How to Transfer Colleges – 2022 Guide

Searching for the right colleges, working hard on your personal essay, and submitting applications can be a cumbersome process. 

Many students find themselves extremely relieved once they receive their first acceptance letter and know this process is over.

After paying your enrollment deposit at your school of choice, you probably thought you were all done with the college admissions process and all the stresses that come along with it. 

If you find that you are unhappy at the college you selected, however, all that time, research, and effort you put into applying to colleges might feel like a waste.

If this is the position you are in, do not give up hope just yet — it may be frustrating, but you have options for how to proceed with your pursuit of higher education. Rest assured that you do not need to spend your college years unhappy, dissatisfied, and full of regret. 

Transferring colleges is a great decision for students who feel that they do not fit in well at their first college. 

On top of that, you are certainly not alone if you do decide to transfer: studies have shown that as many as 38% of college students transfer schools at some point before graduation.

There is an application process associated with transferring to a different college, but on the bright side, it is very different from the first-year application process.

Here, we have compiled all the information you will need to get started with the transfer process, including a step-by-step guide to transferring, what to do if you have a low GPA, what you should consider when deciding if you want to transfer, and more. 

How to Transfer Colleges Step-By-Step

Alboychenko08, Court of sciences UCLA, CC BY-SA 4.0 – This picture is of UCLA – a school with many transfer students thanks to the University of California Transfer Agreement Guarantee (TAG)

First, ask yourself if transferring is really the best decision for you. 

If your reasons for wanting to leave your current school include insufficient resources, poor options for major programs, or location, for example, then it is pretty certain that all of those issues will be resolved at a new school.

On the other hand, if you are unhappy at your current school because of social issues, difficulty adjusting to campus living, or any problems that very well may exist at any college or university, then you might consider sticking it out and seeing if things change over the course of your freshman year. 

Of course, it is ultimately your decision to make, and transferring as soon as you know that you are unhappy minimizes the amount of time you will spend at a less-than-ideal school.

Once you are absolutely certain that transferring is the best decision for you, decide what college you would like to transfer to. 

It will be helpful to do a bit of research about each school you are considering transferring to, especially with regard to admission statistics and requirements. 

The next step is to see how many of your credits will or will not transfer to your new school of choice. 

Although other schools are under no obligation to accept credits you completed at your previous university, many colleges will accept some number of transfer credits, especially for general education courses. 

Since most colleges will require that transfer applicants submit at least one letter of recommendation, you can get ahead in the transfer process by getting two letters of recommendation from current professors.

At some early point in the process, you should speak with an advisor for assistance and guidance throughout the transfer application process. After applying to schools, you should prepare to make a decision as soon as you hear back regarding your acceptance. 

Is Transferring After One Year Different from Two Years?

The right time to transfer depends on many factors, but in essence, the transfer process after one year is no different from the process after two years. 

If you decide to transfer after your first year, then your high school transcript, extracurriculars, and other academic experiences during that time will carry more weight in the admissions process than your college grades.

Another important consideration for deciding when to transfer is how many of your credits will transfer. If you have taken a lot of lower-level, general education courses, then you might find that many credits will transfer to your new school, allowing you to transfer seamlessly even after two years of study elsewhere. 

On the other hand, if you have taken fewer general courses, or if your next college will not accept many credits, you might find that transferring after two years will force you to retake intro-level courses. 

This could result in you taking longer than four years to graduate as you play catch-up. There’s nothing wrong with needing more time to earn your degree, but because of the high cost of tuition, you should only do so if there is no better alternative for you.

How to Transfer Colleges With a Low GPA

If your GPA at your current school is low, you might be concerned that you will not be accepted as a transfer student at any other school. Fortunately, there are several relatively simple steps you can take to improve your chances of being admitted to another college. 

For one, you should do your best to explain why your GPA is low in your transfer application essay. 

Suppose you have experienced any personal hardships that have contributed to your poor academic performance. In that case, informing universities of these struggles shows that your current grades do not accurately reflect your full academic potential. 

Be honest, and do not be afraid to include whatever details and information you feel might give the office of admissions at your desired school a better sense of who you are, not just as a student, but also as a unique, capable individual who had loads of great qualities and will positively contribute to their campus community. 

Your low GPA should also factor into your decision about where to apply. Your chances of being admitted to a highly selective school with a low GPA are slim to none, but there are many excellent schools out there that have much more flexible admissions requirements.

Additionally, you can make an effort to make the parts of your application that reflect more positively on your academic capabilities stand out. 

For example, past leadership roles in extracurricular activities, a strong portfolio showcasing your ability, and killer recommendation letters from past professors who really know you can make all the difference for students whose grades are not the best.

How to Transfer Colleges As an Athlete

If you are a student-athlete looking to transfer to a different school, you will first need to have a conversation with your coach and/or administrator. 

Set up a meeting to inform them that you have decided to transfer schools, and that you would like to continue to play your sport at your next college.

You may submit applications to the colleges you are interested in transferring to even before you notify the athletic department at the current school of your intent to transfer. 

When searching for the right school to transfer to as a student athlete, it is crucial that you look into each college’s athletic division, conferences, and admissions policies relating to transfer student-athletes. 

Each has different rules and requirements for transfer athletes, and it is important to keep these guidelines in mind when selecting a school to ensure you can continue to play your sport. 

Once you decide on a school and are accepted, you can then ask your current school for a permission-to-contact letter, which you will need to register your NCAA eligibility as a transfer student-athlete. After this, you will be eligible to play your sport at your new school. 

Depending on the specific rules at your new college, however, you may not be eligible to compete for up to a year after transferring. 

Some colleges have policies requiring that you attend their school for a certain amount of time before you can play on their sports teams, although some may choose to offer exemptions.

Should You Transfer Colleges? Making a Big Decision for Your Future

Whether or not transferring to a different college is the best decision for you depends on a large number of factors, and there is no definitive guide to knowing if you will be happier at a new school, let alone which one. 

Transferring colleges is a big decision that will significantly impact the rest of your undergraduate experience.  

One big thing to consider is the possibility that you will lose credits. According to a 2014 study, about 39% of transfer students receive no credit for courses taken before they transferred. On top of that, the average transfer student gives up 27 credits in making a move to their new school.  

Because of transfer credits not being accepted, many transfer students eventually find that they need more time to graduate. 

On average, it takes about three months longer for students who have transferred schools to earn their degree, compared to those who did not transfer.

You should also be aware that taking more time to graduate most likely means spending more money on tuition.  

These additional tuition costs can lead to the need to take out more student loans. 

This, along with the delay in earning a salary while you finish school, could be a significant drawback to transferring, depending on your financial situation. 

On the other hand, the four years it typically takes to earn a bachelor’s degree is a considerable portion of your young adult life. 

Although it may seem insignificant, especially once you subtract the time you have already spent at your first college, these years constitute an affirmative, transitional era of life for many people. 

At the end of the day, the most important thing is choosing a path through your higher education that you feel is valuable, enriching, and meaningful. If you have good reason to believe that you will be happier at a different school, then transferring will be well worth the cost.