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Changing Colleges: Handling the Transfer Process

Changing Colleges: Handling the Transfer Process

Get to know what's involved in the transfer process.

By Elisa Kronish

March 04, 2009

There are a lot of reasons students choose to transfer colleges. Some plan from the start to save money by starting at a community college and finishing at a four-year college. Others are simply not happy with their choice and want to explore other options. Whatever the reason, if you’re thinking of transferring, you need to plan ahead to make sure your move is a success.

Extra Help for Community College Students

Community colleges can offer a great, cost-effective way to launch your education. You can take advantage of lower tuition to complete your general education requirements, while saving money for your major course work at a four-year college. Many schools offer special programs to ease this transfer process:

Articulation agreements are agreements among some two-year and four-year colleges within the same state that give students equivalent credit for equivalent coursework when they transfer.

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Dual admission agreements give students simultaneous admission to participating two-year colleges and four-year colleges. As long as students complete an associate degree, they are eligible to transfer all their credits to the four-year school. “It helps them have a smoother transition,” says Bob Burk, director of admissions at Northern Illinois University. “Students receive academic evaluations from us letting them know how the classes they’re taking will apply at Northern.” Some four-year schools even offer tuition discounts or scholarships for students who did well at their community college.

Check with the academic counselor at your community college to see if your school offers either of these agreements with other colleges.

Making the Decision

If transferring wasn’t part of your original college plan, start by thinking through all aspects of the move. Assess your reasons, and make sure they’re compelling enough to make the inconveniences and cost of transferring worthwhile.

  • Are you unhappy with the academic level of the classes? Are they too challenging or not challenging enough?
  • Do you want a stronger program for your major? Or does the school not offer a program for the field that interests you?
  • Is the school too expensive? Do you need a more economic alternative?
  • Do you feel out of place socially? Does the social life fail to answer your needs and interests?

Even if your reasons are strong, you may want to take a little more time to see if the problem resolves itself at your own school. And before you choose to transfer, keep in mind some serious considerations:

  • If you’ve done upper-level coursework for your major, the credit might not transfer to your new school.
  • Once you’ve transferred, you might be required to complete a number of credits at your new school before you can graduate—even if you finish your major requirements earlier.
  • Transferring may make your education cost more. In addition to application fees ($30-$70 depending on the school), you may end up paying for more courses because credits won’t transfer. And it may take longer to graduate, which means living expenses for extra semesters.
  • Financial aid offers when you are a transfer student are often not as generous as they are for new incoming students.

Also do some careful research on your intended school. Ask about which course credits are likely to transfer and how the transfer will impact your schedule for graduating. (Will you have to take summer school or re-take courses?) And talk to the financial aid officer at your intended school to get some sense of the financial aid realities beforehand.

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Talk to your parents or a school counselor before making any final decisions. And check to see if your school has a transfer counselor who can help with the whole process.

Getting In… Again

Transfer acceptance rates can vary widely among schools. “Some schools are more selective, and they may not accept transfers as readily,” Burk says. Whereas the Massachusetts Institute of Technology admits only a small number of transfers, Northern Illinois University accepts as many as 2,500 each year.

To consider a student for transfer acceptance, most colleges will require a GPA of above 2.0 and a minimum—and maximum—number of course credits or hours. Talk to an admissions officer at your intended transfer college for specifics.

The Application Process

Applications are typically due in early spring for the fall term and late fall for the spring term. Be prepared for application fees of anywhere from $30 to $70. Most applications require official high school and college transcripts, a financial aid transcript, descriptions of your college coursework and entrance exam scores.

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Be sure to follow up on paperwork you’ve requested from your school. “The school sometimes doesn’t act on it right away, and you don’t want it to be late,” says John Boswell, director of admissions at the University of Utah.

Getting Credit Where It’s Due

Most universities readily accept credits for introductory courses but may put more restrictions on advanced or elective courses. Private universities may also deny community college credits because they may not think that community colleges meet their standards. If you don’t receive credit right away for all courses, try to appeal the decision upon acceptance.

Remember that your decision to transfer is as complicated and important as your decision to apply for college the first time. Take some time and do some research to be sure you’re making the right move.


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