How to Transfer Colleges: A Step-by-Step Guide


Figuring out how to transfer colleges can feel overwhelming, especially after jumping through hoops to get accepted to your current school. But transferring is fairly common, with around 38% of first-time students changing colleges within their first six years (according to a 2018 report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center).

Here’s a rundown on how to transfer schools, as well as why you might want to do so, and some issues to watch out for in the process:

Reasons to transfer colleges

Applying to college the first time most likely took time and effort. Then came the period of adjusting to campus life. Because of this, the idea of doing it all again might feel incredibly daunting.

However, there’s no point in plowing ahead with your current situation if things aren’t working out. Here are six common reasons students may want to transfer schools:

  1. Saving money: The cost of attendance varies significantly from school to school. Perhaps you didn’t receive the financial aid package you’d expected, or you’ve experienced financial hardships. Whatever the reason, switching to a more affordable institution may help.
  2. Changing majors: Maybe you initially desired a teaching degree, but now you’re considering a career in computer programming. A transfer may help you explore different options.
  3. Moving home or elsewhere: Homesickness might hit hard once you’ve settled in your dorm. Moving closer to home isn’t necessarily bad, especially if you can score in-state tuition. Or you might need to relocate due to family, work or military obligations.
  4. Switching to online learning: You might decide it’s more cost-effective and time-efficient to pursue an online degree.
  5. Community college transfer: Attending community college first may help you check off core credits at a lower price. Community college is also a popular alternative to a traditional four-year college; because of this, there are specific guidelines on how to transfer from community college to university.
  6. Needing a fresh start: Not every school is a perfect fit. Although you don’t want to give up too quickly, it’s okay to look into other options if your current school isn’t meeting your needs.

How to transfer colleges in 7 steps

Colleges generally have different transfer policies, such as when you can apply, how many credits they accept and other criteria.

Here are some basic steps to follow if you want to transfer schools:

1. Evaluate if a transfer is necessary

2. Research potential schools

3. Make sure your grades are in good condition

4. Meet with your academic advisor

5. Gather required documents

6. Consult with the financial aid department

7. Review and accept

1. Evaluate if a transfer is necessary

Feeling overwhelmed during your first semester or year at college is normal. Mental health challenges such as anxiety and depression are common for college students. You might blame these struggles on your school and therefore want to jump ship.

Try asking yourself: Can the current situation be resolved? For example, if you’re stuck with a bad roommate or hate all your classes, you can take action to address these problems. You might have to wait until next year to find a new roommate or to sign up for better classes, but with time things could improve.

Also, you can share your frustrations with friends, family and teachers to gain a clearer perspective on what’s going on. It’s best to avoid making hasty decisions, especially if your current school has long-term potential.

However, it could definitely be worth switching schools, so long as you’ve weighed the pros and cons of your current circumstances first.

2. Research potential schools

Once you’ve decided to transfer, you can start researching potential schools. The Department of Education’s College Scorecard is an excellent tool for comparing college ranking metrics, such as cost of attendance, location, population, fields of study and acceptance rates.

Schedule in-person college tours to view your prospective schools if you have time. Make sure to stop by the new school’s financial aid office to discuss the logistics of transferring. (We’ll discuss visiting your current financial aid office below.)

It’s worth adequately researching your next school to ensure it’s a good fit since you don’t want to deal with the hassle of transferring a third time.

3. Make sure your grades are in good condition

Although getting accepted as a transfer student is generally easier than applying as a freshman, the competition can still be fierce. Your transfer application will be judged based on your current college performance and GPA.

To improve your odds, look at the average transfer GPA at your desired schools. Then focus on boosting your GPA to above that level, if possible. One tip is to opt for easier classes or a slightly lighter class load.

Some schools might also request your high school transcript and SAT or ACT scores. However, the main emphasis is typically on your academic standing with your current college.

4. Meet with your academic advisor

Your academic advisor can assist with most steps of the transfer process. They’ve helped previous students before and tend to have answers to many transfer-related questions.

Additionally, your advisor can help review which academic credits are likely to transfer to your new school. You can also reach out to your prospective college’s transfer advisor to receive unofficial feedback about transfer credit, although they generally can’t confirm anything until you’re enrolled.

However, your new school might have a credit transfer evaluation tool, which allows you to enter completed classes to see if an equivalent exists. This can help you decide which classes to take for the remaining semester(s) at your current school — though remember not all credits are guaranteed to transfer over.

Special tips on how to transfer from community college to university

  • Research your future university’s articulation agreement. This is a special transfer relationship where the university outlines which classes they guarantee to accept from that specific community college. 
  • Try to acquire an associate degree before transferring. Many universities prefer students with this credential because it demonstrates commitment and perseverance — which can help increase your odds of getting accepted. It also “locks in” your college credits, ensuring they retain value for life. Furthermore, a completed associate degree may allow you to jump right into your junior year once you transfer. 
  • Check if your future university waives their application fee for community college transfer students (Many do).
  • Regularly meet with your academic advisor to ensure you’re on the right track for a smooth and easy transfer.

5. Gather required documents

Your new school should list all required documents under their transfer application page, including deadlines to apply.

Here’s a general idea of what you may need to provide:

6. Consult with the financial aid department

Transferring colleges will affect your student loans because your financial aid package is connected to your current school. Furthermore, your aid will be recalculated based on changes in tuition costs and any extra financial aid offered by your future school.

But don’t worry, the solution is relatively simple based on when you’re planning to transfer:

  • Midyear transfer: You don’t have to wait for an official admission to submit your updated FAFSA information. Once accepted, your new school will send you a FAFSA award letter outlining your new aid package. You may also need to submit a FAFSA withdrawal to have next semester’s original disbursements canceled.
  • End-of-the-year transfer: Fill out your new school’s information when it comes time to reapply for next year’s FAFSA. You shouldn’t need to do anything with your original school since you completed the full school year.

If you have private student loans, you’ll want to contact your lender(s) to adjust the current amount and to apply for a new loan, if needed.

7. Review and accept

Receiving an acceptance letter is exciting news. However, it’s essential to take a moment to review all the details to make sure it’s the right move for you. You can discuss your options with your academic advisor if you’ve been accepted to multiple schools.

Once you accept, make a note of any important deadlines. Here are some common ones to look out for:

If you have any remaining questions or concerns about how to transfer schools, reach out to your current and future academic advisors. They’re there to help guide you to success.

Downsides to transferring colleges

The idea of starting over can feel exhilarating. However, transferring to another school comes with certain risks.

Here are four potential concerns to be aware of:

  1. Losing credits: Schools impose limits to how many or which type of credits they will accept. Depending on your major and current year, this could be a big deal. For example, it could add a semester or more to your college timeline, which could result in too much student loan debt.
  2. Having your GPA wiped clean: Most schools don’t allow your GPA to transfer with you. This is good news if you have a low GPA and want to start over, but not so ideal if you’ve worked hard to earn a 4.0.
  3. Struggling to connect: Some students find it hard starting a new school as a sophomore or beyond. Although most colleges try to host fun events for transfer students, it’s not quite the same as starting as a freshman.
  4. Receiving less financial aid: Your financial aid package may change significantly when changing schools. Perhaps you had a school-sponsored grant at your previous school, but your new school doesn’t offer such a grant.

Transferring colleges FAQs

Is transferring colleges worth it?

Whether to transfer college depends on your specific situation and future goals. If you’re racking up debt faster than you can handle, then switching to a more affordable college makes sense. Furthermore, pursuing a more lucrative career path at a different college may help open doors in your future. However, transferring because of minor problems — such as roommate conflicts — may not be worth all the hassle involved.

How hard is it to transfer colleges?

Transferring colleges takes a fair amount of planning and work. You must research potential schools, gather the necessary paperwork, write a solid transfer essay and pay application fees. However, it’s worth the effort if you feel like another college will offer more opportunities or is an overall better fit.

What GPA do I need to transfer to another college?

The required or average transfer GPA will vary from school to school, but it’s usually listed on the school’s website. If not, you can gather basic transfer requirements for most U.S. schools from

When can I transfer colleges?

The transfer timeline depends on your new school. Some colleges only accept transfers in the fall, whereas others offer options for both the spring and fall semesters. However, transferring in the fall may feel less stressful overall. A fall transfer gives you the entire summer to prepare, pick housing and save up some money. Furthermore, most students transfer in the fall, allowing you more opportunities to connect with fellow newbies.

Can you appeal college transfer credits?

Yes, most universities allow you to file an appeal for any rejected or unaccepted credits. The exact steps will vary, but you’ll most likely need to provide the following:

  • The name(s) of your previous institution(s)
  • The course details, including the online description and syllabus (from the appropriate year)
  • A statement explaining why you believe the credit(s) should be accepted


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