Written By - Bob Litt

Edited By Gabriel D.

Review & Contribution By Tracy C. Eidson

In the 18th century, if you were lucky enough to be able to attend college, you would not have had many choices. If you discover that your chosen institution isn’t suitable for you and want to transfer to another, good luck with that! Flash forward to the 21st century. You now have over 5,000 choices for your higher education. And, if you discover that your chosen institution isn’t right for you, transferring colleges to another is a lot easier. In this resources guide, we will walk you through all aspects of transferring colleges, including a 10-step process that will answer your question about how to transfer colleges.

transferring colleges

Table Of Contents

How Does Transferring Colleges Work?

For those who would like a more formal definition of “transferring,” according to the U.S. Department of Education/National Center for Education Statistics:

For students who attended more than one institution, “student transfer” or “student transfer/co-enrollment” refers to the movement from one institution to another (with or without overlapping dates of enrollment).

Estimates of transfer activity vary considerably; however, the majority view is that it is extensive and increasing. However, currently, there are no standardized nationwide rules for transfers, and requirements can vary considerably by the college. Many states have attempted to make the transition easier and less challenging, particularly from community colleges to four-year schools within their boundaries.

These methods include school-to-school credit arrangements called “Transfer Agreements” or, sometimes, “Articulation Agreements.” These are formal understandings one institution has with its partner institutions. These allow you to see what courses will map to and satisfy degrees and requirements for specific majors.

Easy Schools to Transfer To

Some institutions refer to themselves as “transfer-friendly.” These colleges, which seek out transfer applicants, often have a transfer coordinator, have housing arrangements for transfer students, an orientation program for transfer students, and are likely to accept most or all of a student’s credits from their previous college.

Your college career, undergraduate and post-graduate, can take several years to complete. There is no reason to attend an institution with which you do not have a good fit. Transferring from one to another is no longer an overly complicated and arduous task as long as you are prepared.

Should I Transfer Colleges?

There are as many reasons to transfer as to select an institution initially: Being closer to (or farther away from) home, not being satisfied with a school’s academics, changing your educational goals, etc.

Here are some of the main reasons students wish to transfer to a new college:

  • Two-year to a four-year program
  • Moving back home / Moving out of town
  • Corporate or job transfers / Changing career direction
  • Taking Online or Distance Learning courses / Taking Summer courses
  • Switching majors
  • Restarting and returning to college
  • Social circumstances / Financial reasons
  • Military transfers
  • Life and work experience / Not being able to test out of courses
  • Not a good fit

How to Transfer Colleges?

Applying to a college as a transfer student can be similar to applying as a first-year student, but there are a few differences that prospective transfer students should be aware of. Both your new and initial institutions will probably have many policies with many hard-to-understand names, like transfer articulation, core equivalencies, core waivers, and core substitution policies. Don’t try to take on the transfer process all on your own. Make use of the guidance from your current and future colleges.

Like first-year applicants, transfer students need to plan so they can gather all the required application materials before their deadlines. Academic transcripts, recommendation letters, essays, and an application form are common requirements for transfer and first-year students.

You will need to submit your high school transcript, first-semester college transcript, and a copy of your SAT or ACT scores (if required).

Transfer College Admissions

You will have additional requirements if you are a second-term undergraduate freshman or a sophomore. Check your anticipated school’s GPA requirements for transfer students. 

Surprisingly, the minimum GPA requirement for transfer applicants may be lower than that for first-year students since college coursework is more intensive and challenging than a typical high school curriculum. You will be required to provide your official transcripts from any post-secondary institutions you’ve attended. Your college transcript is also critical in determining how many credits can be transferred to your new school.

Planning is particularly important for students transferring between schools that don’t have any transfer agreements in place. Students should pay extra attention to course equivalencies between their schools so they can ensure as many of their credits transfer as possible. You should also know your intended university’s core curriculum, GPA, and transfer requirements. Some schools will not accept transfer students who don’t meet credit minimums or haven’t taken specific core classes. Communicating regularly with advisors from both schools can help transfer students keep track of requirements and transferable credits.

How long after completing a course can you transfer that college credit? Some schools do impose “use by” dates for credits. These limits can range from 5 to 10 years. However, innovations are constantly occurring in fast-developing technology fields, so coursework taken several years ago may no longer be relevant or valid today.

Special Transfer Admissions Programs

Many colleges have Special Transfer Admissions programs that make it easier for students to switch schools. Universities and nearby community colleges often team up to facilitate a smooth transfer between two-year and four-year schools. Courses transfer directly, for instance, and degree planning tools are often available to help transfer students transition between partner schools. Some colleges even have two-year “transfer degrees” that set students up to enter a partnering four-year school seamlessly. Some transfer agreements, community college-to-university, and university-to-university have guaranteed admission policies. Other schools may have dual enrollment policies, which allow students to earn credit from either institution concurrently.

Transferring from Community College to University

Students who attend community college intending to transfer to a university should prepare early and make an academic plan that accounts for their time in both schools. Getting a copy of their schools’ articulation agreement can be extremely helpful for transfer students.

Students who plan to transfer from community college to a university may also consider earning an Associate’s Degree before making the switch. Those who hold Associate’s Degrees can often gain automatic junior standing and have all lower-level core requirements met upon entering their new university, eliminating the need to determine which courses transfer between schools.

The key questions are:

  • Does your community college and intended university have any transfer agreements in place? If yes, will admission to the transfer university be guaranteed?
  • Does your community college have a transfer degree that makes for a seamless transition between schools? Which classes transfer, and which do not?

10-Step Process for Transferring Colleges

Preparing for a college transfer will help you finish this process easily. If you intend to transfer to another institution, follow the below step-by-step guide that will make the process smooth:

  • Step 1: Plan your current course selections with transferring in mind
  • Step 2: Decide which colleges to consider
  • Step 3: Visit the schools you are considering – at least check out their websites
  • Step 4: Talk to the college admission representatives of the schools you are considering
  • Step 5: Send your transcripts and request an evaluation of your transfer credit
  • Step 6: Receive your Transfer Credit Assessment
  • Step 7: Review Your Credit Evaluation before making a final decision
  • Step 8: Apply for admission
  • Step 9: Apply for financial aid – at minimum, use The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)
  • Step 10: If you are a U.S. military veteran – activate your benefits

Frequently Asked Questions About Transferring Colleges

Frequently Asked Questions

Are online college credits transferable?

Yes. Most colleges accept credits from online schools as long as the online school from which you are transferring credits is an accredited institution. As a general rule, accredited institutions do not let you transfer credits from an unaccredited institution, online or not. So, as long as your online colleges are accredited institutions, you shouldn’t have any problem transferring credits.

Is transferring colleges easy?

What do colleges look at when transferring?

Are all college credits transferable?

Can I go to another college without transferring?

How to transfer college credits?

Will my college credits transfer out of state?

Additional Resources for Transferring Colleges

Here are a few interesting and informative resources you can use to help you with seamlessly transferring colleges:


Transferology is a nationwide network to help students explore their college transfer options. Their goal is to save students time and money by providing a quick, intuitive way of getting their college transfer credit questions answered.

This free online tool allows students to enter the courses they’ve taken and find equivalent courses at other schools. This can help you figure out which schools will grant you the most credit for the courses you’ve already completed.

Also, discover how the exams you’ve taken (including AP Credit, CLEP, and International Baccalaureate) may be awarded credit from any number of schools. And, if you are a veteran of the United States Military, add your courses and military occupations to find out what transfer credit hours you can receive for your experiences.

Education Connection

Education Connection can match you with flexible online programs that help make it easier to pursue your degree while balancing your responsibilities at work and home.

College Transfer

CollegeTransfer.Net’s database of equivalencies, which colleges and universities across the country have previously established, helps you plan and maximize your transfer opportunities.

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