A Student's Guide to Transferring Colleges

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Transferring colleges isn't something everyone thinks about: usually when you pick a university, you plan on staying there for a full four years (unless you intentionally choose a two-year college and then transfer to a four-year college, which can actually be a very cost-effective plan!) However, it's definitely a reality for a lot of college students: over a third of college students end up transferring schools (source.) While I fully intended to graduate from the first school I chose, after a year, it became clear that transferring was the best option for me. While I'd contemplating transferring since around Thanksgiving break (because I was really unhappy at my previous school), what really pushed me to go through with it was that my school was cancelling my major and an advisor told me there was a chance that I could still graduate with the degree I wanted. (I don't know about you, but if I'm going to spend four years of my life working towards a degree, I want a guarantee that I will actually be able to get it!) Deciding to transfer schools wasn't the easiest decision I've made, but based on how much happier I am at my new school, it's definitely one of the best.

Why transfer?

Changing majors or career paths is a major reason lots of students transfer (although I haven't heard of anyone else's college cancelling their major on them, so don't worry!) but that doesn't mean it's the only one. I've known a lot of people who transferred because their workload was either too light or too heavy (you want to be challenged, but school shouldn't take up all your time either) or because they needed to be closer to their family, either due to a crisis or getting married. You might just feel like your current school isn't a good fit for you and want to see what else is out there. These are definitely just a few of the reasons people transfer, but you'll want to really think about why you want to transfer when deciding whether or not to go through with it.

Choosing a school

When it comes to choosing a new school, many of the factors from choosing your last school should still apply: location, cost, programs available etc. However, after you've experienced a year at another school, some of your priorities might change. I personally hated living in a small town that was always cold and windy. While it wasn't my determining factor in transferring, I definitely knew that I would prefer a more urban location with slightly better weather.

You'll also want to consider cost and financial aid. While your current school and the school in question may have similar price tags, your financial aid could vary wildly between the two. You will need to fill out the FAFSA again (even if you're transferring in the middle of the year) and it's also a good idea to see what scholarships you are eligible for, both through your school and outside of it. I actually had a full-ride scholarship at my old school, so I definitely had to take that into consideration when deciding to transfer. While I did consider staying to finish my generals, I only had about two classes left and had to take a minimum of 12 hours, so I decided it would be better to save my time and just transfer then (I also had a job near the college I was considering transferring too, which was also a factor.)

Finally, make sure you look into which of your credits will transfer. The majority of my credits transferred, but if they hadn't, I would have strongly considered another school. It can be confusing to figure out just looking on a school's website, so I highly recommend talking to an adviser, whether it's in-person or over the phone, to see what they'll accept (if you haven't been admitted yet, you might want to bring a copy of your transcript.)

The application process

Both schools I've attended were in-state public universities, so the transfer process was pretty similar for each of them. When you are a transfer student, however, your application status will be based more upon your college grades than your high school grades or ACT/SAT scores. If you are a first-semester transfer, they will still rely on your high school information quite a bit, but if you have more college credits, you might not even need to send in your ACT scores or high school transcript. I actually ended up sending in three different transcripts: my high school transcript (even though it was optional), my college transcript and the transcript from the community college I took concurrent enrollment classes from in high school. I also sent in my AP and ACT scores (so I could get credit for AP classes and I wouldn't run the chance of having to take any placement exams.) It might seem like a hassle (and it definitely has a price tag!) but it's definitely worth having your application reviewed quickly and getting all the credits you deserve!

Tying up loose ends

Once you've finalized your transfer decision, you will need to withdraw from your previous school. They should have easy instructions on their website for doing this. In my case, I just had to fill out a web form, but in some cases the process can be more intense, so definitely plan ahead and don't put it off until the last minute!

You'll also need to take care of any housing or other arrangements you made before you decided to transfer. My school didn't tell me they'd canceled my major until the summer after my freshman year, so I already had an apartment contract. I didn't sell it until I was sure I was transferring, but I made sure to get that out of the way as soon as possible! This also applies to things like meal plans and parking passes. See if you can get a refund or sell it to someone else. You'll also want to make sure you make new arrangements at the school you're transferring too.

Transferring schools isn't most people's idea of fun (who wants to apply to college all over again?) but it can be a great option if you're not thriving in your current environment. Just make sure to think everything through and take all the necessary steps!

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