The National Association for College Admission Counseling reports that 1 in 3 students who enroll in college will likely transfer at some point. While making the decision to transfer can be challenging, going through the actual process has its pitfalls as well. In fact, the transfer process is often more complex than the original freshman application: Individual schools operate under their own deadlines, rules for validating earned credits, and protocols for judging student accomplishments. Following are guidelines to help you navigate the process successfully.
Step-by-Step Guide to Transferring
- Check your transcript: Students beginning the transfer process should acquire an official transcript from the college registrar. Check the transcript for errors or omissions. Make sure that all grades and courses are accurately recorded. See your college adviser to clarify any questions or concerns and be proactive about making appropriate changes.
- Document services: Students who receive accommodations in college and wish to use them at the next institution should meet with personnel at the Office of Disability Services or Learning Resource Center. Get official documentation of your accommodations and find out if the schools you’re considering offer similar support. Most providers of college learning support are happy to discuss the needs of prospective students. It is as important to investigate these issues before transferring as it was when applying for freshman admission.
- Keep a calendar. Unlike freshman applications, which are due near the end of senior year, transfer application deadlines are scattered. Students can apply for fall, spring, or even summer. Some schools process transfer applications as they are received throughout the year; others have a priority filing period, which can be up to a year before matriculation.
Prospective transfer students should keep a calendar of dates and requirements for submission of materials. Since colleges are usually less centralized than high schools, it might take more time to meet with the people at your current college that you’ve asked to write recommendations.
Some colleges have a transfer coordinator who works out of the Office of Admissions to deal exclusively with prospective transfers. Many transfer coordinators will perform a nonbinding transcript evaluation and discuss the likelihood of admission even before a student files the completed application. This service can direct students toward appropriate options, saving time and money. The transfer coordinator also can tell students how and when the college makes transfer decisions.
For colleges that have rolling admissions, it’s best to get the application in early. Some colleges use later deadlines because they wait until their freshman class is complete to see how many transfer spots are available. Keep in mind that failure to comply with transfer deadlines and requirements is an indication that a student is disorganized or disinterested.
- Know evaluation criteria. Find out how colleges evaluate transfer students. Some will consider the same materials you submitted as a high-school applicant, including high-school GPA and standardized test scores. They may even allow a student to activate a previous application. However, as more college level coursework is completed, high-school grades and SAT/ACT scores become less important.
- Ace the essay—again. The transfer essay is a central part of your application. Of course rigorous standards of writing, grammar, and relevance apply, but this essay must also be more focused than those that accompanied your freshman applications. Let the school know why you are interested in transferring. Does a specific program interest you? Did you develop a new interest while at your first school that is better explored at this institution? A good transfer essay should work for one school only. Research each school well and tailor your essays accordingly.
Submitting the materials colleges request is one part of the process. It’s also important to ascertain that a college offers the social/emotional environment you need for comfort and productivity. Key issues to consider include:
- Housing: Learn what housing is available to transfer students. Will you have to live in a freshman dorm, or are transfers interspersed among various campus options? If you prefer to live in a coed, language-specific, or healthy lifestyle dorm, see whether or not those are open to transfers. If you hope to practice the tuba daily in your campus residence, make sure that transfers aren’t automatically assigned to quiet dorms.
- Coursework: Just because the school offers opportunities in your area of academic interest doesn’t mean that there are openings in the classes you want to take. Make sure that you don’t end up spending extra years in college to complete your major.
- Finances: Ask about the financial aid policy for transfer students. Some colleges offer reduced aid for transfers or give preference to their continuing students. Financial aid officials will often discuss options before a student is formally accepted. Work-study students also need to investigate what options might be available to transfers.
Remember, the decision to transfer should be made from a position of strength. Identify where you would like to be and be your own best advocate for change. If you find the procedure difficult to undertake without support, find a mentor or educational consultant who can help you focus.
Some colleges offer orientation programs for transfer students. These can be wonderful opportunities to meet people in situations similar to your own. Special orientation and registration sessions show that a college values its transfer population and does whatever it can to integrate transfer students into mainstream academic and extracurricular life.
This article from the Smart Kids archive was written by Marcia Rubinstien, who was an educational consultant and a Contributing Editor of Smart Kids.