10 Must-Ask Questions Before You Transfer Colleges
Switching schools can be expensive, costing you both time and money. You need to be absolutely certain before you transfer colleges.
I know it’s hard to make good decisions when you’re unhappy. But I also know that feeling some regret about your college choice is a natural part of the adjustment process.
I’ve seen plenty of students overcome negative feelings about their school and really blossom at college. That’s why I consider changing colleges to be a major mistake for most students. I almost always recommend that students stay at the school where they started. Sometimes, though, there are good reasons to transfer colleges. Ultimately you have to make the best decision for you.
To help with that decision, I’ve put together a list of ten questions you should ask before you transfer colleges. Some of these are questions to ask yourself, some are questions to ask academic and financial aid advisers.
Let’s start with the easiest (or maybe hardest) question.
Ten Questions to Ask Before You Transfer Colleges
#1. Why Do You Want to Transfer Colleges?
You need to have clear reasons why you want to transfer colleges. Not liking your current school isn’t enough.
Feeling unhappy or like you don’t fit in aren’t good enough reasons either. Most students have those feelings, particularly during their first year. In those cases, I advise students to give it some time. College is a big life change; you can’t expect everything to come together all at once.
What are some good reasons to transfer colleges, then?
Your current college is too expensive
If you think you’re borrowing too much to pay for your current school, you should consider transferring colleges. If you can get the same degree for less money somewhere else, that’s a legitimate reason to switch schools.
Your current college doesn't offer the degree you want
If you did your research ahead of time, you should’ve known if your school offers the degree you want before you ever enrolled. But a lot of students don’t choose a major until they’re on campus, which means they find out too late that the school doesn’t offer the degree they want.
Or you may find out that your current degree program isn’t very good. The program may not offer scholarships or internships, for example. In that case, you should find a stronger program, even if it means switching schools.
But having “the feels” isn’t enough. If you can’t list at least two or three concrete reasons for leaving your current school, you shouldn’t transfer colleges.
#2. What Have You Done to Avoid Transferring Colleges?
In other words, what have you done to make it work at your current school? Have you really tried your best, or do you see transferring colleges as an easy solution?
When I talk to students about transferring colleges, they often say things like they “don’t fit in here” or “this just isn’t the right place for me.”
Sometimes they’re having a hard time adjusting to dorm life. Or they aren’t making friends as easily as they thought they would. Or college classes are harder than they expected.
But none of those things are actually about the college they attend. After all, if they transfer colleges, they’ll probably still live in the dorms. And they’ll still have to make new friends. And they’ll still have hard classes.
So I always ask students what they’ve done to make things work at their current school. If they can’t get along with their roommate, have they asked about changing rooms? If they’re lonely, how have they tried to make friends? If they’re struggling in their classes, have they gone to the tutoring center?
When adjusting to college, students tend to internalize their struggles, convincing themselves that they just don’t fit in. They start to think that changing colleges will fix the problem. The truth is, most times, there’s nothing wrong with them or their college. They’re just going through a normal, if awkward, adjustment process.
#3. How Will Things Be Different at the Transfer College?
When students are unhappy, they fall into trap of magical thinking. They convince themselves life will be better at a different school, even if they hadn't heard of the other school until a week ago.
If you’re considering transferring colleges, you should be able to clearly explain how things will be different at your new school.
If your current classes are too hard, how will you handle classes at your new school? If you aren’t making many friends, what will you do to make friends at your new school?
Often when students want to transfer colleges, it’s less about moving to something better than it is about escaping something they see as bad.
If you can’t describe specifically how your experience at your new school will be better than at your current school, then you shouldn’t transfer colleges.
#4. Why Do You Want to Go to the Transfer College?
What exactly does the new college have that makes it a better option for you?
As mentioned, maybe the new college is cheaper or has a better program for your major. Maybe the new college is closer (or farther) from home.
You need to be able to list specific advantages you’ll get by switching schools. Just thinking you’ll like your transfer college better isn’t good enough. It has to provide clear benefits over your current school, like giving you more financial aid or having better job placement rates for students in your major.
#5. How Much Does the Transfer College Cost?
One good reason to transfer colleges is to reduce the amount you’ll need to borrow to pay for your degree. You need to do the math. Is the new college really cheaper than your current college?
Be sure to compare tuition rates and fees per credit hour before you transfer colleges. Don’t just compare the cost of attendance figures listed on each school’s website. Do some research and find out exactly how much you’d be paying for tuition, fees and housing (if you live on campus) at your new school.
This is especially true if you plan to transfer to an out-of-state school. Unless you get a scholarship or qualify for an out-of-state tuition discount, you shouldn’t attend an out-of-state school.
Do the cost comparison. The numbers may be scary enough to convince you not to transfer colleges.
#6. Does the Transfer College Have a Better Degree Program?
Getting into a better degree program for your major is also a legitimate reason to transfer colleges.
Despite what college marketers lead you to believe, the reputation of your degree program matters a lot more than the reputation of your college. Employers know which programs are best at preparing students for the workforce. Good programs can be found at average schools; average programs can be found at good schools. Consider the quality of the degree programs at both schools before you decide to transfer colleges.
You should look for things like internship programs or the opportunity to work with professors on research projects. Also, look at job placement rates. Every program should be able to tell you how many of their recent graduates are employed and in what kind of jobs.
If you didn’t ask about these things before you chose your current school, you definitely need to ask about them before you transfer colleges.
#7. Will Your Credits Count If You Transfer Colleges?
This is vitally important. Before you switch schools, make sure you know how to transfer your college course credits.
Ask an academic adviser if your current school has a credit transfer agreement with your new school. If there’s no credit transfer agreement, the new school may not accept any of your credits. That means you’ll be starting over and will probably have to repeat courses you’ve already taken.
#8. Can You Graduate on Time If You Transfer Colleges?
If some (or all) of your course credits don’t transfer, it will take longer to graduate. The degree program at your transfer school may require more classes than the one at your current school. That would also delay your time to graduation.
Spending more time in school will cost more money, which is something to seriously consider if you’re using student loans to pay for college. If you take too long to earn your degree, you may actually be cut off from student loan money due to federal financial aid rules.
Before you transfer colleges, then, consider how it may impact your graduation date, your student loan debt and your post-graduation plans.
#9. Does the College Offer Scholarships for Transfer Students?
You should research whether your new school has scholarships for transfer students. Some scholarships are only for transfer students who’ve already completed two years of college. Others are set aside specifically for students transferring from community colleges.
You should also check to see if the financial aid you receive at your current school will transfer to the new school. That includes any scholarships you’ve have, as well as any state financial aid.
Federal financial aid typically transfers with you, but some schools don’t use all the federal aid programs. For example, participation in certain federal college grant programs is voluntary; if you have one of these grants and transfer to a school that doesn’t participate in the program, you’ll lose your grant money.
Before you make the decision to transfer colleges, be sure to understand the financial impacts. Your new school may not end up being cheaper if your grant or scholarship doesn’t transfer and you have to take out a loan to make up the difference.
#10. Do You Have the Money to Transfer Colleges?
Students might look at tuition differences between schools, but they typically don’t consider the all the costs of transferring colleges. If you want to transfer, you’ll need to have some cash on hand.
You’ll have to pay to apply to the new school. This means paying the application fee and any fees to have your transcripts and test scores sent.
If you decide to live on campus, you’ll have to pay a housing application fee and deposit. If you live off-campus, you’ll have to pay your first months’ rent and a security deposit, and perhaps pay to have your utilities connected.
Then, of course, you’ll have to pay to move all of your stuff to your new college town.
You could spend a thousand dollars or more to transfer colleges before you even pay the first tuition bill at your new school. You need to ask yourself whether you can really afford it and are really sure transferring colleges is worth it.
Transferring colleges can be a hard decision, but it may turn out to be the right choice for you. Just make that choice with careful consideration.
Think about whether your problems can really be solved by switching schools. Often staying where you are is the better option.
And if you do decide to move? Make sure you have a solid plan to transfer colleges.
Did you transfer colleges? Are you (or your child) thinking about transferring colleges? Let us know your transfer story or ask your transfer questions in the comments.