So you’re thinking about transferring to another school. Don’t worry, you’re not a weirdo: about 1 out of every three students changes schools before graduation.
However, just because you’re thinking about transferring doesn’t necessarily mean you should. After all, changing schools means getting used to a whole new way of doing things, new faculty, new students and (in some cases) a new city. It also means that the work you've already done could go to waste if your credits don’t transfer. Even worse, you could lose your financial aid. Transferring is a big decision.
Is transferring right for you?
One way to find out is to ask yourself some questions and then answer them as honestly as possible. There are no right or wrong answers to these questions, but they can help you better understand what transferring is going to mean for you.
- Why are you transferring?
This is the most obvious question you should ask yourself but, unfortunately the hardest one to answer honestly. Are you considering transferring because you had a bad day or a bad week? Are you unhappy with the faculty at your current school? Is your school too expensive? Do you not like the location? Are you unhappy with your fellow students? Were you rejected by the fraternity or sorority you pledged? Whatever the reason, be honest with yourself about why you want to transfer. Don’t just do it because you’re vaguely unhappy and think that the proverbial grass just has to be greener somewhere else.
- What do you hope to accomplish?
While this is related to the first question, answering it requires thinking in greater detail about your motivation. Does the school you’re going to offer better faculty? How do you know? Does it offer a major that your current school doesn’t? Are the students cooler/nicer/more like you/better connected then where you are now? Again, how do you know that for sure? Are you transferring because the school you want to go to is more prestigious? How do you know that’s going to make a difference once you graduate?
- How much (if any) of your coursework will you have to repeat?
Generally speaking, if you’ve been taking classes from an accredited university and have achieved a “C” or better, your course credits will transfer and count for similar classes at the school where you want to go. Before you take another step it’s vital for you to meet with Transfer Counselor (often found in the Admissions office) to find out what courses that you’ve taken will come over and which won’t. If some won’t it’s not the end of the world, but it may set you back from your anticipated graduation date…and cost you more money.
- Will you be able to get financial aid?
Financial aid doesn’t necessarily transfer from school to school and merit-based aid offered by one school definitely doesn’t transfer once you leave your original institution. Even some external scholarships aren’t transferrable: if you have a scholarship provided by an outside funder that’s targeted towards a specific school or region it may not transfer. Again, check with your target school’s Transfer Counselor and make sure you have a full understanding of what kind of financial aid you’re going to be able to qualify for. You could be pleasantly surprised: more and more schools are now offering scholarships specifically for transfer students.
- How much is it going to cost?
If you’re currently living with your parents and are thinking about transferring to another local school, chances are the financial impact is going to be minimal. On the other hand, if you’re moving to another city, state or even country in order to transfer you could be in for some pretty hefty costs. If you transfer is going to take you to another city, state or country get some quotes from moving companies (or find out if your friends and family can help you move) first. The other thing to consider is cost of living: different parts of the country can have vastly different costs of living. Plugging some numbers into a cost of living calculator like this one at CNN Money can help you understand how much farther (or how little) your current income would go in the new location.
- What’s the potential personal cost?
Are you ready to leave your friends on campus behind? What will be the impact of giving up relationships you already have with your professors? If you’re moving farther away from your hometown, will you be OK with seeing your family less frequently? What about where you’re thinking about moving to? If you’re currently a “city kid” and thinking about moving to a school in a rural area, will you be able to deal with small-town life? If you’re used to the country, do you think you’ll get lost in the city? Try visiting your potential new city—preferably outside of the “tourist areas” – and try to get a feel for what it’s like to be there.
- What’s the weather like?
Obviously if you’re not going far, this isn’t a big issue. But if you’re thinking about a long-distance move, the local weather can often make a big impact on your quality of life.
- Do I have what I need to transfer?
Different schools have different documentation requirements for transfer students, so check with your Transfer Counselor. Generally speaking you’ll need to gather together your college and high school transcripts as well as any scores from standardized tests (ACT, SAT, etc.) you’ve taken. Some schools may even require letters of recommendation from your professors and possibly even an essay. Be sure that you have time to get what you need before you ditch your home institution.
- Is this the right time to transfer?
Make sure that you’re clear about the admissions cycle at the school you want to transfer to. Again, your Transfer Counselor can be a big help here. Besides the requirements, however, you may also want to think about what you’re going to be giving up if you transfer now. Is there an abroad program that you’re going to miss? A world-renowned professor visiting from another school whose class you won’t be able to take? Are you going to miss a big event at your current school? Are you going to miss out on a learning experience for upperclassmen? Of course, you might also get the opportunity to do all these things at the school you’re going to transfer to. Just make sure you know.
- What happens if I don’t transfer?
Finally, take a look at your decision from the other direction. Will you potentially have a miserable social life if you stay where you are but end up with a high-quality education? What’s more important to you? Will you graduate earlier if you stay, potentially getting the jump on the career you want sooner than some of your peers? Will you stagnate and die inside if you stay another semester? Will you potentially be able to take out less loans if you stay, possibly cutting your student loan payments after you graduate? Again, there are no right answers to this question: just make sure you know what your answers are.