You might have stumbled across this article because you wanted to change schools or are uncertain about the transfer options available to you. To assist you with this important decision, we have prepared an overview of the general transfer process, including some tips on how to decide where to apply and how to ensure as smooth a transition as possible. We’ll first look at factors you should consider before transferring; then we’ll explain the transfer process itself.
What to Know about Transferring to Another College
We will approach this question from two scenarios: (1) the transition from a community college to a four-year college, and (2) transferring from one four-year school to another.
1. Community college students looking for a four-year program
If you’re enrolled at a community college and have even the smallest curiosity about switching schools or continuing your studies to earn a bachelor’s degree, set an appointment with an academic advisor ASAP. Some schools, like the UC schools, have numerous (and often confusing) requirements that must be fulfilled before a prospective student is eligible to transfer. Community college academic advisors are specially equipped with knowledge and tools to help students advance to four-year colleges. They can help you select the courses you should take and what major and minor options you should consider. Some of them can even help you identify good internship opportunities to help strengthen your application and prepare you for the financial burdens of a four-year degree program. In short, academic advisors play an instrumental role in the transfer process—visit them early and often.
Some schools that frequently take transfer students have entire support systems set up. For example, the UC schools post great resources for students enrolled in California community colleges (see, e.g., the Transfer Pathways, a guide to preparing for certain majors, and the Intersegmental General Education Transfer Curriculum, a guide for choosing what courses to take). Take advantage of these resources.
We also recommend that you explore community colleges that might have certain partnerships with four-year schools. Many state-run systems have some form of admissions arrangement between their community colleges and their state-funded, four-year universities.
- The most famous example is the preference UC schools give to California community college students. In fact, there’s even a special Transfer Admission Guarantee (TAG) program for intrastate transfers. This program works like an early decision application process (deadline September 30) and allows students to indicate their interests in transferring to one of the six participating UC schools. These students can, of course, still apply to all the other US schools through the general application process (November 1-30).
- Keep in mind, however, that the coordinated programs between community colleges and their “big brother” four-year institutions don’t always function seamlessly, so make sure to triple-check requirements and consult with your academic advisors.
2. Switching from one four-year school to another
If you’re dissatisfied with your current school and are looking for a new home, transferring to a new school is an option worth exploring. But the process of choosing where to apply and figuring out what you need requires careful preparation and planning. Here are some important considerations:
- One batch of schools you might consider are the schools to which you were accepted when you applied during your senior year of high school. Some schools won’t make you reapply.
- Consider the timing of your transfer. The best time to transfer is the end of sophomore year/start of junior year. Why? If you try transferring during freshman year, the only real grades you have will be from high school, and those senior-year grades will matter—a lot. If you finished high school on a high note, then, by all means, aim to transfer earlier. If you slacked off, however, you might want to use the first two years of college to show that you’re a reformed student on a mission to excel in school.
- Get to know your current professors. After all, you need recommendation letters for your transfer applications, and those letters should come from college educators who can help your prospective school decide whether you can handle college-level work. You can explain to them that you are looking to relocate for personal reasons (don’t go into the specifics) or are reassessing majors; however, Don’t blame the current school or say that you hate it. That’s not going to get you a recommendation!
- Have an extracurricular life. We promise you; it’s not all about the grades. Yes, the higher your grades, the better odds you have, but if you’re going to apply to a highly competitive school, take on some volunteer work or internships. The more well-rounded you appear on paper, the better.
Considerations for current community college and four-year school enrollees
Whether you start at a community college or a four-year college, in addition to the above, you will want to consider the following factors while looking for a new home:
- What aspects of your current school make you unhappy? The answer to this question will help you identify the schools you probably do NOT want to transfer to. After all, why go through the strenuous process of transferring, only to end up in an environment similar to the one you disliked in the first place?
- What schools welcome transfer students? Some schools are known for higher transfer student acceptance rates. In fact, many schools have announced that welcoming transfers is part of their growth strategy. Check out the US News & World Report’s list of schools with the most transfer students (as of fall 2015) and, if you’re an international student looking to transfer, check out the US News & World Report’s list of colleges with the most international students (during the 2015-2016 academic year).
- Have you taken the coursework required to transfer? Many top schools have core curriculum requirements or standardized freshman classes, and prospective transfer students are expected to have taken similar courses. Additionally, you may have had to declare a major before the spring semester of your sophomore year. So, make sure you’ve taken the prerequisites and double-check that you will have earned sufficient credits to apply for the major you want to pursue at your prospective school.
- How are your grades? Transfer students are often required to keep, at a minimum, a B average, but many top schools require a higher grade-point average. Plan your courses carefully. Obviously, we’re not saying that you should take classes known for “being easy A’s” since schools will look at your entire record. However, make sure you balance your schedule so that you have enough time to study and do well in your more challenging courses—especially those that are prerequisites for the major you want to pursue.
How to apply for a college transfer
Many schools use the Common Application to process transfer applications, so if you previously applied to undergraduate institutions through that system, the process should be familiar to you. For those who have not worked with the Common Application system, the steps of the process are as follows:
- sign up on the website;
- choose the schools you want to apply to;
- add them to your application list;
- fill in your general biographical information;
- upload or input academic records and standardized testing information;
- designate instructors to write your recommendations;
- have the college dean form completed; and
- upload the Transfer Application Essay.
Some schools have their own procedures, so make sure to check with the admissions office of each school to which you want to apply. You will also want to double-check when schools accept transfers and for what year within the four-year program. Some schools take applications three times a year (for fall of sophomore year, spring of sophomore year, and fall of junior year), and some accept sophomores while others only accept juniors.
Regardless of whether you use the Common Application to apply, you will be required to send academic records from high school and your current college. Make sure you request these documents from your schools early enough for them to process your request. Also, keep in mind that your transfer application essay must explain why you want to transfer and why you chose the major you want to pursue. When you describe your goals, focus on how you have outgrown your current environment and emphasize that you are looking to challenge yourself and expand your academic horizons. Never (and we really mean never) portray your current school in a negative light.
When is it too late to transfer colleges?
While it’s never “too late” to transfer, it may be too late to transfer if it will disrupt your intended graduation timeline. Transferring before the end of sophomore year will generally prevent a student from the need to push back their graduation deadline, so sophomore year is often considered the ideal time to transfer.
Your intended graduation date will be pushed back if the minimum attendance duration at your transfer school demands that you to remain in school for longer than you would prefer. Be sure to check your school’s guidelines to see the minimum attendance duration requirements, which are especially applied at prestigious schools.
Preparing Your College Application Documents
For additional tips on how to draft your college admissions essays, please feel free to check out our other articles!
We hope the above advice and explanations help answer some of the questions you might have about the transfer process.