How to Transfer Colleges [2024 Guide]

By Joy Cromwelle
Edited by Briana Sukert
Updated on April 13, 2024
Edited by Briana Sukert
Ready to start your journey?
Discover how to transfer colleges with ease. Learn about the process, reasons to transfer, and financial aid options for a successful transition.

If your current school situation isn’t working out how you’d hoped, you may be curious about how to transfer colleges.

How to Transfer Colleges

While switching schools isn’t the right choice for everyone, it can certainly be beneficial for some. Contemplating your reasons for transferring colleges and then learning more about the process can help you decide whether it’s a step you should take.

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Transferring from one school to another can be a big change, but it may also influence school success and your overall college experience.

How to Transfer Colleges

Before you officially decide to transfer schools, it’s beneficial to consider why you’re doing it.

While a transfer might not be the right choice for everyone, it can be helpful for some. There are many reasons why you might not feel at home at your current school. Here are some common reasons students decide to change colleges:

  • Change of major. After a few months or even a year of college, you may discover that your planned major isn’t a good fit. Sometimes, you can shift to another program at the same school. On the other hand, if there’s nothing comparable offered at your university, a transfer may be in order.
  • High tuition bills. Financial issues pressure some students to look for more affordable schools. Tuition costs that seemed manageable during the college hunt may feel like more of an obstacle when you’re trying to balance homework and a job. A more affordable college may be the solution. Before you go that route, though, it’s strategic to talk to your current school’s financial aid office about alternative options.
  • Location. Moving away from family or driving a long commute each day can be tough. You may be ready for a campus that’s closer to home. Another option that might appeal to you is the idea of transferring to an online college so you can log in to the classroom from anywhere.
  • Personal growth. You may have committed to your current college months ago. In the time between making your choice and beginning the school year, you may have experienced personal growth and changes. The school that seemed like a great fit then may no longer mesh with your goals or interests. Now that you know yourself better, you may be on the lookout for a school that feels like it would provide a more “you” college experience.
  • School size. If you’re at a university that’s too big for your tastes, you may feel lost in the shuffle. If you’re at a school that’s smaller than you’d like, you might feel like all eyes are on you. If you find yourself wishing you were on the other side of the school-size spectrum, you may be thinking about the college transfer process.
  • Social concerns. You may have dreamed about spending four years hanging with your new best friends and jumping from one social event to another. In reality, though, you might now feel lonely and disconnected from everyone around you. You may be wondering whether all the friends you’d hoped for are hanging out at another college.

One or more of the above scenarios might describe you. It’s also possible that you have an entirely different reason for wanting to move to a different college. Either way, it’s helpful to know how to transfer schools so that you can find the program and the college experience that’s a better fit for you.

Common Transfer Paths

When to Transfer Colleges

Not everyone’s transfer situation is identical, but the following scenarios may give you a better feel for what the college transfer process will be like.

When to Transfer Colleges

Often, students transfer colleges at the end of their first semester, but some colleges don’t accept any transfers until junior year. For those that do accept underclassmen transfers, the admissions requirements will likely be similar to those for incoming freshmen.

If you’re nearing the end of your second year of college, you might consider whether you can graduate with an associate degree before leaving. With a degree in hand, you may receive more credit for your previous work. You often don’t want to wait too long to transfer, though.

Transferring to Another College

Many colleges expect you to earn at least 50% of your degree credits through their programs. If you wait until senior year to transfer, finding transfer friendly colleges with generous credit-acceptance policies may be your best bet.

Transferring to Another College

Students transfer colleges for all sorts of reasons, including the social scene and the financial expense. Wanting to pursue a field of study that’s not available at your current college is a top reason.

You can help set yourself apart as a good transfer candidate if you maintain a high GPA, participate in campus life, and get to know professors who can write you recommendations.

It’s strategic to maintain open lines of communication with the offices of both schools so that you don’t miss any details. Your tasks will typically include getting credit for your previous coursework and securing financial aid.

Transferring from Online College to University

Most on-campus programs accept transfer credits from regionally accredited online schools just like they would from other on-campus colleges.

When you compare tuition prices for your old school and your new one, it’s helpful to also factor in housing or transportation costs. Those factors may create a price hike if you’re used to doing school from the comfort of your own home.

Transferring from Community College to University

Transferring from Community College to University

Going from community college to a 4 year school is a common academic path for students. General education courses are the most likely to transfer, so community college can be an affordable way to complete your gen ed core.

The easiest transfers will usually be to prospective schools that have prearranged articulation agreements with your community college. For other universities, you may find it simplest to transfer in a completed associate degree rather than individual credits.

In any scenario, you can reach out to the admissions office at your future school for additional transfer guidance.

Credit Transfers Between Colleges

Credit Transfers Between Colleges

Not all colleges accept previous coursework in the same way. Familiarizing yourself with some general guidelines, though, can help you know what to expect.

It may also encourage you to advocate for as much credit as you can.

Will My Credits Transfer?

college Credits Transfer

General education courses are often transferrable from one accredited college to another. Courses that are specific to certain majors may be trickier to move.

To find out how many of your previous classes will be accepted for credit, you’ll submit your current college transcripts and course descriptions to the admissions officer at your new college. Moving between colleges that have articulation agreements increases the chances that your credits will transfer. These prospective schools have a prearranged plan for which courses are transferable.

When students transfer colleges, it’s common for the new college to accept credits only if they earned a certain grade at their previous college. A school may automatically rule out giving you credit for any course in which you got less than a C.

How Will My Credits Transfer?

How Will My Credits Transfer

You may receive full, partial, or no credit for your previous coursework. Schools often give full credit for basic general education courses.

On the other hand, if your past curriculum doesn’t line up as well with the new school’s standards, you may receive only half credit for some of your classes. Your admissions officer may also decide that some of your courses aren’t equivalent to anything at the prospective school. They might transfer in as elective credits, or you may receive nothing for them.

How to Appeal My Transfer Credits

If you want to appeal for your credits to transfer, a strategic course of action is to simply ask why credits were denied. By working together with the registrar’s office, you might get the school to reconsider its decision.

Some schools allow you to take placement tests. If you can demonstrate that you know the required information, you may end up with more transfer credits than you were originally granted.

What Do Universities Look For in a Transfer Student?

university Transfer Student

Some of the best transfer schools maintain low transfer acceptance rates. The more you can do to demonstrate to your admissions officer that you’re a good candidate, the easier time you may have of getting into the college of your choice.

Characteristics that colleges typically like to see in their transfer applicants include:

  • Compelling reason for transferring. It’s strategic to frame your explanation positively instead of bashing your current institution.
  • Engagement with campus organizations. Being involved in a variety of activities shows that you’re a well-rounded individual with the drive to contribute to campus life. It may also demonstrate that you’ve put forth your best effort to enjoy college before deciding to go elsewhere.
  • Good academic standing. The better your grades are, the more likely it is that another college will welcome you. Even if you’re hoping to move on next semester, it can help to keep striving for excellence in every class.
  • Relationships with college faculty. Your prospective schools may often request reference letters from your current professors. If you’ve built relationships with your teachers, you may find it easier to secure recommendations that cast you in a positive light.

If you don’t yet match these characteristics, you may want to take a semester to buckle down at your current school and transform yourself into a more compelling applicant.

Common Bachelor’s Admission Requirements for Transfer Students

Applying for a college transfer

Applying for a college transfer can be quite similar to submitting a first-year application. Even still, there may be special guidelines for prospective transfer students to follow.

The materials you’ll submit may include:

  • SAT or ACT scores (only some schools require them)
  • Essay that explains your interest in transferring to the future school
  • Letters of recommendation from college professors
  • Transcripts from your high school and all colleges you’ve attended

Some universities set a minimum number of college credits that you must earn before you can be considered a transfer student. For example, you may need at least 12 credits to qualify.

Colleges may also have residency requirements for prospective transfer students. This refers to how many credits you must earn at that institution before graduation. No matter how many credits you transfer in, you won’t be able to get a degree until you meet the residency requirement.

Why Is Accreditation Important When Transferring?

Colleges with regional accreditation

In general, a college will only grant you credit for past courses if they were taken at a reputable school.

Regional accreditation is considered one of the best signs that a college provides a good education. Colleges with regional accreditation usually only accept credits from other schools with regional accreditation.

In addition to being important for college transfers, regional accreditation can also make a difference when:

  • Applying to grad school
  • Searching for jobs
  • Obtaining federal financial aid
  • Securing tuition assistance from private sources

It’s also strategic to ensure that your new school holds regional accreditation status. You can check a college’s accreditation status on the U.S. Department of Education‘s website.

Financial Aid and Scholarships for Transfer Students

College students, including those who transfer, often receive aid to reduce their tuition costs if they qualify.

Financial aid options can include government grants and loans, institutional aid, private loans, scholarships, and workplace-based assistance.

Do Transfer Students Get Financial Aid?

Yes, transfer students may still qualify for some types of financial assistance. Your federal aid eligibility could stay fairly similar. The award amount is partly based on the cost of your school, though, so it may go up or down accordingly.

If you transfer mid-year, you may not qualify for scholarships or other awards from your school. Those are often given out first come, first served, so you may need to wait until the following fall.

How Do I Transfer My Financial Aid from One College to Another?

Financial Aid and Scholarships for Transfer Students

It’s necessary to update your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). You can also contact the issuers of any other financial aid you have.

They can confirm whether your award is transferable. If so, they can then send the next round to the correct school.

Is Transferring Colleges Hard?

Is Transferring Colleges Hard

You may have spent a good deal of time pursuing university options and filling out applications before getting into college the first time. If you want to be a transfer college student, you may need to invest in all of those activities once again.

In addition, transferring schools usually involves a waiting game. You might submit your previous coursework and then await a response from the future school about which credits will be accepted.

If you don’t receive as much transfer credit as you’d hoped, you may want to spend time negotiating with the registrar’s office about your options.

Can You Transfer Colleges Anytime?

Transfer Colleges Anytime

The rules about transfer timeframes vary from one institution to the next. Some require that you have at least 12 existing college credits. Others insist that college students transfer schools with a certain portion of their credits earned at the new school, so you may not want to wait too long.

Many schools accept mid-year applications for students to arrive after the semester break. There may be rules against doing this during your freshman year, though. Also, institutional financial aid is often off the table for mid-year transfers since all of the funds may have been distributed already.

How Many Times Can You Transfer Colleges?

How Many Times Can You Transfer Colleges

There’s not a limit on how many times you can change colleges. Some college students transfer schools and have found success after transferring three or four times.

It’s helpful to keep in mind, though, that each transfer can cost you time and money. If all the existing college credits you’ve earned don’t move with you, that can send you backward on the path toward graduation. That’s not to say that transferring won’t be the right call, though. It may take a few transfers to find the fit that’s right for you.

Does GPA Transfer?

Your GPA will start fresh once you begin at a new school. That doesn’t mean that your grades now don’t matter, though.

For one thing, the prospective school will consider your current GPA when determining whether to admit you. Poor academic performance could result in being unable to transfer. Also, even though you’re starting with a new GPA, your previous college transcripts won’t be eliminated.

If you try to transfer again or get into a graduate program, the new university will want to see transcripts from all of your previous college work.

What Is a Good GPA to Transfer Colleges?

Minimum grade requirements vary from one school to the next. There are even colleges that set no specific guidelines for transfer grades. In general, though, the higher your grades are, the better.

Many colleges do set GPA minimums for transfer students. Common examples include 2.5 or 3.0. A college may have different minimums for its different programs, so it can help to review department specifics carefully.

Can I Apply as a Freshman Instead of a Transfer Student?

Good GPA to Transfer Colleges

Most colleges will consider you a transfer student if you’ve spent any previous time in college.

Typically, people are tempted to apply as freshmen instead of transfer students because they have an academic record that they’d prefer to hide. This generally doesn’t work, though, since colleges can still find out about your past school experiences through background checks and your financial aid history.

It’s more strategic to be upfront about your previous schooling and present a case for why things will be different this time around.

How Long Does It Take to Transfer Colleges?

How Long Does It Take to Transfer Colleges

In general, it may take around 4 weeks for a college to review your transcripts and contact you about the credits you’ll receive. This timeframe can vary greatly from school to school, though.

Plus, that’s only one part of how to begin the transfer process. You’ll also have to send in an application and get accepted. Some colleges process applications only once or twice a year. Others offer rolling admissions so that you can receive a decision at any point in the year.

Overall, an exact timeframe for transferring colleges will depend on the school’s policies and practices.

Should I Transfer Colleges?

Should I Transfer Colleges

Common reasons for transferring schools include:

  • Being unable to afford tuition costs
  • Desiring a different school environment
  • Needing to be closer to home
  • Wanting to switch majors

These are valid considerations regarding how to begin the transfer process, but you might also want to take into account the drawbacks of transferring. For instance, you may lose time and money if all of your credits don’t transfer. Getting used to a new school, both academically and socially, can be a challenge.

If you’re willing to accept the benefits with the drawbacks, then transferring might be the right call for you.

Is Transferring Colleges Worth It?

Transferring Colleges

Yes, transferring colleges is worth it for many students. Either personally or academically, your current school may not be the right fit for you.

It’s often preferable to switch to another school where you can succeed than to drop out of college. Getting a bachelor’s degree can generally increase your employability and job security.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there’s a 3.3% unemployment rate for people who have taken some college classes but haven’t earned a degree. For those who have completed a bachelor’s program, that rate drops to 2.2%.


Getting into a new college

You might have academic, personal, or financial reasons for wanting to switch to a new university. Transferring colleges is a big decision, but it may be worthwhile if it can help you achieve your educational goals.

Getting into a new college requires multiple steps. It involves completing an application, getting accepted, and having your credits evaluated to see what will transfer. In some cases, you may need to also submit SAT or ACT scores. You may find the process easiest if you choose a transfer-friendly college for your new school.

If you’re interested in transferring, you can start looking at accredited colleges to see which one might be the best prospective school for you.

Ready to start your journey?