Deciding to transfer schools should not be taken lightly, but oftentimes, it’s necessary. Students that find themselves unhappy at their current school may decide to transfer, but most commonly, transfer students are those applying from 2-year institutions, hoping to continue their studies at a 4-year institution. Because they experienced the application process in recent years, the transfer admissions process is one that students likely dread, but with the right counseling and research, it is quite streamlined.

What's the reason for transferring?

First, students must determine their reason for transferring. It could be due to financial or social burdens, such as the loss of financial aid or an environment unfit for the student’s value system.

There could be academic reasons as well, such as better opportunities for a student’s preferred major elsewhere. As soon as you decide that you want to apply to other institutions, you should assess whether these institutions will fulfill the needs your current institution is not fulfilling, preparing for both the positives and negatives of each school. 

Once you have determined that your reason for transferring justifies the process, the key is to prepare early to avoid unnecessary hurdles. The process to apply is similar to applying as a first-year student, but there are notable differences, especially when it comes to deadlines, so make a list of institutions you wish to apply to in a timely manner and keep the deadlines in mind.

Keep in mind that the transfer application process is oftentimes more competitive than the first-year process; this is because there are typically fewer spots reserved for transfer students. If your reason for switching schools has to do merely with the prestige associated with the school you wish to attend, reconsider going through the application process, especially if you previously applied to that institution and got rejected. 

Unless your circumstances (and profile) have improved exponentially, it is likely not worth the time and resources required in transferring. The essays required tend to differ drastically from those needed from first-year applicants.

These institutions may also require you to spend time studying for the admissions exams, such as the ACT and SAT, and they may also not accept many (or any) of the credits you obtained at the institution you have been attending. If you ultimately decide to go through the transfer process, counseling is strongly recommended, and there are various components to consider.

While there is added stress, some schools only allow transfers to start during the fall, and the application deadlines are typically at later dates than what is required for first-year applicants. Start the process early, determining the right fit for you — and you will increase your chances of success.

How do I prepare to transfer?

The transfer application process is similar to the first-year process. Test scores are not always required, especially when applying to start at the new institution as a junior. Students need transcripts, letters of recommendation, essays, and a resume.

Your current institution (which includes your counselors and professors) is responsible for submitting a large portion of these materials, such as transcripts and letters of recommendation, so be sure to give the administration and recommenders plenty of time to prepare. 

Your recommenders should be able to speak to your character as well as your academic performance, so narrow down professors that meet these criteria early on; if most of your classes are lecture halls, you may want to choose a class where you excel academically and visit the professor during office hours so that they are familiar with your interests and achievements.

In terms of transcripts, it’s important to let your school know in advance as well. If you are transferring before your junior year, you may even need to contact your high school to request transcripts in a timely manner.

Staying on top of deadlines (and materials required) is the key to successful transfer applications; you must carefully balance the transfer application process with your regular college workload and outside involvements. 

You may even be heavily involved on campus, which will help you get into another institution but may add stress during this transfer period. 

Giving your professors ample time to write and submit your letters of recommendation, as well as requesting the required transcripts on time, will help relieve your stress. 

Respectfully remind your recommenders to submit the letters several weeks before application deadlines, if possible, to ensure that you are able to submit your applications on time. 

If you truly believe that transferring is the right choice for you, be proactive and prepare for a bright new start. With the right resources at your disposal, there is no reason why you shouldn’t pave a better road ahead.