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What You Should Know About Transferring Universities

The past year has shaken up the higher education scene. And even when the world returns to “normal”, the impact of the pandemic will continue. Despite all the challenges, many colleges and universities saw significant increases in application numbers for the 2020-2021 application cycle. Also rising in number have been deferrals and transfers. The latter is especially significant, given transfer students already made up more than a third of college students, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. Here’s a closer look at what you should know if you’re thinking of transferring universities.

Sep 6, 2023
  • Student Tips
What You Should Know About Transferring Universities

Preparing to transfer

Students transfer university for many reasons. In some cases, it’s a matter of 'fit'. For others, it’s for financial reasons or to gain access to academic offerings which might be unavailable at their current university. Regardless of whether you’re changing schools for personal, financial, or academic reasons, there are some things you can do to lay the groundwork for a successful transition. U.S. News & World Report recently rounded up nine things college transfer students should know, including the following:

1. It won’t necessarily be harder to get in

Many assume transfer admission is significantly more competitive, but this isn’t always the case. In 2017, for example, the overall acceptance rate for transfer students was 62 percent compared to 65 percent for first-time freshmen, according to the National Association for College Admission Counseling.

2. You may be in demand

According to a poll conducted by Inside Higher Ed and Gallus, 72 percent of admissions directors say they are stepping up their efforts to recruit transfer students.

3. Some schools may be friendlier to transfer students than others

Just as extremely selective schools are more competitive for first-time freshmen, spots at these schools are also likely to be much more limited for transfers. One way to increase your odds of admissions? Do your research.

4. Different things matter

While your SAT and ACT scores may have been deciding factors when you applied the first time around, they’re less important when you’re transferring. So what are schools looking for? Your academic performance at the college level. Important factors include overall GPA as well as average grades in transferable courses.

5. There’s a lot to take into consideration

Transferring involves many complex factors, including articulation agreements. These partnerships between institutions recognize which credits will be recognized toward a degree. And then there's the fact not all schools have the same policies and requirements. Some classes may not transfer or some schools may have limits on the number of credits accepted. The more informed you are, the more informed a decision you can make. The sooner you think you might want to transfer, the sooner you should reach out to your school’s advising office to make sure you have all the information you need. On that note, while transferring may sound strange and scary to you, your advisor has almost undoubtedly been through this before with other students. That’ll know exactly who you should talk to about what you need to do to transfer. If you’re on the fence about transferring, they may also help you talk through your concerns to reach better clarity -- one way or the other.

6. Admissions to schools and degree programs are different

Just because you get into a particular school doesn’t mean you’re assured a space in a particular program. This is especially true in competitive and demanding programs. Save yourself both heartache and headache by understanding the requirements for the degree program you want to enter before you apply.

7. Funding may be available

Many different types of scholarships are out there -- even some specifically designated for transfer students! You can use this website, for example, to learn about these opportunities.

8. Plan on getting involved

If your goal is to acclimate socially at your new school, plan on getting involved on campus. Pam Cavanaugh, associate vice provost of UCF Connect at the University of Central Florida, told U.S. News & World Report, "Relationships with peers and faculty members in class might just be the perfect type of integration that provides transfer students the sense of belonging necessary to support their quality learning experience."

9. Seek out services

While we often associate college orientations with incoming freshmen, many schools also offer these programs for transfer students, as well. But the services and offerings may not end there. Some schools also offer transfer student-specific programs and services so be sure to inquire if you're not sure about your school’s offerings.

Know Your Reasons

While transferring may well be the right decision for you, it is not a decision that should be taken lightly or made rashly. Poor reasons for transferring include not getting along with a roommate, homesickness, and struggling to keep up in classes. These are not problems that will necessarily be resolved by a change of college. Rather, they are likely to be issues you would face wherever you attend school.

Conversely, good reasons to transfer typically pertain to long-term growth as opposed to short-term problems. These may be specific academic program offerings, aid with your career goals, the appeal of the college’s mission, your current school doesn’t offer something you want to study, the overall environment isn’t a good 'fit'.

While transferring can be overwhelming, it can also be rewarding. Take Chinese transfer student Changle Li, for example. While he began college at a community college in California, he looked to transfer to pursue software engineering studies, and eventually landed at University of Minnesota Crookston (UMC).

“The things I have learned and accomplished at UMC have impacted me a lot, that’s why I’ve had such a great experience in the job force early on. I had no specific background before I came to UMC. My recommendations from UMC helped me get into the master's program in Tokyo, so yeah, I love UMC a lot,” Li said of transferring and its impact on his career and life.

One last thing to keep in mind? If you evaluate your reasons, practice due diligence, and move forward with transferring, you’ll be in good company. Many successful people, ranging from Barack Obama to Warren Buffett, were once transfer students!

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Joanna Hughes


Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.

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