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6 Tips for Transferring Colleges

Transfer students should apply early, use a transfer credit tool and search for scholarships.
May 21, 2019
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Transferring colleges is an option for students who haven’t found the right fit at their current schools or who want to pursue different degrees.

You’re not alone if you choose to transfer: More than a third of a fall 2011 cohort of students transferred at least once before earning a degree, according to a 2018 report by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

» MORE: College survival guide for your money

If you’re planning to transfer, but aren’t sure how to do it, follow these six expert-approved tips.

1. Apply early — and follow up

“Time is of essence to transfer students,” says Jamie Atlas, department chair of fashion design and merchandising at O’More School of Design at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee. 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.

» MORE: How many colleges should I apply to, based on price?

2. Use a transfer credit tool

“Check to see if the college you’re leaving or going to will have a transfer credit tool on their website,” says Michele Ramsey, associate professor of Communication Arts & Sciences and Women’s Studies at Penn State Berks.

Check to see if the college you’re leaving or going to will have a transfer credit tool on their website.

Michele Ramsey, Associate professor, Penn State Berks

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. Find out by contacting your school’s admissions office.

“Get any information you can on what transfers out of your first school and into your new one,” Ramsey suggests.

3. Meet with advisors at both schools

Talking to schools on both ends will help you to devise a plan so you’re prepared for a successful transition.

“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,” says Aimee Viggiani, director of transfer, professional and graduate admission at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia.

Talking to schools on both ends will help you to devise a plan so you’re prepared for a successful transition.

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,” Viggiani says.

» MORE: 3 reasons to choose a college based on price

4. Choose a school with academics and cost in mind

The size and location of the school and the types of student organizations available, among other factors, are key to making sure that you enjoy your college experience. But, ultimately, the strength and fit of your intended program, along with cost, should have the most influence on your transferring decision.

» MORE: How to choose a college major with loan debt in mind

Make sure that whatever program you pick, it’s a good fit for you, 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.”

The cost of attendance should also be a primary factor in your decision. Attending a college that offers you more financial aid or has a lower price than others can help you avoid taking on high debt. Use a net price calculator, available on each college’s website, to find out how much you’ll pay after factoring in free financial aid.

» MORE: How to know if your college choice is affordable

5. Search for scholarships for transfer students

Even if you didn’t qualify for scholarships at your first school, you may qualify for ones at your new college. Some scholarships are reserved specifically for transfer students, so those may be your best bet, says Annette Hackbarth-Onson, dean of students at Seward Community College in Liberal, Kansas, and former assistant campus dean of student affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Richland.

» MORE: How to get a scholarship

Make sure you submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, to get grants, scholarships, work-study and federal student loans.

6. Make yourself competitive from the start

If you attend 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,” Ramsey says.

Don’t wait until you transfer to pursue opportunities afforded in college. You can study abroad, join a club or work on campus. Getting involved early on can make you more competitive for admission when it comes time to apply to a new school.

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