wish to go to can help you plan what courses you should take that will transfer to the major you are interested in,” Aimee says.

Talking to schools on both ends will help you to avoid any “transfer shock,” Andrew Black, an advising specialist at Portland Community College, says. Academic advisors and career counselors can help you to devise a plan so that you’re well prepared and set up for a successful transition.


4. Put your academic program first.

The size of the school, the types of student organizations available, and the location, among other factors, are very important in making sure that you enjoy your college experience. But, ultimately, the strength and fit of your program should have the most influence on your college decision—especially when choosing to transfer. “Students are sometimes attracted to colleges because their friends are there. This is an important life decision, so consider these things carefully,” Annette Hackbarth-Onson, assistant dean for student affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Richland, says.

Make sure that whatever program you pick, it’s a good fit for you, Michele Ramsey says. “More than anything, what makes a degree valuable is what people get from them, not just in terms of ‘getting a job,’ but also in terms of making a life.” So whether you’re studying English, science, business, or architecture, be sure that the program provides the type of support you need to do your best.


5. Search for scholarships for transfer students.

Seventy-seven percent of colleges report providing merit scholarships to transfer students, so it’s important to always fill out your FAFSA. Even if you didn’t qualify for aid at your first school, you may qualify for financial aid at your new college. Some scholarships are reserved specifically for transfer students, so those may be your best bet, Annette Hackbarth-Onson says.

If you’re transferring for cost reasons, consider submitting a Change in Financial Circumstances Appeal if something has changed financially.


6. Make yourself competitive from the start.

You always want to put your best foot forward, but if you go to a school knowing upfront that you will transfer, there are certain things you can do to get ahead. “Make sure that you maintain a good GPA in your first two years so that institutions will welcome you with open arms,” Michele says.

Don’t wait until you transfer to pursue opportunities afforded in college. Study abroad, join a club, work on campus, Andrew Black says. “Getting involved early on will make you more competitive for admission, and it will give you an edge in securing jobs, scholarships, and internships” later on.


Jamie Atlas transitioned into education in 2002. Prior to that she worked in retail buying, planning, personnel and financial management, consulting, and product development. At O’More College of Design, Atlas oversees all aspects of the School of Fashion and she also works to establish industry connections, secure internships and career opportunities for students, and to keep up with the current trends and advance the program.

Andrew Black is a prior Portland Community College transfer student who holds a Master’s Degree from Portland State University. He works at PCC Newberg Center as an Orientation and Advising Specialist as well as an instructor of the class “CG 225: Transfer to a Four Year College,” which he helped to develop. 

Annette Hackbarth-Onson is Assistant Dean for Student Affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Richland. She has worked in student affairs at the UW Colleges, the institution that includes the Richland Center University of Wisconsin campus, since 1997. A National certified counselor, she has a master’s degree in education with a major in guidance and counseling.

Michele Ramsey is an associate professor of Communication Arts & Sciences and Women’s Studies at Penn State Berks. She has advised students academically for 22 years and directed majors in American Studies and Communication Arts & Sciences. She holds a Ph.D. in Speech Communication from the University of Georgia.

Aimee Viggiani has been working in college admissions for the past 12 years and is currently the Associate Director for Transfer and Professional Admission at the University of the Sciences located in Philadelphia. She has worked with transfer students both at the undergraduate and graduate level, primarily focused on health science programs.


Wondering how much it will cost to live in a new city if you transfer schools? Find out using the Cost of Living Calculator.


University students image courtesy of Shutterstock.