Guide to Transferring Colleges

By Kayla McCormack · October 20, 2022 · 6 minute read

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Guide to Transferring Colleges

Transferring colleges can be a big change, but it may be advantageous or even necessary for some students.

Whether you’re moving from a community college to a four-year university, trying to find the right fit academically or socially, or looking to lower your tuition bill, transferring colleges could help you achieve a better college experience.

The transfer process can take time, however, so the sooner you decide where you want to go and gather the necessary paperwork, the better experience you should have. Here are some tips to help you figure out how to transfer colleges smoothly.

Why Transfer Colleges?

There are a lot of reasons a student may want to transfer colleges. Sometimes, they start out at a college and it simply isn’t the right fit — it could be the wrong social or learning environment for the student.

Other times, students will transfer from a community college to a four-year university to complete their degree. Some students find they want to switch majors and their desired major isn’t available at their current school. For some, changes in financial aid or academic standing may lead them to transfer.

Regardless of the reason behind transferring universities, the ultimate goal is usually the same — to find a school that is the right academic and social fit for the student.

What Is a Transfer Student?

A transfer student is someone who switches from one academic institution to another in pursuit of a degree. For example, someone who completes their freshman year at one school, but then transfers for sophomore year and completes their degree at another school is considered a transfer student. There are a few different types of transfer students, outlined here:

Community College Transfer Student

Someone who begins their college education at a community college, and then transfers to a four-year institution to complete their Bachelor’s degree is considered a community college transfer student.

Military Transfer Student

Individuals who are on active duty, or are veterans of the U.S. military may be able to transfer to four-year colleges. Some schools, such as the University of North Carolina System, will work closely with members of the military to ensure that credits earned while they were on active duty transfer to their new degree.

International Transfer Student

International students who transfer to colleges may have to complete additional requirements depending on the school. Some schools may require international students to fulfill English language requirements.

Nontraditional Transfer Student

A nontraditional transfer student is generally defined as someone who has been out of high school for at least five years. This could include adult learners or people who choose to go back to school to make a career change.

Plan Your College Transfer

Transferring colleges is a bit different than applying for the first time. Your high school transcript and standardized test scores will generally carry less weight than the courses you completed at your current college.

Policies for transferring may vary by college, but generally, potential transfers are expected to have completed a set number of college credits. Additionally, factor in program requirements and how they may impact any study abroad plans or your tentative date of graduation.

As you look at how to transfer schools, review their course policies. Some schools may not accept transfer credit if the student earned a C or below.

Prep to Transfer Schools

As you prepare to transfer schools, these ideas can help.

•   Figuring Out Why You Want to Transfer. Understanding your reasons for wanting to transfer will give you an idea of what to look for in a new school. For example, if your current college is too expensive, it may help to focus on tuition rates when you’re comparing alternatives.

•   Speaking with an Advisor. Your college may have student advisors who can give you some information and personalized advice based on your needs. It’s likely they’ve gone through the same process with other students and may be able to provide some perspective to help you navigate the transfer process.

•   Get letters of recommendation. Consider asking a college professor for a letter of recommendation. While the high school recommendations can help bolster your transfer application, a letter from someone who has seen you navigate college-level coursework may be beneficial.

•   Be Aware of Deadlines.The deadline for your transfer application can vary from college to college, so make sure to check the school’s website and write it down, so you don’t forget.

Financial Considerations for Transfer Students

When you transfer colleges, keep in mind that most federal financial aid will not transfer with you. For example, school-specific scholarships won’t transfer. Consider speaking with the financial aid office to see which types of aid, if any, will move with you to a new school.

Even though aid you currently receive may not transfer with you, you can apply for federal financial aid with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) form. FAFSA requirements are similar for transfer students as they are for traditional students. Keep in mind that each state has different FAFSA deadlines. This will determine whether you’re eligible for federal student loans and other forms of federal financial aid. Federal financial aid includes scholarships, grants, work-study, and federal student loans.

Federal Student Loans

Federal student loans are awarded to college students based on information provided in the FAFSA. Undergraduates may qualify for either Direct Subsidized or Unsubsidized Loans.

The government covers interest that accrues on subsidized loans while the student is enrolled at least half-time in school. These are awarded based on financial need.

Students are responsible for all accrued interest on unsubsidized loans and these are not awarded based on need.

Graduate or professional students may also qualify for Direct PLUS Loans. Grad students will need to fill out a grad school FAFSA to apply for PLUS Loans.

Grants and Scholarships

Filling out the FAFSA may help you secure some federal or school-specific grants or scholarships. Students, especially families looking for high income financial aid, may want to explore scholarships available from private companies, nonprofits, or other local organizations.

To find scholarships, take advantage of SoFi’s scholarship search tool or other online scholarship databases.


Students who demonstrate financial need may be eligible for work-study. This program allows students to secure a part-time job to help them pay for college expenses.

Private Student Loans

If you’ve maxed out your federal loan allowance, however, an undergraduate loan from a private lender could help you bridge the gap. Private loans are available from private lenders and don’t necessarily offer the same benefits or protections — like loan forgiveness options — as a federal student loan.

Recommended: Private Student Loan Guide

Typically, private student loans typically require a credit check. College students who have a limited credit history may find a cosigner is needed to help them get approved for a private student loan.

The Takeaway

When transferring colleges understand what credits will transfer and be aware of college transfer application requirements and deadlines. Planning ahead can help you streamline the college transfer application process.

Take the time to understand how the process works for the school of your choice and start thinking about financing options sooner than later. If you are interested in using private student loans at your new school, consider a no fee private student loan from SoFi.

Cover up to 100% of school-certified costs including tuition, books, supplies, room and board, and transportation with a private student loan from SoFi.

SoFi Private Student Loans
Please borrow responsibly. SoFi Private Student Loans are not a substitute for federal loans, grants, and work-study programs. You should exhaust all your federal student aid options before you consider any private loans, including ours. Read our FAQs. SoFi Private Student Loans are subject to program terms and restrictions, and applicants must meet SoFi’s eligibility and underwriting requirements. See for more information. To view payment examples, click here. SoFi reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. This information is subject to change. SoFi Bank, N.A. and its lending products are not endorsed by or directly affiliated with any college or university unless otherwise disclosed.

Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.


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