How do I make a successful college transfer?

by Jennifer Johnson,

  • Willamette University icon

You’re not even six weeks into your first year of college and it just isn’t a fit for you. 

You thought you chose the university for all the right reasons, but a class you’re taking now is making you rethink everything. Or maybe the campus is bigger than you thought and you don’t feel recognized. These are incredibly common feelings, but they don’t always have clear answers. 

Begin your transfer college search. You’ll likely employ some of the same tactics as your first college search, but this time you’re approaching it with more experience. 

Expand the net wider than before. Create a list of preferred states or geographic areas — maybe you’re happiest near the mountains — and detail the type of campus culture that would work the best for you. Figure out the transfer deadlines for each institution you’re interested in. 

In general, think of this process as a marathon and not a sprint, suggests Senior Assistant Director of Admission Cady Campbell

“But also realize you need to complete the marathon and not just think about your first check point,” she said. “You have to think about the whole distance.”

For the 2020-21 school year, Caitlin Forbes is the transfer coordinator and can respond to any questions. 

Meet with your advisor. Consider the type of environment you want to learn in and share that with your academic advisor or counselor early on, Campbell said. 

If you like small class sizes — and benefit from professors knowing your name or being able to consult them outside of class — a small arts and sciences college can be a good fit. If you like blending in with the crowd, a state school may be better. 

Visit colleges. College websites can answer many questions, but they can’t replace a visit. 

Going on campus tours, meeting faculty and staff and getting a feel for the place is worth the ticket expense to make sure it’s right for you. A visit also gives you the opportunity to check out the city where you will be spending a significant amount of time. Your surroundings matter — a happy life outside of class can help you maintain a clear academic focus.  

Determine which credits will transfer. Every university has a different credit transfer policy, so do some research. Some institutions even offer tools online to help determine how many credits will transfer. At Willamette, students can apply up to 16 credits toward a degree. 

Apply. The only way to find out your financial aid award and some scholarship options is by applying. 

If possible, submit your application for admission at the beginning of the school year — waiting until your winter or spring term means you could miss out on additional scholarships that require separate applications. 

Transferring colleges can take some work, and likewise cause some frustration and anxiety, but so can staying in a field of study that doesn’t excite you. 

Campbell said, “If you don’t love what you’re learning, the journey to earning a degree can feel like time wasted.”

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