Plan B University: Questions to ask when transferring colleges

Four years is a long and expensive time to be somewhere you don't want to be. Many college students face medical, family or financial issues. Others simply hate the college they chose. As a result, they transfer. This seems simple at first glance. However, there's a lot more to the process than just sending an application and moving. There are some things that you should ask yourself before you put any energy into this big leap.

Have you given the school a chance? There are some circumstances where students are left with no choice but to pack up and leave. But if this decision is voluntary, think long and hard about why you want to leave and if you can see a resolution. You don't want to make such a major move based on potentially temporary emotions.

If you have only been there a semester, that's not enough time to really make up your mind. Making friends can be difficult at first. Roommates can be a nightmare. Little adjustments like these can become overwhelming. But working through them will leave you with skills that are valuable in the real world. If you don't see a light at the end of the tunnel by the end of the year, then by all means, move forward with your plans.

Do you meet the new school's requirements? The college requirements may not be as strict as they are for first-year students, so you can retire those SAT and ACT scores. However, what you're doing now is still very important. Some schools require a certain GPA, an essay, and a certain amount of credits you can transfer (usually a C or better in these classes). Read this article on navigating FutureThat to help you get the detail you need.

Let's say the school requires 36 credits. You decided to blow off a three-credit elective class, Ceramics, for example, and got a D. You may have 36 credits at your current school. But only 33 can be transferred; you miss the requirement for to enter that following semester. On most school, college and university pages on FutureThat, you can click to see admissions stats to get a sense of your chances of getting in.

Have you decided on a major? Knowing what you want to study eliminates a slew of hurdles down the road. It's even better if you have a back-up major. Firstly, it helps you determine if the school you're looking into even has the major(s). Some schools are known for certain subjects. Use advance search, for example, to find all colleges offering graphic design degrees or any of the 1,000+ degrees listed. Applying to a school that's known to put all of its resources into a program that doesn't apply to your major won't help much.

Secondly, it can determine if you even get into the school. Not that a major determines the rest of your life: you can be a Theater major and still end up working in a business setting. But if there's a large incoming class or a similar circumstance, showing the school that you at least have an idea of what you want to do could be the edge you need to get accepted.

Will your credits transfer? There's nothing more disheartening than a second freshman year. That's what makes this question quite possibly the most important. Many colleges don't allow you to declare a major until junior year, so transferring freshmen and sophomores may be in the clear. However, core classes, pre-requisites and lessons within courses can differ.

Speaking to an adviser at the other college would be the best way to clear up any confusion. Reaching one by phone or e-mail can be a hassle; both of these are easy to ignore when you're busy. Stop by the campus if you can, and meet with an adviser. They can look at your transcript and see if they have an equivalent to the courses you have already taken (this is also known as a degree audit). In most cases, not everything will transfer. But you still want to make sure that you can get as many as you can, so you avoid spending more time and money.

How will you pay for it? If you're crossing state lines, this is definitely something to consider. In-state and Out-of-state tuition can vary a great deal. For each school, you can easily see in-state and out-of-state tuition costs (just click on the Tuition and Fees section of the page). These are just a few of the most expensive colleges in the US. Some schools have transfer student scholarships or grants you can receive. Look into those as quickly as possible. Stop into the school's Financial Aid office and see what you need to do on your end: Applying for scholarships, changing your FAFSA forms, and so on. If one year at the new school may cost more than all four at your current school, it might be best to reevaluate your options. You can see a list of colleges that have No Tuition here.

Where will you live? Living on campus is a great way to meet people. This is still a suitable option even if you plan on moving closer to home. Sometimes the cost of room and board rule that out; that's understandable.

But there's a question most transfer students don't think to ask themselves: Will they even have room for me? Temple and Howard University are two examples of universities that only guarantee housing for freshman. That's not even guaranteed in some instances: if the incoming class size is very large, it could turn into a housing battle! You could opt to live off-campus. But in cities like Philadelphia and Washington, DC, rent can be insanely high. Check with the housing department and see what's required of transfer students when it comes to housing.

What's the campus like? Does the college have an open campus (think NYU, and most urban universities) or a closed campus (everything is gated and in one place like they've considered at Trinity College)? What kind of activities are available for students (many schools have clubs for transfer students)? What are the students like? Checking out the campus on any given day to see what students do and how they interact is a great opportunity to see if it's somewhere you could see yourself for (at least) three years.

Your education is the top priority, but there's more to college than just the books. Your happiness is a big factor. You deserve it; you are, after all, paying for this. So if you decide to move forward with the transfer, take these factors into consideration to make sure that you are happy. Make the fond memories outlast the debt!

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