Transferring to a New College: What You Should Know

Transferring colleges can be a lot of work, but worth the time and effort (Photo courtesy of Camera1 on flickr).

Transferring colleges can be a lot of work, but worth the time and effort (Photo courtesy of Camera1 on flickr).

Not every college student graduates from the school they initially enrolled with; President Obama transferred from Occidental College to Columbia University before graduating with a Bachelor of Arts. Unfortunately, when transferring schools students typically lose credits that cannot be applied directly to their new degree program. Since colleges build and maintain their own programs and graduation requirements, transferring can result in later expected graduation dates, more classes, and more tuition.

Transfer Admissions Requirements

Colleges may have different requirements for transfer students versus first-time students. Because of this, it is particularly important to play close attention to the Transfer Student Admission requirements posted on school websites. Oftentimes, students must meet New Student Application requirements if they have not already earned a certain number of college credits and/or an Associate’s Degree.

Transfer Acceptance Rates

Fortunately, many college and university transfer acceptance rates are fairly high. The University of Washington, for example, accepted 61% of its transfer applicants for the fall 2011 term. More competitive schools, like Yale and Stanford, have transfer acceptance rates in the single digits though, so it is important to research the school you wish to attend before submitting an application.

The Registrar’s Office

Upon receiving your application and transcripts, the Registrar’s Office, in conjunction with the Office of Admissions, will review your credits and intended degree program, to determine whether or not any credits earned can be applied. This is the step where most students become frustrated and confused. Not all classes can be transferred due to a variety of factors. The Registrar’s office closely evaluates curriculum equivalency, credit hours, your previous school’s accreditation, and class level among other things. Remember, just because classes have similar titles (College Math I and College Algebra I) does not mean they are equivalent. Think of it like this, your incoming institution determines whether or not a class can be transferred. When they decide it can be, they are essentially stating that you know the material covered in a class not associated with them; they are putting faith in your prior education and giving it a “seal of approval” without actually being in the class or seeing the full curriculum.

Financial Aid

College is expensive. I’ve said it before and I will continue to do so. Lucky for us Financial Aid is available if you qualify. Unlucky for us, financial aid can become a mess when transferring schools; this is why is it crucial for students to meet with a Financial Aid Counselor at the incoming institution to discuss your account in detail. Do not assume the Financial Aid Office will contact you. Various issues could arise up to and including, reaching one’s aggregate limit, not having enough aid to cover a particular semester of tuition, or loss of an institutional scholarship because of the transfer.


Don’t forget to review the housing policies and guidelines for your (intended) new school. Some schools, like President Obama’s alma mater Columbia, guarantee housing for four years to all first-time students, transfer students, and visiting students, but not all campuses are as accommodating.

Ashley Benson is a distance education professional with five years of experience in the for-profit sector. She has worked coast-to-coast within the United States as an academic advisor, an adjunct teaching assistant and, most recently, a campus Registrar. Through formal education and industry experience, Ashley practices staying informed on the current events and changes within higher education and the students involved.

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