Itching to Transfer to a Different College? Here's What You Need to Know

11/20/2017 02:45 pm ET

Most college students don't admit it, but they often think about whether they ended up at the right college. In fact, this crossed my mind during fall semester of my freshman year of college: Should I transfer?

With the anticipation of Thanksgiving days away, college students across the country take stock, especially freshmen. They have put on their game faces, smiled at parties, and told their parents they're "doing great" ever since move-in day. But the fact is that even the "right colleges" don't always feel "right" during the first semester.

I remember feeling so out of my element my first few months of college. I was a public school girl with little academic preparation thrust into a hotbed of academia. I felt like everyone around me was much smarter and had all gone to boarding school (and many had).

Fortunately, I stuck it out. I realized that I could not only fit in there, but that I could succeed. Time was my friend. And sometimes that's all a student needs. Many students just require more time to adjust to being away from home, being in a new environment, and stretching themselves academically and socially.

But for those of you who know in your heart that you're not at the right college, here are ten things to know about the transfer admissions process:

  1. The transfer process is markedly different than the freshmen admissions process. Whereas your high school record and standardized test scores dictate the freshmen admissions process, your GPA and course selection in college matter much more if you apply as a transfer student.
  2. There are some colleges that will accept transfer students for the spring semester, but most of the highly selective colleges only admit students for the fall semester.
  3. Most students who transfer do it after freshman or sophomore year.
  4. No matter how large your classes are, make sure to connect and build a relationship with two professors if you're planning to transfer. These professors can write your letters of recommendation.
  5. You need to be in "good standing" at your current college to be competitive to transfer. If you are on academic or social probation, it can be difficult to get admitted to a top college.
  6. The admit rate for transfer admissions is typically higher than the admit rate for freshmen admissions. Why? Almost every college in the country struggles with retention. When a student drops out, transfers, or even goes abroad for a semester, the college needs to fill that bed with another student to stay financially stable. The odds are in your favor if you apply as a transfer student.
  7. If you applied to the same college as a high school senior, your old application (or what's left of it) will be evaluated to some extent. But the primary focus of the transfer admissions committee will be on your current application.
  8. Sometimes colleges have limited financial aid for transfer students. Check with each admissions office/financial aid office to determine if financial aid is available.
  9. If you are applying to transfer into a very specialized program (i.e. engineering, business, nursing, etc), make sure you have the prerequisites in place so that you are as competitive as possible.
  10. Most students don't believe it, but there are plenty of students who transfer from a community college to a traditional four year college—even Ivy League colleges. The transfer admissions process focuses more on your academic performance at your current institution rather than where you attend.

As appealing as another college can be for a student, they need to remember that there will be an adjustment when they transfer. Students will have their friend groups solidified and it takes a confident individual to start fresh in a new environment when everyone else is hunkering down where they are. However, ending up at the right place is all that matters.

Going home for Thanksgiving was a turning point for me that first semester of college. I realized on the drive home to New Jersey that I had started a new chapter in my life. The first few months made me doubt my decision because the college was so different compared to where I grew up, and the students seemed far more worldly and sophisticated than I. But as my brother and I pulled into the driveway, I realized that my college was the best place for me—not to change who I was, but to help me evolve into the best person I could be.

I hope every student finds the right college for them. If not, the transfer admissions process can allow them to change and reset in a less daunting way that can be more fulfilling than they expected.

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