Top 12 Reasons Students Transfer Colleges

Students transfer colleges for many reasons, such as better fit or cheaper tuition. Discover the top 12 reasons students give for transferring colleges.
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Updated on March 21, 2023
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  • Over one-third of students transfer colleges at some point before earning their degree.
  • Community college transfers make up one of the largest groups of transfer students.
  • Other reasons for transferring colleges include finances, COVID-19, and school fit.
  • Transferring can be a smart move for those looking to attend a four-year institution.

You've finally made it to college and are excited to begin your life of independence away from the confines of home. Your goals are simple: make lifelong friends, earn your degree, land an amazing job, and live happily ever after.

But after a year or two, your circumstances change, and you come to the realization that the path you're on at your current school is no longer the path you want or can afford to stay on. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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You wouldn't be the first to come to this conclusion. According to the National Student Clearinghouse, around one-third of college students transfer schools before earning their degree. The number of transfer students varies by institution but generally falls somewhere between 15% and 40% of all newly enrolled undergraduates.

For example, UC Berkeley puts its number of transfer students at one-third of new enrollments, while UCLA's percentage is slightly higher at 36%. The percentages are much lower at schools like the University of Washington (15%) and the University of Michigan (16%).

The 12 Biggest Reasons for Transferring Colleges

Students transfer colleges for a variety of reasons. Some make the decision to transfer before they ever set foot on campus, whereas others want a fresh start after spending a year or two at a particular school. In some cases, the decision to transfer is forced upon a student due to unforeseen circumstances beyond their control.

One thing we know is that students are being encouraged to apply for college earlier as more schools offer early application options. While being accepted sooner may be great for some students, for others who aren't fully committed or who are uncertain about their career path and desired college experience, early acceptance may not be the best course of action.

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Here are the top 12 reasons students today are making the decision to transfer colleges.

1. Community College Transfer

Data analyzed by the Association of American Colleges & Universities reveals that community college transfers represent around 15% of new enrollments at four-year institutions. The majority of these transfer students attend public institutions. Additionally, community college transfers are more likely to graduate from college than are students transferring from four-year schools or enrolling directly from high school.

It's not surprising that a good percentage of transfer students previously attended community college. According to Columbia University's Community College Research Center, about 80% of students entering community college indicated that they wanted to earn a bachelor's degree or higher, but only 30% actually made the transfer to a four-year school within six years.

Many students about to graduate from high school use community college as a stepping stone toward earning a bachelor's degree. In other words, transferring was the plan from the start.

For some students, community college offers the chance to earn affordable degree credits, while for others, it's an opportunity to improve academic performance and boost admission chances at four-year colleges and universities.

2. COVID-19 Impact

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, college students are having to rethink and realign their academic plans. The coronavirus has negatively impacted the financial situations of many students, meaning that paying higher out-of-state tuition fees or attending an expensive private university may no longer be feasible.

Some students have to work full- or part-time jobs and plan to put college on hold or take online courses until their situation improves, whereas others are opting for community college.

It's not just about finances, either. Some students may no longer feel safe in their college areas or may choose to stay closer to home to be near loved ones. At the same time, other students are rethinking their major and switching to one that'll allow them to better serve their community.

Students across the U.S. have been forced to take college courses remotely due to campus closures — and not all would call their experience positive. Some feel they're missing out on the college experience and will consider transferring if their college doesn't reopen soon.

3. Social Isolation

Many students transfer because they are unhappy with their social situation. They may see their friends on social media having the time of their lives at other colleges and feel socially isolated at their own school. Others may feel homesick or find themselves missing their significant others more than they expected to.

4. Not the Right Environment

Sometimes, the switch from a small high school to a big college can overwhelm a student. For these people, things likely looked much different during freshman orientation, when everything was calm and classes hadn't started yet.

On a similar note, some students may choose to transfer because they feel their college is too much of a party school and they're not getting the quality of education they want.

5. Changing Majors

Many students change majors at some point in college, with some doing it more than once. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, around 30% of undergraduates changed their declared major at least once. Likewise, in our own BestColleges survey, 61% of college graduates said they would change their major if they could go back.

Some students who chose their original school based on their desired major end up transferring to another institution that offers a better program for their new major.

6. School Recognition and Prestige

There's no doubt that certain colleges and universities hold more prestige than others and therefore look better on resumes. Some students enter college with a plan to elevate their GPA for one or two years before applying to transfer to a more prestigious school.

7. Poor Academic Performance

Another reason students often consider transferring colleges is poor academic performance. The thinking behind this is that a new environment, with new classes and new professors, will lead to better grades — but this isn't always the case.

8. Financial Situation

Attending a four-year institution can be expensive. Increases in tuition rates, unforeseen expenses, and financial changes can all cause students to rethink attendance at their school of choice. Actually seeing the mounting debt often makes the situation feel much more real than it might've seemed during the college-planning stage.

Many students also feel that the level of instruction they're receiving isn't in line with how much they're paying. Students who transfer for financial reasons often transfer back to an in-state school or a community college where they can take advantage of cheaper tuition.

9. Sports Transfer

Due to the proliferation of national club sports and the availability of statistical performance data, student athletes are being recruited and making their college commitments well before their senior year of high school.

For some student athletes, the college experience isn't what they were hoping for. For example, perhaps they aren't getting the playing opportunities they were promised or aren't getting along with their coaches and teammates. Or maybe they lost their scholarship or have a problem with the courses they're required to take.

10. International Transfer

In 2019, U.S. colleges enrolled nearly 1.1 million international students. Some of these students are in the U.S. on study abroad programs, while others aim to complete their degree in the U.S. Studying at an American university can give some international students access to better career opportunities than what they're afforded in their home countries.

11. Corporate or Job Transfer

Some college students maintain a full-time career but never earned a degree. Many colleges offer part-time undergraduate and executive programs designed for full-time working professionals. When these workers get transferred to another city or state, however, they'll often have to transfer to another college to stay on track.

12. Returning to School to Complete a Degree

Students drop out of college for various reasons, with some never returning to complete their education and others eventually coming back, though not necessarily to the same institution.

A recent report from the National Student Clearinghouse found that close to 1 million students who left college returned within five years to finish their degree or certificate program.

Is Transferring Colleges a Smart Decision?

Whether you should transfer colleges ultimately depends on your own circumstances and why you are choosing to transfer. Not all transfer students are satisfied with their decision, and some even experience a condition known as "transfer shock." Nevertheless, the majority of transfer students have a positive experience and go on to earn their degree.

Before you commit to transferring colleges, make sure you're doing it for the right reasons. Ask yourself the following questions:

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    Does transferring make sense financially?
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    Does this new college provide the type of social and academic environment I'm looking for?
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    Will I be able to maintain or improve my academic performance?
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    Will I still be able to earn my degree within the timeline I've set?
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    Will transferring colleges improve my career options and opportunities?

Transferring from a community college to a four-year institution to earn your degree is almost always a smart decision, as most high-paying jobs require at least a bachelor's degree. A 2017 CareerBuilder survey found that over a period of just five years, 38% of employers raised their educational requirements for open positions.

Transferring colleges for financial or family reasons can be a wise choice, too, as long as you understand the fees and associated costs you'll be responsible for. Remember that you always have the option of applying for financial aid and looking for part-time work.

If you're considering transferring because you don't think your current school is the right fit for you or you're feeling socially isolated, try consulting on-campus advisors and counselors — they should be able to help you make an informed decision.

If academics are influencing your decision to transfer, you might first consider getting assistance from your professors, looking for study groups to join, and/or hiring a tutor. Those still set on transferring who have a GPA below 3.0 or even 2.5 may have trouble finding a good college that will accept them as a transfer student.

Before making the decision to transfer, do your research. Visit the campus of the school you're thinking of transferring to and talk with students and advisors within your prospective major department.

The last thing you want is to transfer schools only to discover that the grass growing on your new campus isn't any greener than that on the campus you just left. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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