A Guide to Transferring Colleges


Transferring from one college to another may sound daunting or like something you shouldn’t be doing. If you feel that doing so is crazy, you should know it isn’t. In fact, tons of students do it all the time.

Why? Well, there are plenty of reasons. For one, a student could find a good college that’s more affordable. They might want to attend community college first to give their academic profiles a boost.

There could be situational reasons too (for example, finding a college where staying safe from COVID-19 is easier). Of course, there’s a whole slew of personal reasons we don’t need to explain in detail.

So switching colleges isn’t all that out there as an idea. It could get complicated depending on the circumstances (if you’re transferring to an out-of-state college for instance).

But don’t worry — we’ll make it easier to understand!

Types of Transfer

Here are the most common types of college transfer:

  • From community college to a four-year college: also known as an upward transfer in some circles; students that go from a two-year program often get an associate’s degree upon transfer.
  • From one four-year college to another (or one community college to another): some refer to this as lateral transfer, wherein the student moves from one institution to an equivalent one.
  • From a four-year college to community college: reverse transfer; this one often happens for financial reasons since community college is cheaper, and it still earns you education credit.
  • International transfer: transferring from a university in one country to another.
  • Enrolling to a four-year college while at community college (or vice versa): a student decides to take up both a community college and a four-year college, hoping to transfer the credits from community college to the four-year one.

How to Transfer to Another College

The college transfer process can be a tricky ordeal, and the particulars will likely vary from one institution to the next. That said, this outline will give you an understanding of how to transfer colleges in the U.S.. You can always consult an admission officer for the particulars.

Naturally, you should find a prospective college for you to transfer to first. We’ll cover this step in more detail later on, so let’s put a pin in for the time being.

Keep a Solid GPA

One of the most important things you can do while at your current college is to keep a high GPA. More specifically, you should strive to have it above the average transfer GPA for your desired college. This will vastly improve your chances of getting into the school you’re aiming for.

The best solution here is to simply attend easier classes or those taught by lenient professors. On paper, they all look the same, so your target college will be none the wiser.

Get Professor Recommendations

Do you have a professor with whom you’ve got a good rapport (or more than one)? If you do, it would be great to get a letter of recommendation from them. Just do it a few weeks in advance (or a month, ideally), especially if you’re planning to get more than one letter.

Set up an appointment with them or email them to discuss this further. Odds are that they’ll be more than willing to whip you up a quick recommendation. Don’t be shy about telling them about the college you’re transferring to or yourself — the more details the professor knows, the more personalized the letter will be.

How to Choose Your Transfer College

Chances are you’ve already done a little bit of research on the college you want to attend. In case you haven’t, look into whether or not they actually have what you’re looking for. So if, let’s say, you’re passionate about a subject that isn’t available where you are now, see if the target college has a strong department related to that topic.

With that out of the way, probably the most important remaining issue is transferable college credits. Sadly, this is a case of “see for yourself” since different schools have different policies for various credits. That said, equivalent schools (like two public four-year colleges) within the same state/country are the most generous in terms of credit transfer.

Generally speaking, 101 courses are easier to get credit transferred to, especially if they’re considered equivalent subject-wise. Moreover, quarter courses and semester courses often don’t gel, so check whether yours will be transferable.

You should also find out if your desired college has different tuition rates for out-of-state and in-state transfer students. Logically, this doesn’t apply to you if you’re gunning for a school in your area, but most colleges and universities charge differently for these two demographics.

Applying for Transfer

One of the things you have to check right away is the deadlines for transfer application. These deadlines will vary from one college to another, but some might want the application dealt with a year in advance.

It’s wise to follow the life rule of “the early bird gets the worm” here. Don’t cut it too close to the application deadlines; instead, get all the information and papers you’ll need as soon as you can.

So which materials will you need to apply for a college transfer? Here are the ones most colleges ask for:

  • College application (common or coalition)
  • High school transcript
  • College transcript
  • Application fees ($45–50 on average, but can go as high up as $90) or a fee waiver
  • Letter(s) of recommendation
  • ACT or SAT scores

Now, the below is a generalization of how the application process should transpire. You might run into a few distinct instructions in your case, but this is more or less how every application unfolds.

The first step will be for you to send your application online, preferably a year before you transfer. After that, you’ll likely have to pay the application fees (which are usually nonrefundable). After that, you’ll need to request that your credits, test scores, transfers, and other things get transferred.

That’s pretty much it for the application process itself. However, it’s also a good idea to stay engaged with your target school through campus tours and programs you can follow.

How Will the Transfer Affect Loans and Other Financials?

Before anyone gets their hopes up: no, you don’t lose your student debt when you transfer. It’s still money owed, and you’ll have to repay it plus interest.

Loans, on the other hand, don’t carry over to the next college. That’s because factors like the price of attendance change when switching, changing your eligibility for loans. So you’ll have to resubmit your FASFA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).

This shouldn’t be too problematic. If you’re transferring at the start of the school year, simply fill out the application with the new college’s info instead of the old one. Make sure to update the application with this new info if you’re transferring schools mid-semester.

Keep in mind that your federal award aid could differ upon transferring, though it isn’t exactly the norm.

For example, if you transfer mid-semester, you’ll likely lose your aid until the end of the school year, especially since it’s a first-come-first-served kind of deal. There are also private loans and Parent PLUS loans, which typically go up to the cost of attendance. If the new college’s price is much higher or lower, the money you get may change.