Frequently Asked Questions about College Admissions for Transfer Students

Learn who is considered a transfer student, good reasons for a student to transfer, what's involved in the transfer admissions process, if most credits will transfer, if transfer students are eligible for financial aid, and more.
College students using computer to learn about college admissions for transfer students

According to the Princeton Review, about 1/3 of college students will transfer schools at some point before graduating. Whether you're moving from a community college to a four-year school, or you're just looking for a better fit, transferring is a common trend in higher education. If you have a college student in your family thinking about transferring to another school, you may have some questions about the admissions process. The process is somewhat different from applying to college as a high school student. I asked Sherri Geller, Co-Director of College Counseling at Gann Academy, some common questions transfer students have about the admissions process. You can find her helpful answers below.

JSR: Who is considered a transfer student?

SG: A transfer student is someone who has graduated from high school (or obtained a GED), earned college credits, and wants to switch institutions.         

JSR: What are good reasons for a student to transfer?

SG: There are many! Some popular ones include graduating from a community college with interest in earning a bachelor's degree; desiring a different location or different size school; the inability to comfortably afford your current institution; or feeling either overwhelmed or under-challenged by your classes. Or, perhaps you just need a fresh start. If a college isn't meeting your academic, social, or financial needs – or isn't designed to support your career goals – transferring might be a good option to consider.

JSR: What's involved in the transfer admissions process? Do transfer applicants need to submit their SAT®/ACT® scores and high school GPA, or just their college grades?

SG: Transfer applications are similar to what high school seniors submit to four-year colleges. Admissions committees consider college and high school transcripts, and may require an essay (often about why you want to transfer), activities list, recommendations, test scores, interview, or other information. While the focus of a transfer application is on college-level work, if you're applying during your first year of college, your high school record may hold more weight. (And if you've been out of high school for a long time, it may be less important.) Each college's website notes requirements and deadlines; some also note the minimum GPA to be considered for transfer admission.

JSR: Do most credits transfer from one school to another?

SG: Depending on the colleges and majors involved, you'll find different answers. You may get credit for all of your coursework, or only for certain classes. Be sure to ask the colleges you're considering when they do credit evaluations, and what documentation you may need. Knowing how many credits will carry over—or how many you may lose—is crucial as you decide where to apply and enroll.

JSR: Is it easier or harder to get into a college as a transfer student?

SG: The answer varies by institution, and frequently changes. In one semester, a college may look for a significant number of transfer students for budgetary reasons; in another semester the same college may have very few spaces available due to a housing crunch. While the level of competition and the number of transfer applicants fluctuates, a strong academic performance at your current institution makes you a more competitive candidate.

Some colleges reserve spots for transfer students, and/or have partnerships with local community colleges that essentially guarantee admission for graduates with a certain GPA.

JSR: Can students transfer mid-year?

SG: Sometimes. Each college sets their own protocols. Some accept mid-year applications, but not from first-year students.

If you are considering a mid-year switch, it's important to think about what it will mean to join a new community in January. If you want to live on campus, will housing be available? Will the college ensure that you'll be able to take classes you want, if current students have already registered? Will there be a mid-year orientation to help you make friends and get to know the campus? Will transferring mid-year enable you to graduate on time and not miss a beat?

JSR: Can I apply to transfer to a college that originally rejected me?

SG: Often, yes. But, if not a lot has changed in terms of your grades, the college's acceptance rate, or other factors, the answer is frequently the same. Check with each school for their policy on re-applying.

JSR: Are transfer students eligible for financial aid?

SG: Usually, transfer students may apply for aid by completing the FAFSA® or other forms and submitting appropriate documentation. Some colleges offer transfer scholarships (especially for community college students) and some offer merit aid to qualified applicants. It's helpful to find out if a college considers financial need in making admissions decisions, and if transfer students are likely to be offered funding.

JSR: Where can I find more information about transferring?

SG: Institutions that accept transfers generally devote a section of their website (under the admissions tab) to prospective transfer students; many also have a dedicated transfer admissions counselor for you to contact with questions. Several community colleges offer students access to a transfer advisor in the dean's office or career center, too.

The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) has assembled some valuable resources here.

The New England Transfer Association (NETA) and the National Institute for the Study of Transfer Students (NISTS) offer opportunities to support transfer students and the professionals who work with them.

Transferring is a common practice and may be the right choice for you. If you have any questions about transferring schools, please contact MEFA at (800) 449-MEFA (6332) or

Learn how transferring can affect student loans