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When we think of the traditional college experience – the one our parents and grandparents might have had – what comes to mind? We might picture old buildings, crammed dorm rooms and large lecture halls full of young people eager for their first steps to adulthood. While this traditional experience is still possible and had by many, the reality is that the college experience is no longer a fixed, homogenous one. With the rise in popularity of community colleges and online programs, the college experience can mean very different things to different people.

Nowadays, about one third of college students transfer schools at least once in their undergraduate career, according to a 2008 study conducted by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. Thus, the college experience for these students no longer consists of four years at one university. These students are mobile and – due to differing transfer requirements among four-year universities – might spend more than the normative four years as undergraduates.

There are a variety of reasons for which students transfer schools. Some attend community colleges first, to cut costs, avoid loans or even to get their grades up before moving on to a more rigorous four-year university. Others might simply be unhappy in their current school and seek a better fit.


Whatever the reason for transferring, there are a few things we should consider before embarking on such an undertaking:

1. Our desired career and our plan for getting there.

At this stage of our lives, it can feel like endless possibilities are right at our feet. For any one career path, there are likely a variety of schools that can offer us a way to get there, whether it be through a specialized program, institutional prestige or a network of contacts in our desired industry (or all of these things!).

In addition to considering the school as a whole, we should also consider the size and prestige of the program itself. How many students who graduate from a given program go on to find jobs in the field? One way to get a clearer sense of how our participation in a program can lead to future success is to seek advice from one of its representatives: an advisor, a current student or a member of the faculty.

… the reality is that the college experience is no longer a fixed, homogenous one … the college experience can mean very different things to different people.

2. The cost of attendance (at our desired institution).

Once we have chosen a few institutions to apply to, it is also important to consider how financially feasible attending these institutions will be.

Beyond the cost of tuition, examining the cost of housing, health insurance and any other expenses that come up is crucial to knowing if we will be able to live within our means while attending a school. In addition, if we are receiving financial assistance from someone else – such as our parents or another family member – we should also consider the impact that our choice of school will have on their ability to assist us.

The bottom line is this: No matter how good a school or a program is, it’s essential to know ahead of time how we will pay not only for our tuition, but for all of the expenses that come with simply living near a college or university.

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3. The living situation (at and around our desired institution).

As we consider where we will spend the next few years of our lives, it can help tremendously to look at the cities or towns in which our desired institutions are located as well as student life at these institutions. How available is housing? Are there plenty of organizations and clubs to get involved in? What is the culture of the regions these institutions are located in? Even something as seemingly banal as an abundance or lack of coffee shops in the area can positively or adversely affect our college experience.

4. Our reason(s) for transferring.

Finally, we must consider our motivation for transferring in the first place. For some, the answer is simple: We are moving forward in our career path. For others, though, this may require some self-reflection. Are we reacting to a problem we have with our current institution (and if so, what is it)? More importantly: Is this problem going to be solved by transferring colleges or might we need to dig deeper to its root so that it doesn’t simply follow us to a new school?

No matter how great the institution we’re aiming for may be, we must also acknowledge why our current institution is not the best place for us. A change in scenery won’t always lead to a change of heart.

As we narrow down our choices, considering these aspects of the college experience can give us a better idea of how we will live for the next few years. The more we know about our future living situation, the more equipped we are to decide on a program.

So, as we prepare for this next stage, let’s take the time to consider what aspects of our education and lifestyle are important and whether we will have them at a different institution. This takes time, but doing our homework here can lead us to a more fulfilling experience. With a clear vision of what we need and want in our college experience, we can then dive into this next step of our lives.

Have you ever considered transferring colleges? If so, what influenced your ultimate decision?

Images via Esther Baseme


  1. Thanks, Rachel! This was a lovely and thoughtful article. I’m currently looking at schools, and I feel a little more piece of mind after taking note of these insights.

  2. Thank you for writing this! I’m currently at a community college looking at all my different options and this really helped!

  3. Thanks for this Rachel. Once again I have felt that an article was written and delivered to my inbox at the exact time I needed it. I’m in the middle of making a transfer decision and it feels huge. By taking a deep breath and mapping out exactly why I will choose to embark (or not) I can take this head on.

  4. I think students should be encouraged to transfer if they are unhappy at their current institution. It’s not worth spending so much money to be miserable for four years or to be following a path you don’t want to be on. That being said, I think some universities are not very transfer-friendly which can make this difficult. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Exactly! And it’s well worth getting onto the path that’s right for you, even if it means taking a little extra time to get there.

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