College Student Transfer Guide

Learn How to Make Your College Transfer a Smooth Process

The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center reports that 37.2 percent of all students change schools at least once and 45 percent transfer more than once. However, U.S. News and World Report says the transfer student acceptance rate is 64 percent. In contrast, acceptance rates for first-year university students is 69 percent. The transfer process is straightforward, but not easy. The route is marked with risky pitfalls. Transfer students need to create a strategy for securing their transition to four-year schools and begin preparing from their first semester of community college.

Why Transfer to Another College?

Statistics tell the story. The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center reports that 37.2 percent of all students change schools at least once and 45 percent transfer more than once.

Here are good reasons to transfer:

Two-year to four-year

You want to earn a bachelor’s degree. According to MarketWatch, 49 percent of students earning a bachelor’s degree in 2016 had previously attended a community college. And two-thirds of them transferred within three or more terms. The Princeton Review reports that community college students often benefit from small class sizes, where the faculty is dedicated to teaching (rather than being absorbed in research).

Financial reasons

MarketWatch found that in the 2015-16 academic year, students paid three times as much at a four-year public college compared with the tuition at a two-year public college. The total savings may be even better if community college students choose to live at home. Completing two years toward an associate degree can save two years for tuition at a baccalaureate institution. Rob Franek, Editor-in-Chief at The Princeton Review, reports that families with live-in students “can save thousands of dollars and make a financial reach school more affordable.” The Princeton Review found that nearly a third of community college students receive financial aid in addition to the lower tuition rates. The National Center for Education Statistics helps students examine average tuition and available financial aid compared to national averages for 2018.

Switching majors

Following two years of community college work, students may discover that their original major no longer matches their career objectives. Changing majors upon transferring to a four-year program presents unique challenges. A key step forward requires an investigation of potential baccalaureate programs to determine whether they offer the new major. Students must determine which undergraduate transfer credits are acceptable to the four-year college or university. If the new school accepts transfers of your general education requirements, you’ll have a jumpstart on completing the degree. Typically, the longer students wait to change majors, the greater challenge it is to compete the program on time and save money. If you choose to change majors after transferring, the new school may force you start over to complete their general education and upper-division courses germane to the major. Again, students should investigate colleges and online degree programs to understand the completion requirements for the new major. Re-taking general education requirements plus the new upper division courses may extend your time-to-graduation, which means spending more money.

The school is a poor fit

Finding the best scenario for your education takes substantial time and effort. According to Franek, “Some students who are rejected from their first-choice school attend another school with the intention of later transferring. Others begin their education at a two-year community college but ultimately want a four-year degree.” The initial concerns for fit begin with the target school academic offerings and available financial aid. The fit of the transfer school may match your academic goals, but you hate the college culture. While there may be tempting academic challenges at the institution, you may discover too late that you’re unable to maintain grades or complete the program. Franek adds that, “If your goal is simply to enroll in a college with bigger name recognition, you might want to reconsider. The difference in reputation between your old school and your new one may not justify the time and effort of transferring.” And how much will it cost for tuition at the four-year school? Since you cannot transfer financial aid, new loans can leave you with a student debt you cannot shoulder. Do you prefer a small school with smaller class sizes? What about diversity preferences? Perhaps you’d favor a large university with busting social life and extra-curricular opportunities. Where is the new college located? You might have to give up on the idea of being close to family and friends, or you might move to a state where the cost of living is excessive.

Online college transfer

Learn How To Become offers its online Must-Knows About Transferring guide to help students navigate the gauntlet of transfer requirements for online baccalaureate programs. For distance students, the college resource center at Affordable Colleges Online cites the benefits of working with a dedicated transfer counselor to learn about admission requirements, including GPA. Online students can also search for the Best Accredited Online Colleges and Universities. Transfer students can also discover top two-year and four-year schools by state and receive expert financial aid advice. Need academic direction? Our Online Student Success Guidebook shows distance students how to excel in the digital classroom.

Returning to college as a transfer student

There are three hurdles that students returning to college must confront: academic admission, transfer credits, and money. Reentry students who have been separated from higher education for more than a year may have to reapply for admission as well as secure new financial aid. In some cases, reentry candidates with low GPA scores may enroll for a probation period to raise their grades. There are Federal financial aid programs as well as private or institutional scholarships and grants targeted for re-entry students, including those who are returning after a five-year hiatus. U.S. News cautions students be wary of funding sources that require cash in advance or your personal attendance at a “free” seminar.

Military transfer

You don’t have to be on active duty to transfer military training and experience to a college degree program. Be sure to research the college’s degree requirements, as well as its transfer policy. The American Council on Education's College Credit Recommendation Service guides institutions in accepting credit for work or life experience. Military recommendations are good for 10 years. The ACE Transfer Guide offers a transfer credit checklist plus transfer credit policies and procedures. Active-duty personnel and veterans and must submit their Joint Services Transcript, or JST, to colleges where they apply for transfer credit. Separated personnel need to submit their Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty, form DD214.

Sports transfer

The National Collegiate Athletic Association, or NCAA, warns that student athletes planning a sports transfer may lose their sport eligibility, financial aid, and academic credits if they fail to research their target colleges. Rules vary, depending on whether you plan on transferring to an NCAA Division I, Division II or Division III school. Other regulations can impact student athletes if they are currently enrolled at two-year or four-year schools. The NCAA’s Two-Year Transfer Guide can answer many of your questions.

Advice for Transferring College Credits

Transferring credits is not easily accomplished since each university or college district sets subjective standards. Franek notes that colleges “typically expect you to have acquired a minimum number of credits. You’ll have a harder time transferring if you’ve completed more than two years of study, even if you abandon some of the credit you’ve accrued.”

Results vary. Forbes Magazine found that no credits were accepted in 2017 from 40 percent of all transfer requests. The uncertainty of applicable transfer credit requirements can lead you toward padding the associate degree with unnecessary classes. For example, an associate degree requires 60 credits, but the average student graduates with 80 credits to build an excess of potential transfer coursework. The poor outcome might be chalked up to inconsistent transfer policies across the institutions. On the other hand, it may be the product of inadequate academic transfer counseling. Tina Poliseno, Transfer Credit Evaluator at Franklin University, says:

Relevance is paramount. It’s not just about the volume of credits you can transfer, it’s also about the relatability of those credits to your program path. Our standard is that 70 percent of the previously completed course work has to apply to our program.

Tina Poliseno

Maximizing Transfer Credits

You’ve got to develop a strategy and get started working on it as soon as possible. The key to success lies in understanding the transfer requirements of each institution to which you apply and working with an academic or transfer counselor to set your strategy into action. The Education Commission of the States found that more than 30 states have distinct policies affecting the transfers of lower-division credits and associate degree holders. The commission has some good news too. Public institutions typically honor credit transfers of general education courses that meet their lower-division requirements. But course titles can vary widely between intuitions. Students may have to petition the Transcript Evaluator for previous college credit. The evaluator may drop the associate course nomenclature and measure class content against the lower division equivalents at the school. Remember to meet all deadlines for completing courses for transfer or appealing courses the university will not accept. The commission warns that failure to meet appeal deadlines may result in losing your credits altogether.

Check Off the Actions as You Complete Them

If the transfer process seems trying for students following a strategy, it can feel impossible for those who come late to the dance. In working with your transfer advisor at least a year before the planned transfer you can:

  • Ensure that your associate degree is transferable and not considered a terminal degree.

  • Raise or maintain a solid GPA score. GPA scores directly affect admissions, transfers, and some financial aid packages.

  • Conduct routine audits of transferable courses you’ve completed and assess which courses you need to complete.

  • Discover schools that are generous in granting transfers, rather than preferring first-year students.

  • Send pertinent faculty recommendations promptly along with transcripts.

Understanding Transfer Articulation Agreements

You’ll need to complete a Transfer Student Application at your four-year school. Articulation or transfer agreements are made between two-year colleges and prospective four-year academic partners. A transfer counselor is the best resource source in evaluating articulation agreements with the schools on your list. For example, your two-year school may have established articulation protocols with colleges and universities. Articulation agreements can provide smoother transfers to four-year schools in the same community or state. The agreements establish the right course sequence for the first two years. The students must earn certificates, diplomas, Associate of Science (AS), Associate of Applied Science (AAS), and Associate of Fine Arts (AFA) degrees. The agreement reflects program-to-program transfers of your general education credits to the four-year school and can make a seamless transition possible.

Warning: Not all articulation agreements guarantee admission to the four-year school. Some schools favor recipients of two-year degrees (AS, AAS or AFA) over others. Some base admissions heavily on your GPA. It’s imperative to discover the admission requirements of four-year schools participating in the articulation agreement.

Securing Financial Aid

The Department of Education (DOE) will not transfer your community college financial aid to your four-year school. Your community college must report that you have left the school, cancelling out your aid. This may be especially difficult for students who have received Pell Grants at their community college. According to Franek, "Typically, transfer students are eligible for less scholarship funds than first-year students, though some schools set aside money specifically for transfer students." Students must remain eligible for financial aid. You can check your remaining amount of your Pell lifetime eligibility at the DOE. If the new school participates in Federal student aid programs, you'll need to update your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) online form. Unfortunately, Direct Subsidized Loans and Direct Unsubsidized Loans will automatically go into the repayment phase once you leave your community college. However, you can apply for an in-school deferment or forbearance if you qualify.

Transfer Scholarships & Other Financial Help

According to Learn How to Become, financial aid at colleges and universities increased by 32 percent last year. Some 80 percent of small colleges with less than 3,000 students offer transfer students merit-based scholarships. Because Federal financial aid cannot follow the transfer student to a new college, the U.S. Department of Education provides sage advice on aid requirements and policies. In addition, the following scholarships focus on financial aid for transfer students:

  • Hispanic Scholarship Fund: Awards from $500 to $5,000 are gifted to community college students with a Hispanic heritage who are transferring to four-year universities. Applicants must have a minimum 2.5 GPA.

  • Scholarship America: With more than $2.7 billion in scholarships and aid since its founding, this national organization helps students connect with funding resources.

  • Ann and Peter Ziegler Scholarship: Open to women who are single parents in Liberal Arts programs planning to transfer to a four-year institution. Applicants need a letter of recommendation from an instructor.

  • Fisher House Foundation Scholarships for Military Children: $2,000 scholarships awarded to 700 dependent, unmarried children under age 23. Open to active duty personnel, reserve/guard and retired military members.

  • Jack Kent Cooke Foundation: Applicants for the Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship must have exceptional academic records at their two-year institution as well as demonstrate unmet financial needs.

  • CollegeFish.org: Sponsored by Phi Theta Kappa, Collegefish provides free search for $37 million in available transfer scholarships. Find available scholarships based on college size, location, and tuition costs.

  • The Pearson Scholarship for Higher Education: This scholarship awards ten, $5,000 transfer scholarships to current community college students. Eligibly is limited to Phi Theta Kappa members who have maintained a minimum 3.5 GPA.

  • Transfer Times Scholarship: Apply for a $6,000 scholarship to be used at a four-year college for any undergraduate majors. Ten selected finalists must complete five essay questions to qualify for a scholarship.

  • WIFLE Annual Scholarship Program: The scholarship is open to transferring students with a major in Criminal Justice or related discipline. Applicants must have completed one year of studies, maintaining a 3.0 GPA.

  • Learn How to Become: This comprehensive resource for online students offers a search tool for finding online schools offering U.S. Department of Education financial aid packages. Aid includes packages for veterans, LGBTQ students, minorities, women, and vocational students.

  • Scholarships.com: Transfer students can search for free among more than 65 scholarships open to them. Eclectic scholarships are based on race, religion, physical disabilities, LGBTQ status, environmental activism, and for tall people.

  • U.S. Department of Education: Discover how to re-apply for aid using your FAFSA account. Current Federal aid will not transfer to your new school. Learn how to delay automatic aid repayment upon transferring.