There are many reasons you might want to transfer to a different college. Whatever your reasons, take the time to consider whether you are making the best decision, choosing the right school, and planning carefully to minimize any credit loss. The process of transferring colleges takes some time and dedication, but it’s not difficult if you feel it is the right decision for your education and your happiness.  

Once you decide that transferring colleges is the right move for you, we have some tips for making the transition as easy as possible. When transferring universities, losing some of your credits is common, making it take longer to complete your bachelor’s degree. However, with some extra effort, you can minimize the credit loss and stay on schedule–or closer to schedule–to graduate from college with your degree in hand.

Your reasons may be terrific for transferring universities, and it may be a sound decision. Here are the top reasons that students choose to switch:

1. Switching from a community college to a 4-year institution

Many students start in community college to save money and plan to transfer to a 4-year program once they have completed their associate degree at community college. Other students find that they enjoy college and clarify their goals while taking classes in community college, giving them a clearer direction for their major in a bachelor’s degree. Yet other students may have had less-than-optimal high school grades and want to improve them in the first year or two at community college to get into their first choice college. 

Whatever your reasons, it is important to see how many of your credits from community college will transfer to a 4-year program. Some community colleges have articulation agreements with in-state public universities, making your transition smoother. Strongly consider moving to a program that maximizes the number of credits that will transfer–it will save you money and time.

2. You’re unhappy with the social environment at your college

Transitioning to college can be difficult, and many students take time to acclimate. If you are unhappy with your roommate or don’t feel like you fit in with the campus environment, first try to change your situation at your current college. It may be temporary, and you could be just as unhappy at a new university. See if you can change roommates or dorms if your living situation isn’t harmonious. If you’re not feeling comfortable socially, talk to a counselor, try joining some extracurricular activities, and take the time to decide if it is just the transition to college that is causing your unhappiness.

Many students have trouble feeling like they “belong” in their first semester or year at a school, so see if you can find “your people” on campus to boost your sense of belonging. If none of these helps, and you genuinely feel you will fit in better at a different college, then start planning your transition.

3. Your college doesn’t have your desired major

The first year or two of college can help you clarify your goals. Once you have decided what you want to major in, you may find yourself at a school that either doesn’t offer your major or doesn’t have a strong program. If this is the case, transferring colleges will likely be a good choice for you, though it will be a bit of work. Finding a major you will love is essential, which will set you on a path toward a career you will enjoy. 

4. Financial struggles

Once you have made it to college, you may find that unexpected expenses are making it hard for you to continue your chosen path. Or your family’s financial picture might change, making the college you chose too much of a stretch to afford. Some students will decide to transfer to a more affordable school to continue their studies. Sometimes, choosing a public university in your state will be cheaper, or you can consider living at home and attending a school nearby to ease the financial pressures. 

Less common reasons for switching may be dissatisfaction with the quality of education at your current school, a desire to be in a different location such as a particular city or a rural school, wanting to be closer or further from where you grew up, deciding that online college will be easier for you to schedule, or the possibility that you did better than you expected in your college classes and could now get into a dream college that initially rejected your application. 

1. Research new schools

Just like when you applied to college in the first place, you need to do your research. Ensure that the colleges you apply to for transfer will have the qualities you seek. Also, check to see if your academic performance will likely get you accepted. It is somewhat more challenging to get accepted as a transfer student than as a freshman at many competitive universities, so make sure your transcripts look likely to get you a spot at your new college. As you research transferring universities, check on all the things that were important to you the first time too. For example, you may have chosen your current school partly because they had an extracurricular activity that is important to you–make sure the new schools you consider also offer this club or program. 

2. Gather your application materials

You will need your college transcripts and may also need your high school transcripts and grades. Make sure to have these available and ready. You can send your unofficial transcripts to the admissions department at schools to have them evaluate what credits and courses will transfer. A credit evaluation can give you valuable information in your application process. If one school will transfer 12 credits and another will only accept 30 credits from your current school, that will make a big difference in your college journey.

You should also secure recommendation letters from your current teachers. Choose professors who know your work and will write positive letters for you. Remember that this is an extra favor for busy teachers to do for you, and write them a lovely thank you note.

Seek help from your current advisor on how to make your transfer as smooth as possible. Many schools have a transfer student center to help you through the paperwork. Also, check with the school you are applying to for help to prepare for your application. Don’t go it alone in this transition–college faculty and staff have helped students through the process of transferring colleges before, and they can offer advice and practical assistance. 

3. Fill out your applications.

Whether the schools you are looking at use the Common App or not, start your applications. Take note of the exact requirements for transfer applications, as they may differ from applying as an entering first-year student. You might be required to interview as a transfer student when you didn’t need that for your current school. Don’t forget to fill out your FAFSA application for financial aid. 

While more students apply to transfer for the fall semester, some schools will allow you to transfer in for the spring semester. Check the deadlines carefully, as they may differ from those for regular college applicants. As a transfer student, your deadlines may be later than standard applicants, but it never hurts to apply early. 

A special note on college essays for transfer students: Remember to stay positive about why you want to move to a different institution. Don’t trash-talk your current school; instead, remark on what you have learned in your time there and your reasons for feeling the new school is a better fit for you. 

4. Compare offers and consider your options

Now, you just have to wait to see what happens. Did you get accepted? What financial aid are schools offering? Compare your offers and consider your options. Does the transfer still make sense for you? You don’t have to go through with it if, by now, you are feeling more comfortable in your current school. Another reason to hesitate is if you can see your transfer will add a year or more to your expected graduation date. Also, your scholarship aid may be lower. Consider the totality of your options to make the best decision for your current and future situation.

You’ve made your applications, been accepted, and notified your new school that you are coming. Now the transition begins. It is exciting and scary but not as daunting as starting college in the first place. You have more confidence and know that you can handle college classes. But you still need to meet new people, figure out a whole new campus and systems, and get acclimated to your new school. Contact the transfer student center or the admissions department for help settling in. There may be a special orientation for transfer students, which can be exceptionally helpful. Then, it’s time to get to classes, make new friends, and continue your journey to your degree and a bright future!

How easy is it to transfer colleges?

In most cases, it is not any more difficult than applying to college in the first case. You have already been through the application process once and know you can do it again. It is a bit of paperwork and trouble to complete, but it is no more complicated than your original applications. 

Some colleges have lower acceptance rates for transfer students than incoming first-year students, so it can be more competitive. However, some schools have higher acceptance rates for transfers. Therefore, it might be easier to get into your desired school. Transferring colleges after freshman year is pretty common, as over one-third of college students transfer at some point in their college careers. You are not alone.

When can you transfer colleges?

You can transfer at any point in your college career, but many schools will not accept you in your junior or senior years. So transferring colleges after freshman year is an optimal time to change. You have had enough time to know your current college isn’t the right fit for you, but you are likely to lose fewer credits in the transfer, making your process of transferring colleges a bit smoother. 

Most college transfers happen for the fall semester, but your desired college may accept you for the spring semester. Check the application deadlines for transfer students and work with the transfer student center to ensure you have all the necessary application materials.