Common Questions About the College Transfer Process

Different degree-seeking students transfer colleges for different reasons. Some do so because of financial constraints, while others switch schools to opt for a different major or career path.

And then there are those who move to other institutions because of having the realization that they placed the wrong school at the top of their college list back in high school.

Considering transferring colleges but have some fears and doubts on your mind?

In this post, I will answer some of the most burning questions about the college transfer process.

college transfer

When Is It Too Late to Transfer Colleges?

Just because you can transfer schools — almost one-third of all college students transfer schools at some point before completing their degree programs — doesn’t mean you can do so at any given time you like.

Generally, the sweet spot to move to a different institution is after completing 2 years of college.

While you will be more than welcome to transfer to some postsecondary institutions with more than 2 years of college under your belt, it’s not really the best step to take.

Do take note that the vast majority of colleges limit the number of credits accepted, thereby causing you to retake some of the classes, which, of course, will take up both time and money.

It takes 120 credits to get Bachelor’s degree, and most colleges require taking at least 60 (half) to take with the current college. So, if you studied for more than 2 years and amassed more than 60 credits, transferring to another college is not cost effective.

For example, if you took 80 credits in one college, transferred, and had to take 60 in another college, in total, you will have to pay for 140 credits instead of 120 in case you stick with the first college.

Can You Transfer After Just 1 Semester?

Transferring colleges after a semester is possible. As such, it’s better to transfer at the end of the semester rather than midway through it. Still, it’s not recommended as transferees may fail to obtain enough credits and a high-enough GPA. At most institutions, transfer students are required to complete at least 1 year of college.

For as long as your target school accepts transfer students who have completed college coursework that’s equivalent to a full semester, you may transfer to it without having to wait to complete another semester.

However, while possible, it’s not usually recommended by admissions experts.

Given that the GPA is a major factor in the transfer admissions process, you may be at a disadvantage as you could still be in the transition phase, which can impede academic performance.

Also, you may have to start college from the beginning for failing to accumulate enough credits — many colleges require transfer applicants to have completed a minimum number of credits.

How Can You Track and Ensure Transfer Credits are Properly Applied?

Prior to switching colleges, transfer students should check their target schools’ course transfer database, which allows them to determine whether or not courses taken have equivalents available. Many colleges and universities have proprietary tools that help transfer students determine which credits could be transferable.

Both freshmen applicants and transfer applicants have to check all kinds of things about their top-choice schools beforehand. However, it’s of utmost importance for transferees to also check about the institution’s transfer credit policy.

Fret not if some of your earned credits will fail to transfer properly.

Not too many transfer students are aware of the fact that they can appeal the decision by getting in touch with the admissions advisor.

When doing so, check that you are contacting the right department and that you have not missed any deadlines. Be prepared by having a course syllabus, samples of completed classes or even a letter from your professor.

Of course, this matter should not be a major concern if you are from a community college and you wish to transfer to a 4-year institution with an articulation agreement with it.

college transfer

How Do Transfer Credits Allow You to Graduate Early?

Transferring colleges with credits earned from your current school allows students to complete their respective degree programs within the intended time frame. For them to graduate early, it would help if they entered their first institution of higher education with AP credits, thus allowing them to skip introductory-level courses.

Whether you are transferring from a 2-year institution to a 4-year institution or from a 4-year institution to another 4-year institution, the importance of looking into the school’s credit transfer policy cannot be said enough.

By having all your previously earned credits transferred, you can graduate on time.

Upward transfer (moving to a 4-year institution after attending a community college) a part of your educational plan all the while?

You can graduate faster than everybody else by taking AP exams in high school.

Of course, you will need to get a score high enough in the eyes of the college, usually a 5 or 4, on each test if you want to earn much-needed credits.

Do Extracurricular Activities Play a Role in the Transfer Process?

Extracurricular activities play a lesser role in the admissions process for transfer applicants than for freshmen applicants. GPA becomes more influential in the admissions decisions for students with previous college experience than those without. Extracurriculars can sometimes be used to distinguish equally qualified transferees.

It’s not uncommon for teens, in particular those who are eyeing admission to some of the most selective colleges in the land, to build an outstanding extracurricular resume throughout their high school careers.

College students, meanwhile, can continue pursuing extracurriculars to build their professional resumes.

As far as transferring colleges goes, however, extracurricular activities, more often than not, will only matter if admissions officers cannot seem to decide between you and another transfer applicant with pretty much the same academic profile as yours.

Otherwise, while you may still partake in extracurriculars in college, spending a lot of time on them is optional.

Does Academic Performance Impact Transfer Admissions Decisions?

Among the various factors taken into account in the admissions process for transfer applicants, perhaps none carries more weight than academic performance. So much so that, in most instances, it’s not just the transfer student’s college transcript that needs to be submitted but also his or her high school transcript.

Both first-time, first-year applicants and transfer applicants have to submit all sorts of documents and materials.

Something that separates transfer applicants from their freshmen counterparts is that they need to submit transcripts from all learning institutions they have attended — high school and college/s alike.

It’s for the fact that admissions officers consider not only a transfer applicant’s GPA in college but also his or her GPA in high school, serving as proof that academic performance has a massive influence on admissions decisions for transferees.

But the further a transfer applicant is from those high school years, the less important his or her high school GPA becomes.

Are Recommendation Letters Important in the Transfer Process?

Application requirements can vary between transfer applicants and first-time, first-year applicants. Similarly, application requirements for transfer applicants can differ from one college to the other. Like supplemental essays and standardized test scores, recommendation letters are not always warranted in transfer applications.

Letters of recommendation allow admissions officers to obtain insights into what applicants are like as both students and persons, thus helping to put their applications into context through the eyes of their respective recommenders.

In the process of transferring colleges, applicants may or may not be required to submit recommendation letters.

Just in case your target school requires you to submit one, be sure to obtain a recent one from your college instructor, preferably someone who knows you very well as per your achievements and capabilities. Refrain from reusing your high school letter of recommendation that you submitted to your current school when you were applying to it.

How Does Transferring Impact Graduation Timeline and Career Goals?

It’s important to check the policies at your target school if you want to graduate in a timely manner.

Depending on the school or program, not all credits you have earned or will earn at your current college will transfer to another institution. And even if they are transferable, failure to meet the minimum grade requirement, which is usually a C, could result in you retaking the very same classes at your new school.

When building your professional resume, there’s no need to indicate all colleges you attended — where you earned your degree is all that matters.

But as mentioned earlier, while transferring colleges may not prevent you from having the career path of your choosing, it can result in pushing back having your dream job if you make mistakes in transferring colleges.

Common Problems Faced by Transfer Students

According to a qualitative study on the challenges transfer students commonly face on campus, which the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) published, they can be categorized under the following categories:

Challenges in learning experience

  • Insufficient credits transferred
  • Extra workload from non-core courses
  • Reduced time for extracurriculars
  • Facing a new learning environment or adapting a new learning style

Challenges in self-identity and social experience

  • Sense of incompetence compared with non-transferees
  • Inferiority complex
  • Lack of self-confidence
  • Restricted social circle

Because of the many challenges you could end up facing upon transferring colleges, it’s important to choose a best-fit school to avoid negatively impacting your academic performance and prompting you to transfer schools all over again, only to encounter the very same set of problems for failing to choose the right institution.

merit aid sign

Are Financial Aid and Scholarships Different for Transfer Students?

Most of the time, freshmen students and transfer students are eligible for the same types of financial aid, such as scholarships, when they apply to college. However, it’s not all the time that financial aid transfers between institutions given that it’s computed based on the school’s cost of attendance.

Whether you are applying to a college as a first-time, first-year student or a transfer student, determining whether or not you are eligible for financial aid starts with filling out the FAFSA.

But as a transferee, it’s possible for you to get less financial aid compared to a freshman.

That’s because some colleges and universities prioritize incoming first-year students when it comes to the allocation of available financial aid. As a result of being placed at the back of the queue, it’s not unlikely for transferees to get less financial aid.

Also, transferring in the middle of the school year may lead to limited aid types available for them.

How Does the Transfer Application Compare to First-Year Applications?

Applications for transfer applicants and freshmen applicants, most of the time, are similar, requiring hopefuls to submit transcripts, recommendation letters, essays and, in some instances, even standardized test scores. However, the application process for transfer students is made simpler under an articulation agreement.

Like when applying as a first-time, first-year student, the process of applying to a college as a transferee starts with filling out the application form. Usually, transfer applicants have a different form to complete and submit.

In terms of things to submit, you may have to get your hands on more or fewer documents, depending on the school.

Transferring from a community college to a 4-year institution? If your target institution has an articulation agreement with your current school, the process of transferring can be trouble-free.

So much so that, as a matter of fact, depending on the arrangement, you may even be guaranteed acceptance to the college.

Can You Transfer to Colleges You Were Previously Rejected From?

In most instances, students can re-apply as transferees to colleges where they have previously been denied admission as freshmen applicants. But to be admitted, they will need to have much better applications. However, as expected, one must check a school’s policy regarding this matter as it can vary from college to college.

Because colleges do not report how many of their total admits got rejected the first time they applied, it’s hard to determine whether or not one’s admissions chances are higher or lower the second time around.

But there’s no rule that prohibits students from reapplying, except if they reapply during the same admissions cycle.

Planning on transferring to an institution that rejected you as a freshman applicant?

Then make sure that your application is what they are looking for exactly. With plenty of opportunities to improve it through college courses and extracurriculars, getting admitted is possible, thus giving you the chance to attend your first and only top-choice school.

Can You Transfer From an Unaccredited College?

Because different postsecondary institutions have different policies as far as who qualifies as a transfer applicant, a student should check whether or not the college he or she plans to transfer to accepts students from unaccredited schools. In most instances, colleges do not accept transfer credits from schools with no accreditation.

Accreditation — this is something that you should check before applying to your top-choice school.

That’s because there are many downsides to attending an institution with no accreditation. For instance, some employers may not accept your degree. And when transferring colleges, your target school may not consider giving you credits.

Sometimes, it’s not just credits earned from unaccredited schools that are not accepted by some institutions of higher education but also the transferees themselves.

Case in point: New York University. According to the selective school, only those who are enrolled or have enrolled in regionally accredited colleges are eligible to apply as transfer students.

How Many Colleges Should Transfer Applicants Apply To?

Similar to high schoolers applying to colleges as first-time, first-year students, college students who wish to transfer schools should have a balanced and realistic college list. So, in other words, it should also consist of 1 to 2 safety schools, 2 to 4 match schools and 2 to 4 reach schools to increase one’s admissions chances.

Acceptance rates for transfer applicants can be higher or lower than acceptance rates for freshmen applicants, depending on admissions policies and, in some instances, the competitiveness of academic programs.

Still, a high acceptance rate does not guarantee an acceptance letter.

Filling out transfer application forms at a number of colleges and universities, therefore, is a good idea to make sure that you will be given an offer to enroll by at least a single school.

This is especially true if you add a couple of safety schools, or institutions that transfer applicants are almost certain to get into because of a higher academic profile than most of their attendees.

Is It Bad If You Have Transferred Colleges Multiple Times?

There’s no limit to the number of times a degree-seeking student can change colleges. However, they run the risk of losing credits each time they move to a different school. While transferring colleges many times isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker, admissions officers might wonder if transfer applicants will persevere or simply transfer again.

Staying at a postsecondary institution that isn’t a good fit is pointless. Being devoid of things necessary to thrive academically, you could be wasting more and more money the longer you try to put up with the school you don’t like.

Congrats on deciding to move once and for all! But make sure that you will transfer to the right college this time.

While you can actually transfer as many times as you like, you may have to start from scratch academically each time.

And if you are already on your nth time switching, you might want to stay away from a selective school — its admissions officers might hesitate to accept you for fear that you will simply transfer again instead of trying your best.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the College Reality Check.

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