North Central College transfer students studying.

Should I Transfer Colleges?

Jacob Imm

Aug 20, 2021

Should I Transfer Colleges?

When you fill out your online college application, you’re not just filling out a form. You’re making a commitment. A commitment of time and money, both of which give you plenty to consider. More than that though, it’s a commitment to a relationship with a school. Some relationships are built to last forever, and some are not. The question is, how do you know when “the magic is gone,” and it’s time to move on?

If the question “Should I transfer colleges?” has crossed your mind at all, that’s certainly a sign. That said, if you’re thinking about transferring from one college to another, it’s easy to get ahead of yourself. Soon you will be needing your step by step guide to transferring colleges along with everything you need to know about transferring colleges.You may even need tips for success on transferring from a community college to a bachelor’s program.

For now, though, take a step back and ask yourself: why transfer schools or colleges? Will it really benefit you? Is now the right time? And do you have a clear idea of where you want to go next?

Here are some answers to those tough questions that’ll help make up your mind--without “breaking your heart.”

Is it harder or easier to transfer into a college?

There can be any number of reasons why a college student might look to become a transfer student. Many of them are related to how difficult it is to complete a college education. College classes are challenging, and they can be a big shock coming out of high school. That’s without mentioning how expensive it is to make it all the way to graduation. Sometimes financial aid and careful planning just aren’t enough to make the numbers work, and you might need a new school with lower tuition rates or that’s closer to home.

Then there’s the social part of college. You might find your new college or university too big a place and that you’re lost in the shuffle. You could get lonely or have trouble connecting with people, and without friends and support, anyone can have a difficult time in school.

In short, for many people, transferring colleges is about making life easier. Although, does it really work out that way for the average college transfer? As you’d expect, it depends on the situation, but there are factors you should keep in mind no matter what.

Let’s start with classes. Let’s say you’re enrolled at a big university with an excellent reputation, and the professors are trying so hard to keep up that reputation that you just can’t keep up. It happens to a lot of students, and it doesn’t make you any less intelligent. You should search for a school with less rigorous academic standards, a smaller school, online colleges, or maybe one that’s known as a teaching college. This will allow you to receive more personal attention from professors instead of teaching assistants.

Whether or not these changes make things easier for you, the fact that you’re making such a big transition is likely going to have an effect on your grades.

A research project done by Patricia Diaz looked into “transfer shock,” a term for when grades or academic performance drop after students transfer colleges. She compiled 62 different studies of students who transferred from community colleges and found that 79 percent of the students went through transfer shock, though, as she put it, “The majority of the magnitude of GPA change was one half of a grade point or less.”

In the studies she looked at, “Sixty-seven percent reported that students recover from transfer shock, usually within the first year after transfer.”

The bad news is that while transfer shock is recognized as a real problem, most researchers can’t pinpoint why exactly it happens. They simply concluded that transferring is hard, and grades inevitably suffer. The good news is that it doesn't tend to ruin college careers and usually clears up after the first year. It is, however, something important to be aware of.

What about the money problem?

Obviously, community college students who transfer to a two year institution saves more money in the short term. But you have to plan for the long run. Transferring often makes it take longer for a student to graduate. It largely depends on how many transfer credits you can carry over from your first school. Unfortunately, many transfers carry little or no course credit over from one school to the next, which means they have to take more classes to get their requirements.

Since it can take another semester or even a full year for a transfer student to graduate, you will have to incur another semester or two of tuition costs. Financial aid for transfer students is a tad more complicated because packages are usually only for four-year terms, which means if you need to stay in school for a fifth year, you might also have to do it without aid.

Graduating later than other people your age also means you enter the job market later. The time you spend paying for your last classes is time you could spend working. Fair or not, that is money you’re leaving out in the world you can’t use for your future.

On the other hand, colleges are not blind to these issues. Accepting transfers is a great benefit to numerous colleges, so they want to incentivize you to make the jump. That’s why transfer scholarships exist. Any good transfer admission counselor you meet with should be quick to mention transfer scholarships. If you get assigned a transfer counselor that doesn’t, be sure to ask. Not every school offers them, and they tend to be competitive, but they can give you a considerable boost in your efforts to make the financial situation work.

Last but not least is your social life.

Making friends is about more than having someone to borrow a car from or go to the dining hall with. Your college friends are who you lean on for emotional support during a transitional stage in your life. They give you reasons to socialize and get out of your room, all of which make college easier. The times you share aren’t just stories for you to tell when you’re old and gray. They’re learning experiences that make you a smarter, more interesting, and an overall better person. Most of all, your college friends are part of your network when you go into the world after college, and anyone with a job can tell you it’s not about what you know, it’s who you know.

You have to have friends, and you tend to start making them early in college. It can sometimes take a while to get close to people, but friendship happens naturally, given some time. Although, If you transfer, you have to start that process all over again.

That’s tough because while you’re in a new place, you’re not a freshman. The people in your classes will be upperclassmen and may have their own friendships in place already. Without spending the first year or two next to them, you won’t have as much in common, and some of the easy aspects about creating relationships won’t take care of itself.

It means you’ll have to work a little harder and be a little bolder. You’ll need to make an impression to show people you’re fun to be with, while not having as much time to wait for others to open up to you. That’s a challenge, and it takes being patient with yourself as much as everyone else.

That said, all of that might appeal to you. In fact, it may be a big reason you want to change scenery in the first place. Transferring gives you a second chance to make a first impression. You can drop any baggage or frustration you have with the people at one school and relax and be yourself at a new one.

It may be as simple as finding a school with a different dynamic--changing from a more populated state university to a small private four year college, from a party school that loves its sports to a liberal arts school known for its art scene, and so on. If you see that as an opportunity as much as a challenge, transferring could be the most fun thing you ever do.


Find out more about North Central College

Do all colleges accept transfer students?

It’s important for a transfer applicant to look before leaping when it comes to transferring from a current school. For some people, transferring is about looking for a more straightforward path to your goals. Sometimes it’s simply about taking the next logical step, like when you get your associate degree at a two-year college and move on to a four-year university after that. Your situation could also change, and after saving up money and getting college credit at a smaller school, you may transfer to the bigger school where you wanted to be in the first place. It might seem like an uncomplicated idea, but it needs to be said: check to be sure the school you’re hoping to transfer into accepts transfer students.

The reassuring news is that the overwhelming majority of colleges accept transfers; the number that don’t is a tiny percentage. The question these days is less do they or don’t they and more how many. Melissa Brinks of said, “Transfer acceptance rates vary among schools. Some .. are just now beginning to accept transfer students after decades of having policies against them.”

It used to be that many high-priced, prestigious schools, especially in the Ivy League, had a policy not to accept transfers or simply offered no transfer application process or transfer admission process at all. What’s accounted for the change?

For one thing, the number of college applications has been on a steady decline for years. Many schools can’t afford to disregard transfers in order to keep their numbers up--it’s too big a pool of students. As Brinks put it, “Almost half of all college students enroll in two-year public schools, and 37 percent of all college students transfer at some point in their education.”

Beyond that, many expensive and/or private schools have taken criticism in recent years for not having a diverse enough student population in terms of gender, race, sexuality and economic situation. Because of wealth inequality issues in America, the odds are that a large percentage of potential transfer students can make these schools’ diversity numbers rise upon being accepted.

The point is that your options for potential transfer locations are almost limitless, but your chances of getting in can be very different depending on the school. Ivy league universities often accept 20 or fewer transfers per year, whereas some state universities accept upwards of 60 or 70 percent of all transfer students.

If you are a transferring community college student planning on a path to a bachelor’s degree, you can plan ahead and look for a school that has an articulation agreement with a four-year school. Articulation agreements create a pipeline from two-year schools to four-year schools, making transferring easier and eliminating the worry about where to go.

In all cases, the best thing you can do is check a school’s website and do some research on Google to find their numbers, and adjust your expectations to fit the facts.

Is it better to transfer in the fall or spring?

Timing is important when thinking about transferring, especially when you’re hoping to still finish your bachelor’s degree in a certain amount of time. So is there an advantage to starting at one time of the school year as opposed to another?

After an interview with Juan P. Espinoza, associate vice provost for enrollment management and director of undergraduate admissions at Virginia Tech, US News reported spring is often preferable if you can manage it: “While most (transfer) students enter college in the fall, some schools also open their doors to enrollees in the spring semester … Spring admissions is a perfect situation for a lot of those students to ensure that they'll be able to continue their academic journey without having to delay graduation because they may finish their associate's degree in a winter term at a community college and want to go straight into a new term.”

If you’re making a clean break when transferring to a new school, rather than finishing one degree program before starting another, the fall semester could be an easier choice. Fall semester is the start of the school year, so you’ll be on the same timeline as the majority of other students and could have an easier time with social interactions. It will also reduce complications with financial aid and getting enrolled into classes.

For more information on transferring, be sure to check out the transfer admission web page for North Central College.

Jacob Imm is a communications specialist in the North Central College Office of Marketing and Communications. He has 10 years of collegiate communications experience and has worked with hundreds of college students. He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Notre Dame and a master’s degree from Northern Illinois University.