How to Transfer Colleges

Bonus Material: PrepMaven’s Transfer Application Statistics 

If you’re unhappy at your current institution, need to transfer for financial reasons, or are moving from community college to a 4-year university, you’ll need to submit a transfer application. 

Though these applications aren’t necessarily difficult, they are important. A strong transfer application might mean the difference between acceptance and denial! So, how do you ensure you have a strong transfer application?

At PrepMaven, we’ve guided students through academics, testing, and applications for over two decades. From our students’ successes, we’ve developed a winning approach to college applications–including transfer applications. 

In this post, we’ll break down how to submit a transfer application, as well as important things to consider before transferring. 

Jump to section:
When Do You Need to Submit a Transfer Application?
How Is the Transfer Application Different?
What Application Do You Use to Transfer?
What Makes a Good Transfer Application?
4 Factors to Consider Before Transferring
Next steps


The answer is simple: anytime you’re applying to a university from another higher education (meaning beyond high school) institution. That includes community college! 

There’s one exception to this rule. Some public universities have agreements with two-year colleges that allow for a guaranteed transfer program. In some cases, you may be able to move from community college directly to the state school without an application. If that’s the case for you, your community college administration will have more info!

Wondering if transferring is the right decision for you? Check out our post on whether you should transfer! 


In many ways, your transfer applications will look similar to your original high school Common Application. In fact, many universities will ask that you submit a transfer application through Common App! 

You’ll still be expected to provide letters of recommendation, transcripts, and essays in addition to basic demographic information. 

One major difference, however, is that transfer application essays will typically focus on your reasons for transferring schools. They’ll also expect you to have a clearer understanding of what you’re searching for in a university. 

For example, many universities will ask you what specific resources you hope to take advantage of after transferring. Or they might ask what’s missing at your current school. In other words, why are you going through the transfer process at all? 

Having the right answers to these questions is crucial! If a school thinks you’re transferring for immature or wrong reasons, admissions officers may reject your application. That’s why we’ve written a whole post on how to write the transfer essays, which you can check out free here! 

The other differences are minor compared to the change in the application essays. For example, you’ll need new letters of recommendation.

If you’re a transfer student with one or two years of college behind you, you should get letters of rec from professors instead of reusing ones from high school. That’s crucial: if you reuse a letter of rec from high school, it’ll seem like you haven’t grown at all in the last year or two. 

Wondering how to ensure you’ve got a good letter of recommendation for your transfer applications? We’ve got you covered there too: 3 Sample Letters of Rec for College.

You’ll be asked to include college transcripts in addition to your high school transcripts. You may or may not be asked to include standardized test scores: that depends on each college. 

Finally, a crucial difference specific to the transfer application process is that the deadlines are different! 

Again, these will depend on each individual university, but the following are typical transfer application deadlines:

  • November 1st for admission to the following spring semester
  • May 1st for admission to the following fall semester

Many schools have their transfer deadlines set on these dates, but the only way to be certain, of course, is to look at your specific university’s requirements. 

We’ve actually done the work to save you time there: check out this post for transfer deadlines for top colleges here! 

And, if you want a comprehensive breakdown of transfer statistics, including number of applications and acceptances at top schools, download our free spreadsheet of transfer application statistics below!


Many colleges now also use the Common App for transfer applications. But be careful: this isn’t exactly the same Common App you used as a first-year applicant. 

When opening Common App, you’ll be prompted to select whether you’re a first-year student or a transfer student. If you select transfer student, you’ll be asked to fill out an application form that looks quite a bit different. 

In fact, it’s really like a hub of different schools’ applications, all located in one place. You’ll have to select each university you’re interested in transferring to, and then you’ll be able to access their specific application questions, including essay questions. 

Other schools don’t use the Common App at all, and will have their own application portals you’ll need to navigate. You can always find this information on each college’s website!


A good transfer application shows that you’ve made the most of the opportunities at your current college. You don’t want to present yourself as someone who’s just moping through your first years of college, or someone who hasn’t really given it a fair shot. 

A good transfer application also shows exactly why you’re applying to a new college. Or, in other words, it shows what’s missing at your current college. 

The goal isn’t to complain or trash talk the school you go to now or the students around you. Instead, it’s to show how, as your academic or career goals have changed, you’ve realized that your current university is no longer the right fit for you. 

If you’re applying to a four-year institution from a two-year community college, this will look slightly different. In your case, you don’t really need to say what’s wrong with your community college, since you’re on the verge of graduating. 

Instead, focus on how attending a four-year college can help you build on what you’ve already learned at community college. What opportunities are you excited about? How have the last two years of your education shaped what you’re searching for in a four-year institution?

Ultimately, all these considerations come down to a simple rule: show the admissions office why you’re applying to your prospective school, and what you’d be able to contribute to this new school. 


  1. Will your college credits transfer?

This is one of the biggest factors people forget to consider. If you’re one or two years into school, you should have already accumulated a fair amount of credits for your college courses. 

But not every school will accept transfer credit from your previous institution! If you don’t want to start all over, make sure that your transfer school will actually give you credit for the college courses you’ve already taken. 

  1. Are academic requirements different?

If your college coursework will transfer to your new school, you should also look at whether they’ll fulfill academic requirements. 

As a transfer applicant, you should think not only about credits themselves, but whether the courses you’ve take at your previous college will satisfy prerequisite and other requirements at your new transfer school. 

This is also true if you’re moving to a four-year university from community college. Double check whether any of your classes at community college will satisfy requirements at the schools you’re applying to. 

  1. Financial aid

Unfortunately, financial aid opportunities for transfer applicants tend to be scant. Still, you should ensure you have a full understanding of the financial picture at your new college. 

That includes scholarships, need based financial aid, and overall costs. Knowing how much you’ll be expected to pay ahead of time can help you make a better decision about whether you want to transfer. 

  1. What are your chances?

It can be hard to predict whether you’ll be accepted, since statistics for transfer applications aren’t as readily available. But you should make sure you have a sense of your chances of acceptance: it can affect how many applications you submit and how you plan your future. 

Fortunately, we’ve got a full, updated spreadsheet of transfer application statistics that we’ve made available for you, totally free. 

Once you are ready to prepare your transfer applications, contact our team to get matched with an essay tutor! Our essay coaches specialize in college application essays, and they can help you tell your story in a way that maximizes your chances of admission! 


Make sure you know what it takes to get into your transfer schools by consulting our statistics on transfer applications, then get started applying! 

You might be surprised at just how selective transfer applications are. To increase your chances of acceptance, we recommend reading our post on transfer essays, then working with a tutor to strengthen and polish your application essays. 


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Mike

Mike

Mike is a PhD candidate studying English literature at Duke University. Mike is an expert test prep tutor (SAT/ACT/LSAT) and college essay consultant. Nearly all of Mike’s SAT/ACT students score in the top 5% of test takers; many even score above 1500 on the SAT. His college essay students routinely earn admission into their top-choice schools, including Harvard, Brown, and Dartmouth. And his LSAT students have been accepted In into the top law schools in the country, including Harvard, Yale, and Columbia Law.