Thinking about Transferring Colleges? Here’s What You Need to Know


Considering switching schools? 

There are a lot of situations that might lead an undergraduate student to think about leaving their current institution. Maybe you thought you’d love a city environment, but the hustle and bustle has your stress levels higher than ever. Maybe your heart was set on studying photography, but art school isn’t what you thought it was going to be. For some, family circumstances draw them closer to home. For others, they realize their ideal major is something that isn’t offered at their college. 

Whatever the reason for wanting to leave your current school, you’ll need to spend some time considering your options. This guide will help you understand the transfer process and requirements necessary to change schools. 

Before You Decide

1. Understand your options. 

Many colleges have a minimum requirement of credits required in order to apply as a transfer applicant. While some universities, like Columbia University, require at least 24 credits, other schools like the University of Connecticut allow students to transfer in with only 12 credits under their belt.  If you’re coming from a community college, many have standing relationships with local universities; however, keep in mind that a lot of them require a certain number of credits before you can transfer. 


2. Talk to your academic advisor.

If you’re struggling academically or having a hard time figuring out what isn’t working for you at your current school, set up an appointment with your advisor. They’ll be able to help you talk through the challenges you’re having and hopefully bring you closer to clarity about what you want to do. 

3. Understand the Transfer Application Process. 

Just like senior year of high school, as a transfer student, you’re going to need to do some research. Get your to-do list started!

  •  Research. Determine the different deadlines and requirements for each college. After completing a semester or two, you’ll have a better idea of what kind of college will fit your needs better. Start consolidating your short transfer college list

  • Start Brainstorming Your Essay(s). The good thing about writing a transfer essay is that you’re not looking back on your entire life to gather anecdotes and examples of what makes you who you are. If you want to, you’re more than welcome. But, the key to your transfer admissions essay is demonstrating why you’re interested in the college and why you’re considering leaving your current school. You’re older and wiser than you are when you first wrote your Common Application essay. Use your essays as a chance to really reflect on where your path has taken you thus far and why you’re ready for a different path. 

  • Gather Materials. Colleges will consider your academic record as a part of the application process, including: 

    • Transcript from your current institution and any other colleges you’ve attended. 

    • Official high school transcript 

    • Official Standardized Test Scores (SAT or ACT) 

    • Some colleges may require course descriptions from the college courses you’ve taken thus far. 

  • Additionally, you’ll need to provide:

    • Letters of recommendation

    • Essay - often detailing why you are interested in a particular college 

    • Some colleges require additional short answer essays as a supplement to your overall application. As an example of what you might be asked, here’s the list of supplemental questions at Columbia University.

  • Timeline. Deadlines vary by college, but generally for a Spring start, the deadline for transfer students is October or November. The University of Illinois requires Spring start applicants to apply between September 1 and October 15, while Fall starts can apply between December 15 and March 1. The University of Washington requires Spring start applicants to apply by December 15, while Fall starts must apply by February 15.  

While the cost and effort of transferring might scare some students away, transferring is well worth it when you find the college experience that’s right for you.