How to Transfer to a New College: A 5-Step Plan


It happens from time to time -- you've started college, but you realize that perhaps your university wasn't the best choice for you after all. It could be location, cost, academics or some other reason. Or maybe you are at a community college and plan to transfer to either a four-year school. No matter what the reason, applying as a transfer student can get complicated, and you might want some help ironing out the steps you should take to make it happen.

The steps may differ based on your location or circumstances. For instance, many states now have fairly seamless transfer agreements between community colleges and state universities that make transferring easier than it was decades ago.

"For example, in the state of Massachusetts we have a seamless transfer program called MassTransfer," explains Lisa Slavin, assistant vice president of enrollment management at MassBay Community College. "Students meet certain criteria at the community college and then are eligible for certain benefits at the Massachusetts state college or universities that include no application fees, guaranteed admission and in some cases, rebates! "

Regardless of whether you are transferring from a four-year institution or a community college, here are some steps that Slavin offers to make transferring as easy as possible:

1. Research! It's very important to research the college/university you wish to transfer to, she says. Make sure they have the academic program you want to pursue and that academic program accepts transfer students. For example, some colleges may take transfer students to certain programs but not their nursing or engineering programs. Know this before applying.

2. Understand the transfer student admissions and financial aid policies of the college or university you want to attend. This is important because some of the transfer application deadlines may differ from the incoming first-year student deadlines. There may be additional or fewer forms required for transfers. Make sure you understand the financial aid and scholarship opportunities for transfer students because those, too, may differ from those of the incoming first-year students.

3. Ask to speak with current transfer students at the college/university you hope to attend. Some schools now offer special events, open houses and information sessions just for transfer students. Take advantage of these. It is helpful to hear from students so you can find out how they are doing at the college or university and what tips they might have for you.

4. Leverage transfer programs and articulation agreements. Many four-year universities and colleges have special transfer programs or agreements with community colleges. If you are attending a community college, become familiar with your state program.

5. Make sure you send final official transcripts to the college or university where you end up enrolling. You will need to submit transcripts during the application process. However, in order to receive all of the transfer credit you are eligible to earn, you will need to request a final official transcript from your current institution after your final grades have posted.

What If You Aren't Sure Whether to Transfer?

Some students consider transferring but aren't sure if it's the right move for them. Tara Fischer, associate dean of advising, college dean and coordinator of the community college partners at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa., advises that students in this situation "go 'all in'" at their current institution.

"This means academically, socially and even in co-curriculars, and this helps students in two ways," says Fischer. "First, their transcript and co-curricular involvement are both considerably stronger, which of course helps in the transfer process or if they remain at their current institution. Second, a student who has gone 'all in' and still chooses to transfer second-guesses themselves less. They know they took full advantage of the opportunities that existed but are eager to experience something different."

Students should be careful to figure out which credits will transfer, and if they might lose any financial aid.

"When you begin to research transfer institutions, search for clear and direct answers about how your credits will transfer in and what financial aid, if applicable, is available for transfer students," notes Fischer. "Some institutions, for example, do not offer merit scholarships to transfer students. I am proud to say that Dickinson does both transcript pre-reads and offers merit scholarships to transfer students."

Essay considerations: You may need to write an essay for a transfer application, and in that case, Fisher says it's important to describe how the institution you are applying to is a good fit for you rather than why you are leaving your current institution.

"Focus instead on why the new institution is a better fit for where you, academically and holistically, are as a student. It is important to convey that you are not running from an institution, you are hoping to move towards a new institution."

Lastly, once you transfer, you should "mentally gear yourself up to hit the ground running as soon as you are on campus," Fischer says. "I encourage students to think about why they're going to college and what they want out of college, then jump right in, academically, socially, and in co-curriculars. As a transfer, you have less time at your new institution than others might -- jump in and make the most of it."