College Transfer Guide

As higher education costs continue to rise, many students are exploring alternatives to the conventional four-year path to a bachelor’s degree. Whether it’s a gap year, going to school part time, or transferring colleges, there are many ways to save money on your college education while completing your degree in a way that meets your needs.

If you are thinking about transferring schools, you’re far from alone. A recent National Student Clearinghouse Research Center study found that about 37% of undergraduates who started college in 2008 eventually transferred schools at least once by 2015. Of those, 45% changed colleges two or more times.

There are many reasons why you may consider transferring colleges. You might save money by attending a more affordable college first, or you may feel that a community college will better prepare you for more advanced studies later. You may also simply want to transfer to a new college for personal reasons.

37% of undergraduates who started college in 2008 eventually transferred schools at least once by 2015.

The Four Most Common Types of Transfer Students

  • Community college to four-year college transfer: Students typically attend one or two years at a community college before transferring to a four-year school. In many cases, they earn an associate degree before moving on.
  • Military transfer: Military personnel are required to move frequently, which can interrupt their pursuit of higher education. Many transfer students are service members enrolling in a new school to continue their studies after they’ve been transferred to a new location.
  • Four-year college to four-year college transfer: For many reasons, students already enrolled in one four-year institution may wish to transfer to another. This may be due to family circumstances, a change in major, or financial concerns.
  • International transfer: Students attending college in a foreign country may wish to move to the United States to finish their degrees.

This guide focuses primarily on the first group of students: those who plan to move from a community college setting to a four-year college or university. However, you’ll likely find much of this information valuable even if your path is different.

Benefits of Transferring From a Community College to a Four-Year School

One of the most effective ways of reducing higher education costs is to begin with an associate degree program at a community college, then transferring to a four-year program at a college or university. There are numerous benefits to taking this route, especially when you consider that the average two-year school — whether community, junior, or technical college — tends to be considerably less expensive than a four-year institution.

Completing a two-year program allows you to earn an associate degree while also completing all or most of the general education credits required in a bachelor’s degree-level program. Transferring college credits from a two-year program is typically easy, and you can spend at least half of your time in college at a school with relatively low tuition.

The table below reflects the average tuition at public two-year colleges compared to their private, four-year counterparts:

Two-Year and Four-Year College Tuition Prices
2015-2016 2016-2017
Public 2-year In-State College $3,440 $3,520
Public 4-Year In-State College $9,420 $9,650
Source: CollegeBoard

Another important factor when calculating the cost of college is room and board, which can be incredibly pricey at four-year colleges and universities. Since most community colleges don’t offer room and board, students usually bypass these costs by living at home or renting less expensive housing off campus.

Room and Board Fees
2015-2016 2016-2017
Public 4-Year In-State/Out-of-State College $10,150 $10,440
Private Nonprofit 4-year College $11,890 $11,540
Source: CollegeBoard

Other Factors to Consider When Transferring

While transferring from a two-year program to a four-year program offers numerous perks, you will likely miss some of the traditional college experience at a community or junior college. There’s also a possibility that some of your credits may not transfer to your desired school. And, if you have trouble adapting to new environments, you may find transferring to a new college daunting, just as you’re getting comfortable with your current program.

Therefore, take time to consider all the factors before making a decision on how best to proceed on your academic journey.

How to Transfer Colleges

The checklist below provides an introduction to the steps you’ll take when transferring colleges, from conducting initial research through beginning the application process. We discuss each step in greater detail later in this guide.

  1. Research Your Prospective Transfer Schools

  2. Check Accreditation Status and Articulation Agreements

  3. Contact School Advisors

  4. Confirm That Your Credits Will Be Transferred Over

  5. Research Financial Aid Options

  6. Begin Application Process

Choosing Your Transfer College

As you explore how to transfer colleges, you can take specific steps to ensure the process goes as smoothly as possible. Perhaps most importantly, this includes thoroughly researching which credits earned at a two-year school will be accepted at a bachelor’s degree program later. You should therefore carefully review all courses at each institution to learn whether they’re eligible for transfer.

Transferrable Credits

Transferring college credits from one institution to another can be complicated, and it’s typically up to the program into which you’re transferring to determine if previous credits will be accepted. In most cases, completing a college transfer between two public schools in the same state is easiest, although many private and out-of-state schools are quite flexible with their transfer credit acceptance policies.

Regardless, you should become familiar your transfer school’s policies on course equivalency, transferring credits at different course levels, and how moving between a quarter and a semester system could affect your earned credits.

Course Equivalency: When transferring colleges, you may find that schools accept credits from institutions in different ways. For example, one university may accept community college credit for an astronomy 101 course, enabling you to meet a science general education requirement. Another school, however, may only accept a biology or chemistry course for general education requirements.

Course Level: It is usually much easier to transfer community college credits from lower-level courses than upper-division courses. Upper-division coursework is usually customized to a program at a specific college or university. Therefore, you’ll often find more opportunities to receive transfer credit for an introduction to art history course, for example, than you would a 400-level psychology course.

Quarter vs. Semester Transfers: While most colleges and universities run on semesters, others schedule classes based on quarters. This can have a considerable impact on your transfer credits, so you should speak with an advisor to know exactly how earned credits will be applied at a prospective transfer school. This guide offers an introduction to how transfer credits are generally calculated.


The example below illustrates an example of a credit transfer between two public schools in Washington state. In this case, the introductory art course at a community college has a clear equivalent to a similar course at the University of Washington, the state’s largest four-year institution.

Community College Course UW Equivalency Meets UW Requirements Effective Date
Art 107 (5) Art 1XX VLPA Prior to SUM Qtr. 2007
ART & 100 (5) Art 1XX VLPA SUM Qtr. 2007

In the table, column one indicates details of the community college courses, including the prefix, course number, and credits (in parentheses).

The second column shows the equivalent course at the University of Washington, while the third column identifies which UW general education requirement the course meets. In the first row, for example, ART 107 meets one of UW’s Visual, Literary, and Performing Arts (VLPA) prerequisites.

The fourth column reflects the date the community college transfer course equivalency became effective. In this example, students who took ART 107 before summer 2007 qualify for a credit transfer.

Academic Residency Requirements

As you continue to explore a college transfer, another important consideration is the residency requirements of your prospective school. Some colleges and universities mandate that students take a certain number of credits at the school itself, and therefore limits eligible transfer credits. For example, at Temple, students must complete at least 45 of the 60 required degree credits at the university — either on campus or online.

If a school transfer may be a possibility for you, consider how many credits a school accepts to avoid taking and paying for courses that don’t ultimately contribute to your degree.

What if My Credits Don’t Transfer Over?

A key issue for anyone transferring colleges is considering how many of their completed credits count toward a bachelor’s degree. Unfortunately, transferring every credit does not always happen. According to the Associated Press, nearly one-third of transfer students lose between 11% and 90% of their earned credits when moving to a different school.

These numbers illustrate the importance of researching whether you’ll be able to transfer college credits from one institution to the next. If possible, contact your prospective schools’ admission departments to confirm that your previous coursework will be counted.

If your credits do not transfer (or transfer only as general education credits), you may be able to file an appeal with the college or university. This forces the school to take a second look at the courses you’ve completed, and it may be possible to get the decision reversed. The appeals process varies from school to school — some may require you to fill out a form like this one, while at others you may need to file a written request.

Keep in mind that most four-year institutions require a course grade of C or better to accept transfer credits. Others may have even more stringent standards. If your grades are lower than a C, it may be worth considering a school with a more generous transfer policy, such as one that offers degree programs completely online.

In-State vs. Out-of-State Transfers

Most colleges and universities in the U.S. have different tuition rates for in-state residents versus those who are out-of-state. In many cases, this difference can be quite significant, with out-of-state students paying more than double their in-state counterparts. This is the case at both public and private institutions, and it typically does not matter if you are taking classes online or on a physical campus. Therefore, it is often best to first consider in-state schools when transferring college credits.

The table below illustrates average tuition rates across the country for students residing in the same state as their college or university. It also shows the average rates for out-of-state students.

College Tuition Prices
2015-2016 2016-2017
Public 4-year In-State College $9,420 $9,650
Public 4-Year Out-of-State College $24,070 $24,930
Private 4-Year Nonprofit College $32,330 $33,480
Source: CollegeBoard

Additionally, many community colleges and public state schools have strong articulation agreements, making it easy to transfer credits to an in-state school. The seamless transition allows students to move from a two-year to a four-year program without losing any earned credits.

College Transfer and Articulation Agreements

To make transferring as easy as possible, many community colleges and four-year institutions have articulation agreements in place. This means an associate degree earned at one school will fulfill all the general education requirements of a four-year college. Or, there may be a list of courses available at a community college guaranteed to transfer toward general education credits at a specified four-year school.

In other instances, you may be able to take advantage of a dual admissions arrangement, in which you attend a community college and a four-year institution at the same time. While the goal is to obtain a bachelor’s degree, you earn an associate degree first at a two-year institution.

For the most part, articulation and dual admission agreements are arranged between schools located near each other, or in the same state. In some states, all public four-year universities automatically accept anyone who has graduated with an associate degree from a two-year school within the same system.

You can learn more about these agreements by looking at this example. If you are interested in this opportunity, you complete an agreement before transferring schools.

Additionally, you can get more information on the articulation and transfer policies of all 50 states by reading through this resource. Check with your community college and prospective four-year school and ask about their specific policies related to these agreements. Finally, CollegeTransfer.Net has a cohesive database that allows you to search through a range of college and university transfer agreements.


As part of the research process for transferring colleges, it’s important to review the accreditation status of both your current school and any prospective colleges. All reputable colleges and universities are accredited by a regional or national body, which ensures that schools and programs offer students quality educational experiences.

If you attend a non-accredited school, you may find it difficult to meet college transfer requirements, as many institutions will not accept credits from unaccredited programs. You also may not qualify for financial aid benefits. It’s worth noting that while regional accreditation is considered more prestigious, nationally accredited schools still offer value and often have lower tuition rates.

To learn more about the accreditation status of your college, review CHEA’s Database of Institutions and Programs Accredited by Recognized United States Accrediting Organizations.

How Will Transferring Colleges Affect My Financial Aid?

Although you cannot transfer financial aid packages from one institution to another, you will probably be eligible for some aid, regardless of which school you attend.

Aid depends largely on the tuition rates of your new school and the total amount of aid available. It’s also worth noting that if you transfer in the middle of a school year, you may not receive as much aid as first-time or returning students. Also, aid may be lower until you are at least 60% of the way through a semester.

The financial aid process starts when schools review your FAFSA information and determine how much aid you’re eligible to receive. This amount may be similar to what you received at your previous school, but there’s no guarantee that you will have access to the same financial aid package as before.

Some forms of financial aid, including Perkins loans and federal work-study benefits, are not automatically applied to your new school when transferring college credits. And, if you are receiving state aid or third-party scholarships, you will need to check with the state or the scholarship provider to learn whether you can transfer those funds to a different institution. If you do not plan for these variables, you could end up losing a considerable amount of time and money.

Re-submitting the FAFSA

Typically, you only need to fill out the FAFSA form once per academic year, unless you plan to transfer to a new college or university during the fall semester. If that’s the case, you should submit an updated form, including your potential transfer schools. This will help avoid any unnecessary interruptions to receiving aid.

To learn more about this process — and for answers to any other financial aid questions you might have — check out our handy FAFSA Guide.

Paying Back Existing Loans

If you have existing student loans from previous academic terms, your grace period will begin once you leave your current school and transfer to a new one. You can also file for a deferment to delay payments while you’re still in school, which prevents you from needing to cover this expense while you’re focused on completing your degree program.

For more information on the types of financial aid available and whether you can enter a grace period, read through our comprehensive Financial Aid Guide.

Applying to Your Transfer School

As you consider transferring to a new school, note that the national acceptance rate for transfer students is 64%. This is, according to the National Association for College Admission Counseling, slightly below the first-year student acceptance rate of 69%.

Therefore, it is important to take the transfer application process just as seriously as an incoming freshman applying to a new college. The Princeton Review recommends applying to three “reach” schools, three target schools, and two “safety” schools. And, determine whether you will have any trouble transferring college credits to these institutions.

When Should I Begin the Transfer Process?

This depends on the school you’d like to attend. Some four-year universities, such as Arizona State, ask transfer students to apply about one year before they wish to begin their studies. Check with your prospective school to stay on top of all relevant deadlines.

Application Materials

No two colleges have the same application deadlines, and there’s also considerable variety in the materials you’ll need to apply. In general, you can expect to provide the following items to your prospective transfer school:

  • College Application
  • High School Transcript
  • Letters of Recommendation
  • SAT or ACT Scores
  • College Transcript
  • Application Fees (or Fee Waiver)

Steps to Apply for a Transfer

The steps necessary for transferring colleges may differ depending on the school and program you attend. Below we’ve used ASU’s general admission transfer instructions as an example of this process:

Example: ASU Transfer Application Steps

Complete the admission application to transfer to ASU Students must first complete the school’s online application for admission. This should be done a year prior to the student’s planned enrollment date at the school.
Submit the nonrefundable transfer application fee This will cost between $50 and $85, depending on whether a student is a resident, out-of-state transfer, international student, or online student.
Request to have your official transcripts and test scores mailed to ASU

This includes college or university transcripts, high school transcripts (if the student has not yet completed an associate or bachelor’s degree at the time of transfer), and test scores (including ACT, SAT, AP, IB, or CLEP exam scores). International students must have TOEFL or IELTS scores sent directly to the school from the testing agency.

Students must request a final college transcript to be sent to ASU Admission Services upon completing their final semester at their current school.

After applying, students are encouraged to:
  • Complete the FAFSA
  • Apply for scholarships
  • Schedule a campus tour

Scholarships for Transfer Students

Scholarships can be an incredibly helpful way to fund your education. In fact, 77% of colleges nationwide provide merit-based scholarships specifically for transfer students; this is in addition to scholarships available from third parties. Below is a list of some scholarships for those who are transferring colleges:

Scholarships for Transfer Students

Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship Up to $40,000

Scholarship Deadline: 2018 deadline TBA

Eligibility Requirements:

  • Must be current student at an accredited US community college or two-year school
  • Enrolled or planning to enroll full time in baccalaureate program at accredited college or university the following year
  • Minimum 3.5 GPA
  • Must demonstrate financial need

View Scholarship

Ann and Peter Ziegler Scholarship Varies

Scholarship Deadline: Varies

Eligibility Requirements:

  • Must be a woman majoring in liberal arts and a single parent
  • Enrolled in a four-year institution
  • Minimum 3.0 GPA
  • Enrolled in minimum of nine credit hours

View Scholarship

Clifford H. Spicer Memorial Scholarship Varies

Scholarship Deadline: February 15, 2018

Eligibility Requirements:

  • Must be a Michigan resident
  • Minimum 2.5 GPA (for college freshmen)
  • Pursuing bachelor’s degree in civil engineering or related major
  • Enrolled full time

View Scholarship

EMU National Scholars Program $15,000

Scholarship Deadline: Varies

Eligibility Requirements:

  • Must be new transfer student with minimum 3.5 GPA
  • Resident of state other than Michigan or Ohio
  • Accepted into Eastern Michigan University

View Scholarship

eQuality Scholarship $6,000

Scholarship Deadline: February 1, 2018

Eligibility Requirements:

  • For transfer students who have a demonstrated commitment to LGBTQ rights
  • Resident of northern or central California
  • Must have attended a community college within past four years
  • Minimum 3.0 GPA and in good academic standing

View Scholarship

Fisher House Foundation Scholarships for Military Children $2,000

Scholarship Deadline: February 13, 2018

Eligibility Requirements:

  • Must be a dependent unmarried child of a military service member and under the age of 21
  • Enrolled or planning to enroll in four-year undergraduate program at accredited college/university
  • Minimum 3.0 GPA in previous college coursework

View Scholarship

Marketing EDGE Scholarship $5,000

Scholarship Deadline: April 15, 2018

Eligibility Requirements:

  • Must be enrolled in four-year degree program at accredited institution
  • Minimum 3.0 GPA
  • Studies focused on the field of marketing

View Scholarship

Point Foundation Scholarship $13,600

Scholarship Deadline: January 30, 2018

Eligibility Requirements:

  • Must be enrolled in four-year degree program at accredited institution
  • Minimum 3.0 GPA
  • Studies focused on the field of marketing

View Scholarship

TACTYC Scholarship $1,000

Scholarship Deadline: March 1, 2018

Eligibility Requirements:

  • Must have completed at least 20 semester credit hours at an accredited college or university
  • Minimum 3.0 GPA
  • Attending two-year school with plans to transfer to four-year school in the upcoming academic year
  • Studies focused on the field of accounting

View Scholarship

Visit our Affordability Center to learn more about financial aid and to view our extensive catalogue of scholarships.