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How and Why to Transfer to a Different College

This post is from a student, parent, or professional contributor. The opinions expressed by the author are their own and do not necessarily reflect the positions, viewpoints, or policies of Niche.

Thinking about switching schools?

You’re not alone.

One-third of all students transfer at least once before obtaining a degree. So if you’re unhappy with your college situation, don’t fret. It’s okay not to immediately find where you belong.

Transferring institutions may offer experiences that you feel are currently unavailable. It is, however, not for everyone. Read on to find out more about how to determine if transferring is right for you—and if you decide that it is, keep reading for our advice on how to do it.

Think about why you want to transfer—and be honest with yourself.

Maybe you’re having trouble finding friends and fitting in, or maybe you didn’t anticipate how deeply being far away from home would affect you. Now, you need to ask yourself: Can these problems be solved at this school, or are they only fixable by transferring to another institution? Finding friends, for instance, can be helped by joining clubs or just giving yourself time to adjust. But if you feel at odds with the school’s culture, rigor, location or distance from home, those things (just to name a few) may be remedied through a transfer. A curriculum that is too academically challenging or not stimulating enough can be changed; a location that isolates and depresses you can be changed.

Some things, however, make more sense than others. While wanting a better program of study in your desired major is valid, wanting more “name recognition” or “prestige” is a bad reason to transfer. As we’ll soon discuss below, transferring is a decently tedious process, and you should only do it for the right reasons.

Use those answers as jumping-off points for your new college search.

Center these factors in your research. If, for instance, you dislike the remote location of your small-town school, start by looking for colleges in large cities. Or if you feel lost at your large state school and want to scale down a bit, try digging around for schools with lower student populations. You can start your research and narrow down your options using Niche’s College Search Tool, which allows you to filter two- and four-year schools by cost, student body size, selectivity, application type (more on that below!), offered majors and more.

Figure out which applications your top choices accept.

Generally, colleges will use the Common Application, the Coalition Application or a state-specific system like the University of California Application to process transfer applications. Typically, you’ll have to create a new account and check off “transfer student” when asked what type of applicant you are. For example, creating a new account on the Common App will present you with “first-year,” “transfer,” “education professional” or “parent/adult” as options. Once you’re registered, you can check university websites to find out what forms of application they accept, or search for colleges of interest directly on the application platform.

Gather the necessary application materials.

Although specific requirements will vary from school to school, you’ll most likely need to send these materials as they pertain to your current institution:

  • Academic transcript detailing the grades you received (as recently as possible). Admissions officers will be looking to see how you handled college coursework and if you could succeed in their academic environment. 
  • One or more letters of recommendation from the professor(s) under whom you studied. If you have a favorite professor or a professor with whom you’ve developed a close academic relationship, try to get a letter from them—they’ll make your best qualities shine. If possible, they should teach in your major or academic area of interest.
  • Standardized testing records, such as SAT, ACT and/or SAT II subject test scores. Not all schools will require these, but it’s still a good idea to have them on hand. It’s also worth noting that standardized test scores tend to hold less weight in a transfer application than your college grades and coursework.

How to Beat the Stigma of Transferring Schools

Start the school-specific portions of your applications.

In addition to grades, recommendation letters and test scores, most schools will require you to answer one or more supplemental essay questions. Be as thorough and as earnest as possible in these answers, and let your genuine interest in the institution really shine through. You can check out our guide to acing the personal statement as well as our tips for tackling supplemental essays for more help. 

Read up on credit transfer policies.

Most schools will post a minimum number of credits needed by students intending to transfer there, so make sure you’ve accrued that number by the time of application. Additionally, figure out which of your credits can transfer and which will not—not every course you take will be eligible, and this may set back your graduation date or career plans. Some schools may also have a core curriculum of general education requirements that all students must complete; in this case, they will typically post transfer-specific information describing what ‘counts’ at another institution as a core-equivalent course.

Think about financial aid.

Unfortunately, transfers tend to be less eligible for aid. However, the amount of aid you’ll ultimately receive really varies from school to school, as some schools or programs offer transfer-specific aid. Carefully read the financial aid websites of schools you’re interested in, and, if you can, schedule a phone call to speak with a financial aid administrator. 

Apply by the appropriate deadlines.

Some schools offer fall and spring cycles of transfer admission, while others only offer one semester of transfer availability—check school-specific websites to find out more. In general, however, you’ll need to apply by mid-fall (October or November) to attend in the following spring, and apply by the spring (March or April) if you want to attend that fall. 

Finish strong and wait for your decisions.

Once your applications have been sent out, continue working hard to keep your grades up in your current college courses. (Trust us, focusing on school will distract you from the wait.) And waiting to hear back might be annoying, but at least you’re done with the hardest part. Best of luck, and remember that you’ll find where you belong!


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Author: Julianna Chen

Julianna Chen is currently in her second year at Emory University, where she studies creative writing and Chinese. She is the managing editor of Lithium Magazine and a contributing writer for When not writing, she is watching a movie or eating a stroopwafel, sometimes both at the same time.