Not all schools are as open to transfer students as others, and applying to schools that aren’t “transfer-friendly” is an uphill battle. Luckily, there are some things you can look for that will help you determine if a school is open and welcoming to transfer students. Once you’ve narrowed down your list, you can plan a campus visit and apply for financial aid to determine if the institution will fit your individual needs.


How do I find the perfect school to transfer into?

As disheartening as it is to know that your first attempt at higher education resulted in a school that didn’t fit you, there are so many different institutions and programs out there that you’re bound to find a perfect match the second time around. Your college search starts with questions:

  • What are your career aspirations? Knowing what you want to do after you graduate can help you pick a program that is tailored to your needs. There’s no need to go to a four-year college if you want to complete an apprenticeship and join the workforce as soon as possible.
  • Where do you want to be? Would you rather be in a city or a suburban area? Do you need to be close to home, or would you rather look out of state?
  • How many fellow students do you want? Are you interested in small, intimate classes, or would you rather blend in with the crowd? Do you want to know all of the faces on campus or meet new people every day? School size may also affect which programs are offered.
  • Do you have a chosen major? Have you already completed premed requirements and want to transfer into a school that offers the same program? Do you require a college that has an engineering department?
  • How many credits are you trying to transfer with you? If you’ve only completed a semester, you may be less worried about all of your credits transferring than if you’ve completed two years of school. Look for credit transfer policies that minimize lost time and money.
  • Who do you want your fellow students to be? Do you want to attend a single-sex institution? Do you want to be surrounded by racially diverse and international students? Do you want a campus that is tolerant and protective of LGBT+ students?
  • What do you want to do in your free time? Do you want to join an intramural sports team? Chess club? Work in the library? Look for schools that offer your preferred extracurricular opportunities. If you want to work on campus, check out job postings for students so you know what type of position you may be filling.

Once you can answer all of these questions, you can start creating a list of colleges that fit your preferences. Then, you’ll need to decide how likely each school is to accept you as a transfer student.

How do I know if a school is transfer-friendly?

Some schools are more likely to accept transfer students than others. When you are considering a transfer, you want to do your best to boost your chances of acceptance. One way you can accomplish this is by applying to schools that are transfer-friendly. There are some simple questions you can ask to narrow down your options:

  • Does the school provide transfer information or specific admissions requirements for prospective transfer students on its website? Are there transfer-specific deadlines that differ from those for general admission?
  • Does the school have an established protocol for credit transfers?
  • Are there programs aimed at transfer students (such as transfer orientation, transfer-only financial aid, transfer housing)?
  • Look for information about articulation agreements. An articulation agreement is a formal agreement between two institutions that drastically simplifies the transfer process; instead of trying to work through transferring on your own, you can refer to the established policies in place for students who want to transfer between the institutions that participate in the agreement. Does the school you’re hoping to transfer to have any articulation agreements with nearby four-year or community colleges? Does the school you currently attend have any articulation agreements with colleges that interest you?
  • Does the school share any transfer statistics?
    • Check the school’s Common Data Set to learn about recent years. This may be found on the school’s website, or you may have to do an internet search for your school’s name and “Common Data Set.” Common Data Sets are documents that include information about an institution, including the degrees that are offered; enrollment numbers; admissions statistics (admissions requirements, SAT and ACT scores and GPAs submitted by previous applicants, information about transfer applicants, etc.); information about student life, academic offerings, and faculty; tuition and fees; and financial aid.

The answers to these questions will give you an idea about the transfer-friendliness of your prospective colleges. A school with an articulation agreement is great. It signals an established route between two colleges. Schools that save financial aid money for transfers are also good options. Some schools give financial aid to their freshmen before turning to transfer students, at which point there may not be much money left. If the school has a designated transfer advisor, you’re in luck. This person will be able to answer all the transfer questions you could ask.

Also, many four-year colleges actively recruit transfer students. Almost all provide transfer information on their websites. 87% take part in college fairs, and 80% partner with local community colleges to recruit vertical transfer students. Nearly 70% of four-year institutions hold recruitment events at community colleges, and just under 60% can arrange campus visits tailored to transfer students. Colleges like these, that go out of their way to find transfer students or provide services for transfer students (transfer orientation, visits, and appreciation week), are the definition of transfer-friendly. It will be easier for you to find information on requirements, financial aid, housing, scholarships, and credit transfer at institutions that regularly accept transfer students. This list shows the schools that accepted the most transfer students in the fall of 2015.

Is it common to consider out-of-state schools?

Over half of all types of transfers occur between schools within the same state, but the rest send transfer students over state lines. In fact, almost one in five students who start at a two-year institution and nearly one in four who begin at a public four-year institution move to a different state to change schools. The statistics for students who transfer to private four-year schools in different states are much higher. Likewise, transfers can occur between public and private institutions, for-profit and nonprofit institutions, and full-time and part-time enrollment. Be aware that public schools are often more accepting of prior-earned credits than private, nonprofit institutions. If you are considering transferring to a private school, be extra vigilant about working with an advisor to ensure that as many of your credits as possible transfer with you.

Should I visit my new prospective schools?

Yes! Transfer-friendly schools are likely to have designated campus visit days for students interested in transferring. This means that instead of touring with incoming freshmen, you’ll be touring with students who are in the same position as you: They’re interested in switching schools. A typical transfer visit day includes a presentation on what the school has to offer, a campus tour, and the chance to meet with an admissions or transfer officer. Campus visits are typically free, but you do need to call ahead and let the school know when you’re planning on coming. For a designated transfer student visit, you may have to register to save your spot for the program.

Not all institutions offer transfer-specific visits, but you can still visit the campus as a prospective student. Contact the admissions office and let it know about your situation and that you’d like to visit campus. Since you’ll get the most out of a visit when there are students around to talk to, schedule your visit during the week, if possible, and on a day when school is in session. You won’t get to sit in on a class if you visit during fall break or in the summer, though you’ll still get a feel for the campus itself. An admissions counselor will be able to recommend dates if you don’t have anything specific in mind.

If you’re unable to arrange a campus visit or if you can’t afford the necessary travel, you can gain exposure to dozens of colleges by attending a college fair in your area. The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) hosts college fairs throughout the United States in both the fall and the spring. Registration is free, and you’ll get the chance to talk to admissions counselors and alumni, ask questions, and learn about admissions requirements.

How can I get the most out of my campus visits?

Regardless of whether you are visiting on a transfer day or on your own, there are several things you can do to get the most out of your time on campus.

  • Go at it alone. It may be comforting to have your mom with you on campus, but there’s nothing that she can contribute that you can’t figure out for yourself. You are the one who can decide if an institution is right for you, sit in on classes, and talk one-on-one with current students. Your family may want to tag along for the tour, but draw the line on including them when you talk to an admissions officer or a professor. Colleges value maturity and self-sufficiency, so show them you have both characteristics. This is particularly relevant to transfer students since you’ve already been through the process of choosing your first institution.
  • Ask the right questions. Find out if there are opportunities specific to transfer students, such as an orientation or summer program. Then, learn the transfer statistics.
    • How many other transfer students are there?
    • What kinds of schools did they come from?
    • What is the housing situation for transfer students?
    • Are there rooms reserved for transfers or is there a transfer-specific dorm?
    • How are transfer credits evaluated?
    • Will you be unable to take certain classes if you start with sophomore or junior standing?
    • How does financial aid work for transfer students?
  • Talk to (transfer) students. You’ll learn more about the transfer process from a student who has been through it than from a student who fell in love with the school at first sight and never left. Ask the admissions office if it’s possible to arrange a meeting between you and a prior transfer student while you’re on campus. If it’s not, ask if he or she could supply you with an email address. Even if you don’t get the chance to talk to a prior transfer, talking to current students will give you a better idea about campus life than the tour will. You can ask questions about the social scene that may be less appropriate to ask of an admissions officer. When you ask a student, you can trust that his or her answer is honest.
  • Sit in on classes. This is important no matter the reason for your transfer, but it’s particularly important if you are considering changing schools because of academics. You want to make sure that classes are engaging and that the class size is what you want. Stop by your potential department and see if you can meet the professors or get a list of classes that are offered each year. You want to find a school where you can thrive academically.
  • Visit (transfer) dorms. If you’re transferring to a community college, chances are this doesn’t apply to you, but you will still want to get a good idea of where you might live. If you’re not planning on living at home, ask around to see where other students live and what neighborhoods are safe. If you’re transferring to a four-year institution, this still might not apply to you. Not all schools have designated transfer housing, and not all large institutions guarantee on-campus housing to upperclassmen. If there is transfer-specific housing, though, take a look! It’ll be nice to get an idea of where you might be living for the next several years and how many students you’ll be living near. Otherwise, ask about off-campus options and find out how students maintain their social lives after classes finish for the day.
  • Meet with an admissions officer. If a one-on-one meeting with an admissions counselor isn’t automatically scheduled for you when you call and set up a campus visit, make an appointment with one of the admissions officers. Bring your current transcript and ask how your courses might fit into their curriculum so you can get an idea of which credits might transfer and which classes you might be stuck retaking. Ask if there is anything in particular the admissions committee looks for in transfer applicants, whether it’s the completion of specific courses, a high GPA, or an out-of-the-park personal essay. Thank the officer for meeting with you, and ask for his or her contact information. If any questions come up while you are preparing to transfer, you’ll be able to talk to someone who already knows you. It never hurts to send a thank-you note after the fact.

What if I know I want to leave my current school, but haven’t yet found my dream transfer school?

If you need to get away from your current institution, for whatever reason, but aren’t ready to commit to another school, you still have some choices. Consider applying to take a leave of absence with the intention of returning to your current institution at a later date. However, colleges generally have guidelines as to who is eligible for a leave of absence and you should be aware that your reasoning, however personally valid, may not qualify.

If you are absolutely certain that you are not going to return to your current institution, consider all types of transfers and all types of postsecondary options. A lateral transfer would put you in a similar program to the one that you’re in. If you’re currently at a four-year institution, a reverse transfer would put you in a shorter program (at a community college or vocational school). If you’re currently enrolled in a two-year or less-than-two-year program, a vertical transfer would move you into a longer program (at a four-year institution). You could also consider switching into an online-only program or even changing the type of institution you are attending entirely (vocational schools provide job-specific training that essentially hand-delivers you to a career).

If school isn’t for you at all, consider taking a gap year or joining the military. A gap year in which you travel, work, or volunteer may give you the distance needed to figure out what you want from higher education and for your future. Joining the military, on the other hand, offers discipline, a steady paycheck, and on-the-job training. Remember, though, once you’re out of school, making the decision to return can be harder than it was to make the decision to go in the first place.

Page last updated: 04/2017