Transfer Students: 8 Things You Need to Know

I’ve been running into more and more parents, who are curious about sending their children to community colleges.

I can understand the attraction. Community colleges are often much cheaper than four-year schools and they can offer a more personalized education than big state universities.

Out here in California, for instance, a freshman can take introductory courses with 30 to 40 students at a community college versus hundreds of students  at introductory courses at many state universities here.

Teenagers who start at a community college or end up leaving a four-year school for another four-year institution, have lots of company.

According to a transfer student report from the National Association for College Admission Counseling, a third of students end up transferring to other colleges or universities. Some of these students are transferring from community colleges, but many are also seeking to move from one four-year school to another.

Because of the huge number of college students who are on the move every year, I am sharing some tips for these often overlooked students:

8 Things Transfer Students Need to Know

1. The transfer admission hurdle is slightly more difficult.

The acceptance rate for transfer students (64%), according to NACAC, is slightly lower than the acceptance rate of first-year students (69% ).

When evaluating transfer applicants, the biggest admission factor by far is a student’s grades at their current college. More than 90% of colleges that participated in the NACAC survey said the overall postsecondary grade point average was “considerably important.”

2. Transfer students can qualify for merit aid.

Seventy-seven percent of colleges reported that they provide merit scholarships to transfer students. Eighty-one percent of small colleges, which have less than 3,000 students, report that they award merit scholarships to transfer students. In comparison, 66% of medium-sized schools and 67% of large schools offer merit awards.

3. Not all schools have room for transfer students.

Small colleges, which have very few undergrads leaving, can have few available spots for transfer students. For instance, Amherst College admitted just 24 transfer students out of 421 applicants for the fall term. Georgetown University, a much larger institution, admitted 364 transfer students out of 1,616 who applied.

State universities are often more equipped to accept large numbers of transfer applicants. UCLA, for instance, recently accepted 5,505 transfer students out of a pool of 18,986 transfer applicants.

4. Standardized tests scores aren’t as important.

The SAT and ACT, according to the NACAC survey, are less important for transfer students than high school seniors.

In fact, the more time you’ve spent in college, the less other institutions care about your SAT or ACT scores, according to Deborah Shames, an independent college counselor in northern New Jersey and a transfer admissions advisor for Kaplan Education Foundation.

“If a student is transferring after one semester in college or a year, schools usually want the SAT and high school GPA, but the further away from high school, the less schools rely on them,” Shames says.

5. Check out what a college wants from transfer students.

Before applying to a school, find out what the institution is looking for in transfer applicants. You can get a good idea by looking at a school’s Common Data Set. The Common Data Set is a document that four-year schools across the country complete that contains lots of information on such topics as admission criteria, freshman academic profile, campus safety and transfer admissions. You can often find a college’s Common Data Set by Googling that term and the name of the institution.

The College Board also provides this same transfer information. When looking at the profile of any four-year school on College Board, click on “Admission” hyperlink and you’ll find the transfer statistics.

6. Make sure your credits transfer.

You don’t want to lose credits when you move to another school. During the admission process, talk to a college’s transfer credit evaluator to get a sense of what credits would transfer.

7. Look for transfer-friendly schools.

One way to access that intangible is to ask if the college has a transfer coordinator. Also does the school have a transfer orientation or other transfer programs? Does the school have housing for transfer students? Ideally, you’d like to talk to transfer students about their experience at a school.

8. Focus on the positive when explaining your desire to transfer.

College applications will typically ask a student why they want to transfer. Shames warns that students should avoid saving anything negative about their current school. Instead focus on positive reasons for the change and offer specifics on why you want to transfer to a specific college.

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3 Responses to Transfer Students: 8 Things You Need to Know

  1. Mary Madsen August 30, 2012 at 6:47 pm #

    I want to emphasize that if you transfer that the biggest focus is your current grades and not your ACT/SAT. I didn’t even take the ACT and transferred to an accredited college because my grades at the school I transferred from where really good. I never thought the SAT was a good measurement of college performance.

  2. Joan October 10, 2011 at 10:04 pm #

    Lynn – This may be a simplistic question, but how do grants/scholarships/financial aid work in a transfer?

    Does the student have to start from scratch, or does some of the aid transfer?

    • Lynn O'Shaughnessy October 10, 2011 at 10:31 pm #

      Hi Joan,

      Most schools provide merit aid and financial aid to transfer students. Schools, however, often don’t give their transfer students as much money as their freshmen. Institutional aid obviously does not transfer. I would assume that state and federal aid would transfer if you are transferring in the middle of a school year. Any financial aid office could answer that one.

      Lynn O’Shaughnessy

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