What Does It Mean to Be a Transfer Student?

Written by Coursera • Updated on

If you’re unenrolling from one school to continue classes at another school, you’re considered a transfer student. There will be a separate application process for you, and you may need to take a few additional courses if the coursework doesn’t transfer.

[Featured Image] A transfer student is sitting at a desk using her laptop.

A transfer student is a college student who has completed 12 or more credit hours at one school, then later drops enrollment before finishing their degree at another school. In the United States, it isn’t uncommon to transfer schools; it’s estimated that 37 percent of college students transfer at least once during their college careers, and some may even transfer more than once [1].

Reasons for transferring schools 

There are many different reasons a student may want to transfer schools. Some set out to move from a community college to a four-year school. While some may want to save money on tuition, others may be looking for a change of scenery or choose to transfer from a traditional in-person university to an online university or vice versa.

Transition to a four-year institution from community college 

It’s common for students to transfer to a four-year institution after completing their general education courses at a two-year community college. This is a great way for students to save money on tuition before transferring to a four-year institution to finish their bachelor’s degree. Transferring from community college into a university may also provide students with a larger number of majors to choose from.

Save money 

Investing in your education and future career goals can get costly. This is especially true for students who choose to attend private universities or out-of-state schools. Should a student decide to save money on school or avoid taking out additional student loans, transferring to an in-state school or public institution can be an excellent option. Students seeking financial aid or specific scholarships may transfer schools to obtain financial assistance. 

Change locations

Another common reason why students may transfer schools is to relocate for personal or family reasons. Transfer students may move to be closer to family, find better opportunities, attend school in a new environment, or leave an area they did not prefer. Some may transfer to a school in a new location simply to add variety to life or due to some life circumstance like marriage or a job change.

Learn remotely 

As more and more in-person colleges begin to offer online degree programs, you can now attend a school without ever setting foot on campus. If this model is a good fit for you, you can transfer to one of these online institutions which will allow you the opportunity to transfer to a four-year institution, save money, and change locations.

If this interests you, explore the full listing of online degree programs available from leading universities on Coursera.

You are Currently on slide 1

Things to consider when transferring 

For many students, the benefits of transferring schools often outweigh the downsides, but it’s still important to be aware of some possible pain points when considering whether to transfer schools. 

Possible lost credits 

Due to differences in curriculum and course programs, it’s common to lose around 40 percent of the credit hours you earned from your original institution when transferring to a new school [2]. However, depending on where you transfer, losing credit can be avoided. If you’re transferring from a community college located close to your new institution, they may have a ​​transfer agreement in place. A transfer agreement is a guarantee that classes you complete at one school will be accepted by the school you're transferring to.

Read more: Do College Credits Expire?

Delayed graduation 

Due to the possibility of losing credits or retaking courses, your graduation date may be delayed by a semester or two. The length of postponement varies depending on the number of transferable credits. 

Additional coursework 

If you lose credit hours in the process of transferring, prepare to take additional courses to make up the difference. While not ideal, this may involve taking a class twice. However, you may already have a solid foundation in the course material and may earn a higher grade the second time around.

Application process for transfer students

When applying to a new school as a transfer student, you’ll notice the process is different than when you filled out a freshman application at your previous school.

You’ll be filling out a transfer student application rather than a new student application, and you’ll also be asked to send your previous college transcripts rather than your high school transcripts (although some schools may ask for these, too). Instead of focusing on standardized test scores like the SAT and ACT, the admissions officers will put more stock into your performance at the previous school.

Depending on how far along you are in your studies, the school may also ask you to submit an application for your major along with your regular application. Many schools will want to hear your reason for transferring and why you think their institution will be a better fit, so be prepared to explain those questions.

Transfer student applications will have a separate deadline from freshman applications, so be sure to apply by the correct date.

How to transfer colleges 

After you’ve done your research, considered the pros and cons of transferring colleges, and chosen your future school, check to see that you meet all of the school’s requirements for transfer students. They’ll want to see that your GPA meets or exceeds their standard, that you have enough transferable credit hours, and that you’re in good academic standing at your current school. 

When you’re ready, follow these steps to transfer: 

1. Talk with your current academic advisor. Let them know you intend to transfer schools; ask them for help and advice in the process.

2. Meet with an admissions counselor from your new school. Ask and make sure you’re on the right track. They will also provide information on financial aid and scholarships offered for transfer students.

3. Check dates.  Don’t miss the transfer student application deadlines for your new school.

4. Complete your application. Fill out a transfer student application and submit it before the listed due date. This application will likely be online and can be found on your school website. Submit any items requested with your application, such as application fees, transcripts, and recommendation letters. 

5. Attend transfer student orientation. Once accepted, register for a transfer student orientation.

6. Check in with your new academic advisor. They’ll help you make sure you enroll in the correct courses and map out a tentative path to graduation.

7. Claim your spot. Register for classes, list student housing preferences if you’ll be living on campus, and finally, pay your tuition and fees.

If you’re considering transferring schools, now is the time to get that process started. You’ll soon be on your way to earning your degree and pursuing your dream job. 

Complete your bachelor's degree

If you already have at least 30 hours of credit toward a four-year degree, you could be able to complete your degree online with the University of North Texas Bachelor of Applied Arts and Sciences. You can transfer up to 90 qualifying credit hours from community colleges, technical institutions, or other universities for a fast track to graduation.

Related articles

Article sources

1. National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, “Signature Report transfer & Mobility: A National View of Student Movement, in Postsecondary Institutions, Fall 2008 Cohort, https://nscresearchcenter.org/wp-content/uploads/SignatureReport9.pdf.” Accessed March 1, 2022.

2. Pearson. “How to Transfer Community College Credits to University, https://pearsonaccelerated.com/blog/community-college-transfer-credit.” Accessed March 2, 2022.

Written by Coursera • Updated on

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

Learn without limits