The rules around financial aid are different if you transfer at the beginning of the year or during the middle of the year. Generally, transferring at the beginning of a new academic year is going to save you money. If you transfer, be aware that your federal financial aid package will be recalculated, your current loans will begin their grace periods, and your award package is likely to change.


When should I transfer to maximize my financial aid?

For the sake of your financial aid package, it is better to transfer at the beginning of an academic year rather than during the year. If you transfer during the year, depending on your timing, you may qualify for reduced or no financial aid at your second institution and you may have to repay money to your first school.

How might my financial aid offer change after a transfer?

Financial aid is not transferable between institutions because it is calculated based on an institution’s cost of attendance, and this differs between schools. When transferring, you will have to reapply for federal financial aid and fill out any additional forms required for campus-based or institutional aid. If your second institution costs significantly less than the first one, you may find that you receive little federal aid, but if it costs significantly more, your award package will reflect that change. Your award package may also differ between institutions if there has been a significant change to you or your family’s finances; your estimated family contribution can vary from year to year based on whether your income has increased or decreased, which will in turn affect how much need-based financial aid you are eligible for.

While you may have qualified for federal work-study at your first institution, you might not receive a work-study award at your second institution since it is a campus-based form of government aid. The same goes for Perkins Loans; you may demonstrate adequate financial need, but if your second institution doesn’t take part in the Federal Perkins Loan Program, you’re out of luck. Of course, this can work backwards, too. You may find that at your second institution you are eligible for new sources of aid that weren’t offered at your first!

The three sources of federal financial aid are as follows:

  • Grants: These are primarily awarded based on financial need, though there are grants available for current and former foster students, students whose parent or guardian died performing military service after 9/11/2001, and students who commit to either teaching or medicine. This money does not have to be repaid except in certain circumstances (not completing medical or teaching service, for example).
  • Work-study: Federal work-study is a program that connects students with financial need with a part-time job, either at their school or at a nearby, often nonprofit, organization. Students will earn at least federal minimum wage for the hours they work, and will be given either a set number of hours or a total compensation amount for the year. This money does not have to be applied toward tuition and fees, but students may choose to do so.
  • Loans: Federal loans are distributed by the U.S. Department of Education and individual institutions. These must be repaid, with interest. To be eligible for certain federal loans, students do not have to display financial need; however, since the repaid amount is always more than the amount taken out, loans should be accepted with care and in amounts no more than is necessary to pay for school.

All bets are off, however, if you are transferring during the middle of the year and not at the beginning. If you have already used financial aid for part of the year, you may receive a reduced federal aid package or no aid at all at your second institution. Typically, if you transfer before 60% of the year is complete, you will still receive some financial aid. However, if you completed over 60% of the year, you may be paying for your second institution out of pocket. Talk to the financial aid office at both institutions to determine a course of action.

Is there a chance that I will have to repay financial aid?

Yes, but this depends on the policies of your current institution. Some schools may refund the unused portion of your tuition if you leave soon enough in the year, but unless you stay through 60% of the year, your financial aid doesn’t qualify as fully earned. This is the case, then, when you may have to repay money to your first institution. Talk to your current school’s financial aid office to determine if you will owe any money.

What happens to my current federal loans?

Federal loans do not transfer between schools. When you reapply for federal financial aid, you will receive a new financial aid award with new loans. When you leave your current institution, your current federal loans will enter their grace period (six months), after which you will have to begin repayment. If you are enrolling at least half-time at your second institution, you can apply for a deferment on your previous loans. If you’re granted a deferment, you will not have to begin repayment until you finish school at your second institution or drop below half-time enrollment. If you had Federal Perkins Loans, a campus-based form of aid, talk to your current institution’s financial aid office to learn about repayment.

How do I apply for federal financial aid at my new school?

Regardless of the reason that you’ve decided to transfer, be it monetary, academic, or personal, you need to stay on top of financial aid. Filling out the FAFSA as soon as it is available each year (October 1) ensures that you have access to federal sources of financial aid: grants, work-study, and loans. You may not have received an acceptance from the school to which you hope to transfer yet, and that’s okay. You can specify that you would like your FAFSA results sent to both the school that you are currently attending and the school(s) into which you hope to switch. (You can find each school’s Title IV Institution Code here.) This way, you’ve been proactive about your need for financial aid and you don’t miss out on awards because you’ve waited too long to apply.

You will also want to ask an admissions representative how to apply for institutional financial aid. Your new institution may require the CSS Profile in addition to the FAFSA or have its own forms that are necessary to qualify for aid. If you are hoping to switch to a public school in your home state, you may be eligible for state-based financial aid as well.

Remember, to maintain eligibility for most financial aid, you need to be enrolled at least half-time.

Are there any private scholarships offered exclusively to transfer students?

  • The Hispanic Scholarship Fund awards scholarships ranging from $500 to $5,000 to Hispanic students who are planning to transfer from a community college to a four-year college, as well as high school students who will be attending college in the fall and current undergraduate and graduate students. There is a GPA requirement for applicants, and students must be U.S. citizens, permanent legal residents, DACA recipients, or eligible noncitizens to apply for one of these scholarships.
  • The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation offers scholarships to students who are planning to transfer from a community college to a four-year institution. Each year, 55 students receive awards of up to $40,000 each year for two or three years (depending on how long the student has to finish their bachelor’s degree). Awards are based on both financial need and academic merit and can be applied to tuition, fees, books, and living expenses. Applicants must be attending or recently graduated from an accredited two-year institution at the time of their application; students who have previously attended or recently transferred to a four-year college cannot apply.
  • The Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society created CollegeFish.org, a search engine that aims to connect community college students with four-year institutions that offer their prospective degrees and are the right size, location, and cost for each student. Through CollegeFish, four-year colleges can find recruitment information for community college students (CollegeFish has partnerships with two-year institutions in Alabama, Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Washington) and for any community college student who wishes to create an account (membership in Phi Theta Kappa is not necessary). Prospective transfer students can search for colleges and access transfer-specific scholarships through their accounts.
  • The Tau Sigma National Honor Society, a society specifically aimed at transfer students, awards scholarships ranging from $500 to $4,000 to member students each year. Students will first submit applications to their local chapter, which can then choose one or two students to nominate for a national scholarship. In 2016, 53 students were awarded scholarships.
  • Transfer Times offers a $6,000 scholarship to eligible transfer students currently enrolled in a community college or vocational school who want to transfer to a four-year institution. The destination college must be one that advertises in the Transfer Times. Students must be attending a school in Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, or Wisconsin. The initial contest involves filling out a simple form with personal information and a selection of schools to which you’re interested in transferring. From that pool, five individuals are randomly selected to respond to essay questions, from which a single scholarship winner is chosen.

These are just a few of many specific scholarships out there for transfer students. They can be difficult to find, but well-worded internet searches are unlikely to leave you high and dry.

Page last updated: 04/2017