According to recent data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, over a third of American college students will transfer between institutions at least once. It’s a pretty high number, but it makes sense. It’s not so rare to find yourself at an institution that isn’t the right fit, either socially or academically. Getting a degree is a big investment of time and effort, and it’s important to make sure you’re in the right place for your goals and having a positive experience as you study.
If you think you’ll be among the more-than-a-third of American students making a transfer in search of greener pastures, here are ten tips to ensure that the transition goes smoothly.
1. Write Down Your Reasons for Transferring Universities
Many prospective transfer students can find it difficult to process their feelings about this decision. After all, it can be hard to tell if you’re in the wrong place, or if you just need to stick it out. You don’t want to stay in a university that isn’t a right fit for you, but you also don’t want to bail on a good thing too soon. So how do you get clarity?
I find that the writing is one of the best ways to process thoughts, feelings, wants and anxieties. What may have seemed like a jumble in your mind will find clarity on the page. Write out exactly what’s not clicking with your current college, or what you love about the place you’re thinking of transferring to. Write a couple pages without censoring yourself (and maybe even do the classic pro-con list).
After you’ve written down your reasons, put them in a drawer and head out. Give yourself some space before reading them over. When you come back to them (a day later should do the trick) you’ll find that you have new insight into this decision.
2. Research the Institution
Transferring involves a lot of research. You’ll want to make sure that you’re going to be studying in a place that’s a great fit for you. Read their website thoroughly, make a visit if you can, and see if you can communicate with alumni or current students to discuss their experiences.
3. Read the University Transfer Policy Carefully
Every university has its own transfer policy. This should be listed on their website. Not only will this policy include important info like application deadlines, but will also tell you their policy regarding transfer credits. If transferring some or all of your credits is important to you, make sure to pay extra attention to this information.
The transfer policy will tell you if you can transfer credit from exams, or apply credits from two-year degrees towards the completion of a bachelor’s degree. Some universities require that students have earned a specific amount of credits (sometimes up to two years’ worth) at their home university before transferring, meaning that it might be worth it to wait another semester or two to make the transfer.
Some universities won’t accept credits if you are changing majors, but others will allow you to transfer these credits towards elective courses. Some universities won’t accept credits from courses in which you earned a grade lower than a C. Prospective transfer students quickly discover that there is incredible variety in transfer policies between universities, and these policies may become as important as the institution itself in making a choice of where to apply.
Research Tool: check out www.collegetransfer.net to simplify this research process. It’s an amazing website which helps students easily navigate their options in transferring based on your exact situation, goals and experience.
4. Take Advantage of Your Second Chance
Many students feel that their high school transcript wasn’t in good enough shape to get them to the university they really wanted. If that’s you, transferring can be a great way to get a second shot. Universities will notice if your first year or so of university grades show an increase in motivation and this can open new doors for you when applying for a transfer.
Some students, however, are transferring because they are very unhappy at their current universities. This can lead to a lack of motivation, or the desire to hurry out the door.
Keep your cool and study hard. This way you’ll be able to strike when the iron is hot during your second round of applications. Scoring good grades will boost your chances of being accepted when you apply and hanging around for another semester or two could pay off in the long run if you’re worried about your high school GPA.
5. Take Care with Your Transfer Applications
Second chances are rare in life, and hindsight is 20/20. As a transfer student, you have an insight into the application process that you didn’t have the first time around. Do you feel like you could write a better essay now? Do you feel that you should take a different approach with your application or your interview?
Resist the temptation to copy and paste old application material when you transfer. You have a new perspective, new experience, and new insights. Make use of them. Also – many schools will require transfer students to write specifically on the topic of why they are transferring.
This essay should show maturity. Speak about your goals and about what you want out of a university experience. Don’t submit a laundry list of petty complaints about your roommate or the cafeteria food. College Express has a great guide to writing a successful transfer essay.
6. Plan Financially for Your University Transfer
Most likely you’ve done a lot of financial planning already to get to where you are, but transferring institutions means you need to get out your calculator and crunch the numbers again. There may be a price difference between your current college and the one you plan on transferring to, but this is only one piece of the equation. Other expenses to plan for are moving expenses, differences in cost of living between locations, and application and transfer credit fees. In addition to this, students may face having to retake certain credits if they are not able to transfer them. This will affect the overall cost of graduating.
Many students only look at the difference in tuitions and forget about small or unexpected expenses along the way. Be organized and know what you’re getting into – that way you won’t be surprised and your transfer experience will be much smoother.
Another note on financial planning – you may need to reapply for financial aid when you transfer. Although it’s no fun applying for financial aid –it sure is nice when you get it. It can be harder for transfer students to get scholarship money but many schools have a fund especially designed for transfer students. As you research colleges and universities, make sure to look at the ins and outs of their financial aid policy, as well as researching other forms of funding (like scholarships and federal aid).
Scholarships.com is a great resource for funding in general, but also has specific scholarships for transfer students. Check them out here.
7. Map Out Your Transfer Trajectory
Many transfer students can feel disoriented after they transfer. There is a transfer jetlag that students experience, just like one would feel traveling overseas. You may find yourself on a graduation schedule different than your peers, or have to delay study abroad plans. Remember, more than a third of college students are transferring and thus going through the same thing.
It can be hard to adjust to a new time trajectory, but the best way to handle it with grace is to map it out. If your study abroad plans need to be delayed, don’t dismiss them – rather find a new place for them. You’re on no one’s timeline but your own and Paris isn’t going anywhere.
Graduating a semester late can seem distressing for students who see all their peers finish ahead of them, but I’ve spoken to many last-year students who see it as a perk. They can finish their studies and do their finals without distraction, and in the long run, graduating a semester or two late won’t feel like much time at all.
8. Don’t Overwhelm Yourself in Your First Semester
This piece of advice goes along with the previous one. In an effort to get on the timeline of everyone around them, many transfer students try to “hit the ground running,” and may pile on too much during their first semester. While the attempt to do it all may be admirable, it won’t behoove you in the long run to overwhelm yourself.
A transfer involves a great deal of change. It may involve a change of social scene, major, environment, etc. You need space to breathe as you adjust to these changes. Take your courses and study hard, but don’t push yourself beyond your limits.
9. Find Your Place at Your Transfer University
Many transfer students can feel separate from the rest of the community at their universities, most of whom bonded during freshman orientation already. You may need to take a more active role in building a healthy and satisfying social life for yourself.
This might mean joining social groups, actively approaching other students before and after class, making yourself seen at the campus café, etc. Find out if your new university hosts a transfer orientation. Many do, and it’s a great way to connect with other students in the same situation as you. Remember – making friends and building a community for yourself can take time. The important thing is to stay open and put yourself out there.
10. After Transferring Universities, Give it Some Time
There are students who have transferred time and time again, never quite feeling comfortable at the institution they’re at and always looking for the next thing. For these students, we have a simple recommendation: give it time. Yes, there are some students for whom multiple transfers was the right move. But giving it a bit of time still won’t hurt. If you transfer and immediately feel the itch to keep on moving, investigate why you feel those feelings.
No college is perfect. And most new experiences feel scary or uncomfortable at first. That scary feeling always precedes a great time in life – because it means you’re taking a risk and making an investment. Check out the support systems in place at your university. Feelings of displacement and insecurity are common with new students and your school can probably offer you some resources, including someone to talk to with whom students can process their feelings and make a plan for succeeding in a new environment.
11. Be a Great Student
When the dust of the transfer settles, it’s time to stop thinking of yourself as a transfer student and start thinking of yourself as a great student. Again, it is recommended to do a writing exercise. Write down your academic and professional goals, which may have been pushed aside by all the research and bureaucracy of the transfer process. This is why you’re here in college in the first place – to make your dreams come true. Choose your classes wisely and dedicate yourself to getting the most out of this experience. The rest will fall into place with time!