About one third of college students, including those who start at community colleges, transfer to another school, according to a 2010 report by the National Association for College Admission Counseling. Students who have transferred say the process is by no means simple, and that it requires extra effort to acclimate to a new academic and social environment.
Hannah Simon transferred from Boston University, where she worked for the student newspaper and was vice president of academic affairs on the school of communications' student council, to the University of California—Berkeley midway through her sophomore year because she felt BU lacked new media resources and that Berkeley offered more classes rooted in the liberal arts. "I was ultrainvolved [at BU]," she says. "[But] when I came to Berkeley, it was hard to break into the scene."
[See the 10 colleges with the most transfer students.]
Whether you're changing schools out of financial need, familial obligation, or are looking for a better social or academic experience, use these four tips, in order, from students and school administrators to make your transition easier:
1. See what scholarships might be available: While transfer students have traditionally had a difficult time finding scholarship money, school officials say that trend is changing. Increasingly, colleges are setting aside money specifically for potential transfer students, often in hopes of recruiting students from underrepresented populations. Given that the transfer population is much smaller than the rest of the student body, your chances of getting a transfer scholarship may be higher than they would be otherwise.
"[The number of] scholarships for transfer students are on the rise at many colleges and universities," says Jenny Kate Luster, a spokesperson for the University of Mississippi Office of Admissions and Enrollment Services. "Check with the offices of financial aid and admissions at each institution you are considering to learn about requirements, application procedures, and deadlines."
2. Talk with an adviser: The first thing transfer students should do when they arrive on campus is ask their academic adviser for a chunk of his or her time, transfer students and college officials say. Working through the details of which credits transfer, which don't, and where you should be placed may be tedious but will pay off in the long run. Some schools even provide transfer counselors who work exclusively with transfer students, notes Jason McDonald, dean of admissions at the University of Portland, in Oregon.
If you have them, bring your old course syllabi with you, as they'll help your counselor determine what material you've mastered and which classes will best fit your needs, says Jeffrey Wolcowitz, dean of undergraduate studies at Case Western Reserve University. "It is important to figure out what has been covered and how best to fill in any important gaps in [a student's] preparation for the next course," he says.
3. Live on campus: Transfer students who have opted to live off of their new campus admit they lament their decisions, because they felt detached and found it difficult to fit in and make new friends.
"I lived with an aunt and uncle to try to save a few bucks and know that I would've enjoyed my time better had I lived on campus," says Elena Meredith, who transferred from the University of Minnesota—Twin Cities to the University of Tampa. "I know most transfer students are probably upperclassmen and have outgrown dorms, but I think campus housing would be the best way to meet fellow students."
Brian Lustig, another transfer student, who moved from Ithaca College to Emory University, got a one-bedroom apartment when he swapped schools before his junior year, and regrets the decision. "That was not exactly the best way to quickly inject myself into the social scene and really required a lot of extra work to meet people," he says. "If I had to do it again, [I] probably would have sucked it up and found something on campus."
4. Get involved on campus: Living on campus can help, but it's integral for transfer students seeking a new social group to be active in student organizations, former transfer students say.
Shawn MacArthur, who transferred from Carnegie Mellon University to Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey—New Brunswick, immediately got involved in student government and later was elected student council president at Rutgers. "I credit my successful transition to being involved in student organizations," he says. "It's a great way to be a part of the community, especially at a larger school."
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