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Step-by-Step Guide to Transferring Colleges

Follow these 9 steps for a smooth transfer between schools.

Kathryn Knight Randolph

January 14, 2021

If transferring colleges is right for you, get started with this helpful guide.
Step-by-Step Guide to Transferring Colleges
Though you’ve been through the college admissions process once, it’s different the second time around when you’re trying to transfer. Deadlines differ based on when you’re hoping to switch schools, and each college has to coordinate with the other on credits, financial aid and more. Essentially, it takes a lot of preparation and time management as you continue to balance your applications with your academics, but by following our step-by-step guide, you can make the transition as smooth as possible.
  1. First, assess why you want to transfer. There are good reasons to transfer and not-so-good reasons. Explore what’s behind your desire to transfer and speak with your advisor, family and friends about whether or not it’s the best move for you.

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    Ultimately, the decision is up to you, but it doesn’t hurt to get a second opinion. After all, transferring colleges can be a long, detail-oriented process. If this is the move you really want to make, it will be worth the extra work and effort.
  2. Begin your college search…again. Now that you’ve been in college for a few months or a year, make a list of what you do and don’t want in a college. For instance, look for colleges that have your major, your desired location and social environment. Using Fastweb’s college search can help you narrow down colleges that are a good fit for you based on your needs. If you’re unsatisfied with your current institution, make a list of what exactly you don’t care for – or what it’s lacking. Use this list to find colleges that contrast your college or university. You don’t want to go through the transfer process just to end up at a similar institution – unless you’re making a move to a better location.
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  4. Meet with your advisor. If you haven’t already, speak with your advisor about transferring. Chances are, they’ve gone through the process before with another student. They’ll know who to talk to in the registrar, admissions and financial aid offices at your school. Plus, they should be able to give you an idea of which credits transfer. They’re also one of the best people to ask for a second opinion. They can talk you through the issues you have at your current institution and help you problem solve. At the same time, they may be able to offer you some great recommendations on other colleges that may be a better fit for you, depending on what you need from your college experience.
  5. Start scoping out schools. Given that you’ve committed to one school and are hoping to switch to another soon, it’s best to get a good look at the school to which you would like to (finally) commit. Schedule a campus visit, talk to an admissions officer and make a trip to the financial aid office while you’re at it. Now that you’re a college search pro, it’s time to make your college visits a more in-depth experience. Don’t just limit the college visit to a tour of campus. You need to sit down with admissions officers and have a discussion about why you’re transferring and what you’re looking for. Sit in on a class to see if the academic environment is what you’ve envisioned for yourself. Have lunch with a current student to talk about their experience; the admissions office can actually schedule this for you. And if you have enough time, consider staying overnight with a current student too.
  6. Check out which credits transfer. In some cases, you’ll be able to transfer college credits from your current school to your future school. Send a transcript to the university you hope to attend, and find out which of your credits will transfer. There are some schools, however, that will not accept transfer credits. If that’s the case, you have to weigh whether starting totally fresh will be worth it. However, if this is what you really want, you may be fine repeating your freshman or sophomore year. It’s not that uncommon for students to make the switch and start from square one. Just remember that you’ll have to pay for those additional years of schooling. Which leads us to financial aid…
  7. Have a good, long conversation about financial aid. Finances will, no doubt, play a huge role in your ability to transfer. Make sure you’ve spoken with a financial aid administrator at the school you hope to attend to get a clear picture of your financial aid. Also, complete any forms they may require you to fill out as soon as possible; and as always, fill out the FAFSA every year. Once you receive your financial aid package, determine whether or not it works for you – or if you need to ask for a professional judgment. A professional judgment allows you to present more detailed information to the financial aid office in order to advocate a more all-encompassing financial aid package. If necessary, use your financial aid package at your current institution to show them what exactly you’re looking for. This is a big financial investment, and you’re allowed to negotiate.
  8. Collect all components of your application. Check out the school’s website or talk with an admissions officer about everything you need for your application. Not only will you need your college transcript, but you’ll most likely need to interview with an admissions officer, write an essay, ask for letters of recommendations from current professors and even submit your SAT or ACT scores and high school transcripts.
  9. Apply. This may seem like a no brainer, and once you’ve got the deadline figured out, it is. Universities have very different transfer deadlines. Some, like Harvard, only accept transfer applications in the spring. Other schools will have deadlines in the fall for those that want to transfer mid-year and another in the spring for those who want to begin at the start of the official school year in August or September. If you’re considering multiple colleges in the transfer process, make sure you have each of their deadlines written out on a calendar or saved somewhere. Deadlines can easily get mixed up; don’t let it happen to you.
  10. Secure your spot. Finally, to make it official, turn in deposits, housing preferences and any other forms you need to complete in order to commit to your new college. Also, take a deep breath; you did it! Now, get ready for new challenges, friends and opportunities. Best of luck with your transfer application!

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