Should You Transfer To A Different College?

Ultimately, transferring to another college is an extremely personal decision, and it’s impossible to know what is best for any individual student.


Early into my undergraduate years, a close friend and I talked late into the night about transferring to a college located 20 minutes away. A world apart, it was that school over the hill. A bit smaller, more artsy and more socially liberal, with no sports culture to speak of. As second-semester freshmen, we were ready for a change.

If you’re thinking about transferring to another school, know that you are not alone. Transferring may be an appealing thought, but it requires a lot of time and energy. You want to be sure that a fresh start at a new place is the right decision for you.

Leaving the Shire

College may be the first time you’ve been so far from home or been away for so long. It’s natural to feel homesickness, or even culture shock.

Larry Bowman, Jr. encountered a radically different culture when he left his small Appalachian town of Marion, Virginia to begin school at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire.The endless New Hampshire winter did not charm Larry. His grades weren’t great at first. The social scene was just confusing.

Larry felt like he needed a change. He even went so far as to apply as a transfer student to a college near his hometown. It wasn’t until he sat in a freshman biology class that he decided staying at Dartmouth was the right decision. “What I never considered were the long-term impacts of leaving,” Larry remembers. “I had to give myself the chance to grow into who I would become.”

For Larry, that meant persevering through the academic and social challenges he faced during his first days at an elite college.

You’ve Changed Your Mind

Realizing your passion can be disruptive. Vanessa Calaban had  almost earned a  music degree from Ithaca College when she seriously considered transferring. She loved music, but a career? Social issues like climate change and marriage equality had captured her interest and passion, and countless hours in the windowless practice rooms no longer felt right.

While she could have switched majors at Ithaca, she would have had to forfeit thousands in scholarship money. So, in the spring of her junior year, Vanessa applied to college all over again.

“I had to give myself the chance to grow into who I would become.”

When the admissions director at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry called with good news, he asked a couple of questions: “Why transfer so late in your college career? Why not complete your bachelor’s and then apply to our graduate program?”

“I wanted to transfer because I didn’t think I would get anywhere with a music degree,” said Vanessa. Once the admissions director explained that good grades and a few courses in environmental studies were enough to get her into graduate school, transferring no longer seemed necessary.

Vanessa finished her music degree at Ithaca, and today she is a graduate student at UMass Boston and an intern at the Massachusetts State House.

So even if you decide to pursue a career in something outside of your major, look carefully at whether transferring is necessary — especially if you have almost finished what you started.

Is a Different College the Solution?

Sarah Zager knew during her first semester at the University of Pennsylvania that she wanted to be at a smaller school with a greater focus on undergraduate education. Transferring was a challenging process, but it was worth the effort in her case.

“One of the hardest parts of the process was dealing with the people who told me ‘just wait and it will get better,’” Sarah said.“Part of me felt that they were absolutely right – by transferring, I’d be getting a late start on lots of different social and academic parts of college – but I also knew that moving someplace smaller had the potential to drastically improve my experience.”

Sarah transferred to Williams College her sophomore year and never looked back.

You Be You

Ultimately, transferring to another college is an extremely personal decision, and it’s impossible to know what is best for any individual student.

Vanessa Calaban reflected on her experience of almost transferring, and what wisdom she might share with current undergraduates. “The most important thing is to be happy, and to not be afraid to change your mind.”

That may mean transferring, but it may not.