Financial aid for transfer students: Everything you need to know
"Should I transfer colleges?" is a question many students ask themselves during their college career. You might be faced with any number of reasons to consider submitting your online college application and transferring to a new college or university. You might be completing your two-years at a community or junior college and are ready to pursue your bachelor’s degree. Or you might just need a different environment to match your desired lifestyle or personality.
As you research the options available to you, it’s important to consider how your student financial aid could be impacted, and how financial aid for transfer students is determined.
A transfer applicant should research two important areas as they determine how to make their transfer decision affordable for themselves and their family.
First, you’ll want to determine your eligibility for financial assistance, or federal financial aid. Second, determine what forms of aid are available to you at your destination school: need-based financial aid, student merit scholarships and grants, and academic scholarships.
How will transferring schools affect my eligibility to receive federal student aid?
Make sure you understand how to get federal student aid at your new school. One of the first resources you should consult is information on the student financial aid website provided by Federal Student Aid, an office of the U.S Department of Education.
This site offers you answers to many of your questions and a list of factors you need to consider as you determine the amount and types of aid you’ll be eligible for if you transfer. Your federal student aid could be affected by the tuition cost of the school, its aid programs, the time of the academic year you transfer (fall or spring semester) along with other factors related to your situation.
Your eligibility for federal student aid could also be affected by the length of time you’ve been in school and whether you’re making satisfactory academic progress. Additionally, you'll need to know how much you’re able to borrow each year (federal student loans), along with your qualifications and the limits for Federal Pell grants.
Will my financial aid automatically transfer with me to my new school?
The average financial aid award will not automatically transfer with you. You should check with your new school and your aid provider to determine whether any financial aid you previously had will transfer.
What actions do I need to take to get federal student aid at my new school?
Use this list of recommended actions to ensure you receive all the federal student aid for which you're eligible at your new school:
- Find out if your new school participates in federal student aid programs.
- Remain aware of any upcoming deadlines by staying in contact with financial aid professionals at your current and new school.
- Find out if your new college or university has staff devoted to transfer students.
- If transferring colleges in the middle of the year, you may need to submit a withdrawal and a request to have your remaining financial aid disbursements canceled.
- Ensure that your account at your previous school is fully settled because if it isn't, your current institution may withhold your transcript.
How does the FAFSA work for transfer students?
When you fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form, you are submitting a financial aid application for a specific year. To be eligible for aid the next year, you’ll need to submit next year’s FAFSA form.
After you determine that your destination school participates in the federal student aid programs, update your FAFSA to include your new school. The FAFSA website allows you to submit a Renewal FAFSA that remembers information you reported the year before and puts it in your new FAFSA form.
You will need to find the school code for your new college or university. Find out how to add a school to your already-submitted FAFSA form. You can also pursue financial aid at the CSS Profile Application site.
When you hear from the new school about the financial aid award they're offering you, review the aid offer and figure out how much you'll need to pay out of pocket—and how you'll afford that amount. You may also be able to qualify for Federal Work Study employment at your new campus, which will help you meet people and gain professional experience.
What colleges give the most scholarships?
As you research schools, consider whether they offer transfer students merit aid and scholarships. At a private institution like North Central College, college transfer applicants are evaluated for financial aid when they submit their transfer application, in the same manner as incoming first-year students going through the undergraduate admission decision process. This means that you don’t need to submit a separate scholarship application.
At North Central, a transfer academic scholarship is based on course work, grade point average (GPA), participation in Phi Theta Kappa (a community college honor society), or participation in another college honor society. Transfer academic scholarships are renewable provided that students maintain the required cumulative GPA each academic year and full-time enrollment.
“North Central College is committed to making our institution affordable to all students. All transfer students are considered for merit aid at the time of admission,” said Kevin Towns, director of financial aid at North Central College. “There is no additional application. Students are evaluated based on their academic performance at their previous institution. The only difference is the types of merit awards and renewability criteria. For our incoming transfer students, they are granted six semesters of eligibility for their merit awards.”
These include academic scholarships, other merit-based scholarships, departmental and endowed scholarships, fine arts scholarships (based on auditions) and many others.
You can learn more about transfer scholarships at North Central College on their web page.
Can I expect a similar financial aid package to the one at my former institution?
All institutions have individualized financial aid programs that best suit their student population and institutional goal, according to Towns. “There are varying components that would impact the differences in packages, such as: estimated family contribution (EFC) calculation, cost of attendance, residency status, merit award availability and academic level at time of admission, among other factors. Again, North Central is committed to making our institution affordable to all students.”
Is transferring to a private four-year institution like North Central College affordable compared to an in-state university?
You’ll find that many private institutions are using financial assistance to make their tuition affordable. “We committed more than $45 million in institutional grants and scholarships to 95 percent of our students in 2020-2021,” said Towns. “This is in addition to need-based assistance offered by the College to students that file the FAFSA. Many of our transfer students are typically also eligible for additional federal student loans.”
Can you get a full-ride scholarship as a transfer student?
If you will be a transferring community college student, you should research your eligibility for full-ride scholarships at the institution where you’re enrolling. For example, North Central College has scholarships available to students from certain Illinois community colleges based on academic record and co-curricular activities.
Whether you’re trying to find a school that’s a better fit for you or you’re finishing a four-year degree after graduating from a community/junior college, there are many ways to make the transition successful––and affordable!
Laura Zahn Pohl is an editorial director in higher education with more than 17 years of experience as a content writer, publications editor and speechwriter. An honors graduate of the University of Iowa School of Journalism, her experience includes corporate communications and freelance reporting for the Chicago Tribune, Daily Herald and Kalamazoo Gazette.