5 tips to a smooth college transfer

If a school is unable to give a financial aid award estimate, transfer students can ballpark their own financial aid award by researching what percentage of financial need the school meets on average, then comparing that figure to their own expected family contribution level found on the FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

Perfect your timing

Students determined to do a college transfer can save cash simply by applying at the right time. While some schools allow students to transfer at any point in their college tenure, others mandate that students complete one to two years' worth of credits at their home institution before making the switch while still others require transfer students to sign on for a certain number of credits at the new institution.

"Let's say a student completes 2.5 years at an institution, but when they go to transfer, it's required that they do another 60 credits at the new institution. That's 15 credits lost," says Jane Dessoye, executive director of enrollment management at Misericordia University in Dallas, Penn. "That means a student isn't just incurring another year of fees and tuition and room and board, but that's another year that they aren't in the workforce."

To avoid forking over money for a semester you don't need, just do your research, adds Dessoye. Students who are well-versed in their new school's transfer policies lose fewer credits than those who aren't.

Find the right fit

All the research in the world won't matter if the new institution isn't a good fit, socially and academically.

"I can't count the number of times a student has come to us admitting that they went to an institution where they weren't happy and because of that, they weren't able to concentrate on their studies," says Dessoye. "If they're committed to transferring, they need to make absolutely sure it's into an institution where they will be content."

Financially orchestrating one transfer is tricky, but finagling two within four years is almost guaranteed to cost you at least one semester's worth of credits. Before enrolling in a new institution, Dessoye encourages students to take a tour, meet with faculty advisers and plan an overnight stay if they can.

"Sit in on classes, experience some social things, eat the college food," she says. "To make a transfer worthwhile, it's crucial that you can say, 'Yes, this is where I could be happy.'"

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