Question: I didn't get into the colleges I really wanted to go to, and now I'm having a tough time deciding which one to attend next fall. If I make the wrong choice, can I transfer to a new college in January?
The short answer to your question is “Yes," but the one that “The Dean" prefers is “Not so fast!"
I wish I had a dollar for every panicked freshman who “knew" even before October that he or she had made the wrong college choice. While, in some cases this is indeed true, more commonly it can take time to adjust to an unfamiliar environment. So I wish I had yet another dollar for each of these prospective transfers who eventually said, “Never mind. I'm going to stay put."
Thus, my advice to unhappy freshmen is to approach the year by saying, “I may have made a mistake by coming here, but the best way to do damage control is to earn the best possible grades and get involved in classes and activities while considering my next move."
Some colleges do not admit January freshman transfer applicants at all and many have only limited spots for first-year transfers. So your options will be far broader if you stick it out at your initial college for two semesters. This will also give you time to research transfer colleges and make smart choices. Obviously, you need to ask yourself what you like least about this initial school (size? location? campus political climate? etc.) which will help you to avoid making the same mistake twice.
And if you were disappointed by your list of college acceptances and are hoping to “trade up" to a more selective school than the one you're now resigned to attend, you will strengthen your application if you have completed nearly a year of college-level work when you apply and can show good grades as well as participation in campus or community endeavors.
And it's not uncommon for freshmen to suffer from what I call “The grass is always greener" syndrome. That is, they see countless photos of friends or acquaintances from home who seem so ecstatic and engaged at college and they become quickly convinced that they're at the wrong place But those smiling faces on Instagram don't always tell the whole story. The superficial excitement that comes from bumping into half your AP Econ class at the home-opener football game doesn't always endure. It can be hard to find one's niche at a brand-new school, and some teenagers adjust far more quickly than others. But, before you write off an entire institution, take some time to get to know your classmates and dorm-mates and sign up for organizations that are apt to draw like-minded others.
So, although you CAN submit a transfer application in November and be installed on a different campus by the end of January, you will probably be wiser to aim for a September transfer, but with the understanding that—if you put effort into your current college–by the time it's time to make your move, you actually may not want to.