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How to Transfer Colleges: Questions to Ask Before Making Your Decision

A man sits at a table with his laptop researching how to transfer colleges

Going to college is a major milestone. It signals an investment in yourself and your future, so you should attend a school that will help you achieve your goals – and is willing to support you along the way. If your school doesn't feel like the right place for you, you might consider transferring to a new college or university that offers a better fit.

And whether you've been away from school for one term, one year, one decade or longer, you can search for a transfer-friendly university that values the work you've already put in and helps you finish what you started.

Why Do Students Transfer?

If you’ve thought about transferring colleges, you’re not alone. According to a National Student Clearinghouse Research Center study, 38% of students enroll in more than one institution before completing their bachelor's degree.

Whether you want to enroll at a more affordable university, change your degree program or advance from an associate to bachelor's degree program, attending a different college can be a big decision – but it can also make the most sense for you. Many institutions are well-prepared to handle transfer students and their needs.

Are There Benefits to Transferring Colleges?

As a transfer student, there are significant factors to consider, such as program availability and cost. If your program at your current school is not what you hoped for, or if you’ve decided to change majors, then transferring to a different college can make a lot of sense. Likewise, you may consider researching colleges that offer more affordable courses, and that could influence your decision enough to make the switch.

Regarding programs, you’ll want to ensure the schools you’re eyeing have degrees that meet your needs and will take you where you want to go. Research aspects like curriculum, outcomes and career possibilities to ensure the program is the right fit for you and your aspirations.

At Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), more than 200 online degrees are offered, and many allow for specialization. For example, if you’re interested in a bachelor's in information technology, you can take it a step further with concentrations, such as those in database management or cyber security. The bonus of a concentration can give you a leg up on the competition in the job market.

The other major variable is cost. While earning your degree is an excellent investment, the price tag can vary greatly from school to school. It’s important to compare colleges that make sense for your budget.

Online institutions can cut costs even more. Currently, an online credit hour is $320 at SNHU – a number that has remained the same for a decade.

Latisha Aguilar with the text Latisha Aguilar "I was really surprised at how affordable it was compared to other universities," said Latisha Aguilar '21, who accumulated a lot of student debt while determining her career goals at previous post-secondary experiences.

"I feel like I wasted a lot of time and money going to school," she said. But, Aguilar was able to transfer in a lot of those previously earned credits, allowing her to finish her bachelor's in psychology with a concentration in child and adolescent development in just two years at SNHU.

"If I would have had to complete all of the courses that I'd gotten credit for at previous experiences, it would have definitely made me have to take out more student loans," Aguilar said. "So, it definitely lowered the cost by being able to transfer those credits in."

Other cost-cutting measures to consider at schools include financial aid, tuition benefits through employers and military discounts.

How Easy is It to Transfer Colleges?

Deciding when and where to transfer your college credits can be challenging enough, especially if you're trying to finish a term or are busy with work or home life. Thinking about the paperwork and procedures that might be involved when you actually transfer shouldn't be all-consuming.

While the transfer process can look different at every university, you'll want to be ready to complete a college application and provide transcripts from your previous college experience. Some colleges may ask you to obtain transcripts yourself, while others will handle that component for you.

At SNHU, a transfer credit evaluation is conducted during the application review process, so when you hear whether you were accepted, you'll also know which of your credits will transfer.

How to Check if Courses Transfer

While you won't know exactly which course credits will be accepted until you apply, you can think about the classes you've already completed:

  • Are they primarily general education courses? If so, perhaps they can meet your new school's general education requirements.
  • Did any of the classes relate to your intended major?
  • Did you receive good grades?
  • Does the subject material align with the courses required in the program you hope to transfer to?

Your answers to these questions can help prepare you for the conversation with your admission counselor.

What Year is Best to Transfer Colleges?

That depends on your situation. If you transfer early on in your college journey, having taken only general education and foundational courses, you may have greater transfer flexibility.

But, even if you're more than halfway through your program and need to change for whatever reason, you may be able to complete the transfer without having to repeat many credits.

Examining transfer policies at the schools that interest you will help you determine how closely you'll be able to stick to your original college timeline. SNHU, for example, accepts up to 90 credits toward a bachelor's degree – about three-quarters of the way through a typical four-year program.

Blake Venable with the text Blake Venable

There are also some natural points in your college journey where it makes sense to transfer – including once you reach the end of a community college education. That's what Blake Venable did.

When Venable came to SNHU, ready to earn his bachelor's degree in accounting, he already had an associate degree from a community college in Tennessee.

"All of my (associate degree) credits transferred, so I got to start off about halfway through my bachelor's degree program," Venable said. "So, it's going to be a two-year process to get my bachelor's degree, and so far, I'm almost halfway done."

You may also be able to find direct pathways from a community college to a four-year institution, which may simplify the transfer process and give you peace of mind as you're applying.

What to Consider in Your Next College

Once you've decided you want to transfer, you'll need to choose where you'd like to finish your degree. It's important to keep a few questions in mind as you do your research.

Will My Credits Transfer?

Each school determines if the classes you’ve taken at another educational institution will qualify for credit transfer. However, if you’ve attended an accredited institution and your grades meet the criteria, your previous coursework may be eligible for a credit transfer. Some colleges will accept a wide range of transfer credits.

To best use earned credits and spend less to finish your degree, you’ll want to find a transfer-friendly school and research all of your program options.

If you’ve changed programs in the past, you may want to seek out programs that help you earn a degree in the shortest amount of time, maximizing the credits you have earned elsewhere.

Jesus Suarez with the text Jesus SuarezWhen Jesús Suárez '21 applied to SNHU, he was worried he'd have to start his degree over completely. "I was afraid once I sent in my transcripts that not a lot of the things were going to transfer because, you know, I was following a different career path (at the time)," he said.

But, Suárez found out that the coursework he had completed at prior college experience was transferable, putting him about halfway through his bachelor's in graphic design.

In addition, some colleges allow you to test out of college courses, accepting credit from exams, such as Advanced Placement (AP), College Level Examination Program (CLEP) and Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Educational Support (DANTES). If you’ve previously taken these exams, request that they be considered in your transfer credits.

It's possible to earn credits for work experience, too. Certain certifications, military education and law enforcement training are all examples of prior learning that should be considered.

Should I Consider a Traditional or Online College?

Long-established college campuses work well for many students. Steeped in tradition, they offer younger students a well-rounded residential experience filled with sports, dorm life and face-to-face relationships with classmates and instructors.

But college doesn’t come in a one-size-fits-all package. Today, one-third of undergraduate students are 25 years or older, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). If you’re a busy adult learner with a career and family, enrolling in online classes is a practical solution. Courses and assignments can fit around your schedule, and the support systems in place will help set you up for success, no matter where you are.

Some universities, such as SNHU, offer both. SNHU’s traditional brick-and-mortar location was founded in 1932, and it continues to serve more than 3,000 students at its Manchester, New Hampshire, campus. Its online division also has a lengthy history, dating to 1996, and now educates over 170,000 students. Many students prefer to attend classes through an institution with a longtime proven record.

Ali Lamoureux with the text Ali Lamoureux

Ali Lamoureux first began her college journey in person, right after high school. The timing wasn't right, though, and she began working in healthcare instead.

Nearly a decade later, she decided to return to school for a healthcare administration bachelor's degree to help her advance her career. "When I decided to go back to college, I knew I was going to have to do an online program because I lived in one state (and) commuted to another for my job, which took up a lot of time," she said. "So, I knew I wasn't going to have time to physically go to classes."

Lamoureux was surprised to learn the credits she earned all those years ago would transfer with her. "I was able to knock about a year off of my total time that it would take me to complete my degree at SNHU," she said.

How Important is Accreditation?

Accreditation is crucial – to both colleges and future employers. Attending an unaccredited institution decreases the chance that your coursework will be eligible for a credit transfer should you decide to switch schools.

To better understand how to transfer colleges to an institution that provides quality education, you’ll need to ask your admission counselor for the school’s accreditation information. You’ll want to learn how accepted the accreditation is, as well as if the university holds specialized accreditations, such as those for certain subject areas.

You can learn more about institutional accreditation and why it matters to you – or research accreditations yourself at the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) or the U.S. Department of Education websites.

How Do I Start Transferring Colleges?

If you're ready to initiate the transfer process, begin by identifying other colleges or universities with what you're looking for in terms of programs, resources and overall fit. Once you have your shortlist of options, you'll want to do some research to see which check your boxes.

Some of the questions you may want answers to include:

  • How many credits will I be able to transfer in?
  • What accreditations does this school have?
  • Do the learning outcomes of the program I want to pursue meet my career goals?
  • Would going to school online best fit my life? How do online classes work, anyway?
  • Are there support services in place and resources available to me if I become a student here?

Attending a university that meets your needs – better fits your budget, understands transfer students, can fit around your schedule and is accredited – should lead to a more positive outcome in the journey for your degree.

You may be able to find information online, but it could also be beneficial to request information or call up an admission office to have a conversation. The admission team at any school should be happy to help answer any of your concerns regarding how to transfer. Colleges work with many transfer students each year and should have the answers readily available for you.

Deidre Ashe is a copywriter in higher education. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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About Southern New Hampshire University

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SNHU is a nonprofit, accredited university with a mission to make high-quality education more accessible and affordable for everyone.

Founded in 1932, and online since 1995, we’ve helped countless students reach their goals with flexible, career-focused programs. Our 300-acre campus in Manchester, NH is home to over 3,000 students, and we serve over 135,000 students online. Visit our about SNHU page to learn more about our mission, accreditations, leadership team, national recognitions and awards.