By Lucia D. Tyler, PhD (NY)

“Help! Allen wants to transfer, and he just started! He’s decided that he doesn’t want to go back to college,” a distraught mother says when you answer your phone. In the next breath, she says, “He has to get into another program right away! He can’t just stay home. He’ll get into trouble and besides we redecorated his room for my new yoga studio.”

You may receive such a desperate call from a parent just after Thanksgiving. Because you are an independent educational consultant (IEC), at that point you should ask some questions, such as, Has Allen talked about going to another college right away? or Why does he want to leave Hufflepuff University? Parents may also panic if they just went through a particularly grueling admissions cycle—“Just when we thought she was all set, she decides to come home! Ack!” Inevitably, it is important to meet with the student directly to find out what is going on.

Fortunately, many students are motivated to do most of the leg-work in the transfer process on their own, including the research and the applications. If they are not self-motivated, there may be other problems that need to be addressed first that may involve counseling or even medical intervention. In my experience interviewing and working with transfers, students often need some time for reflection about what happened. Parents frequently want the student to jump to the next college right away, but that can interfere with their growth and ability to avoid a similar problem at another college.

In addition, colleges generally prefer that transfer students have an entire year under their belt and have done reasonably well academically. In fact, most colleges will not transfer credits for classes that resulted in a C-. They will look back to high school grades and test scores if the student has not completed the requisite number of credits, although that varies by institution.

Timing Is Everything

It is possible for students to transfer in the middle of their first year if they have done well and are willing to do the research and applications before mid-April to meet the transfer deadlines of most colleges. But by the time May rolls around and the student returns home with a desire to transfer, there isn’t enough time to apply for the following fall semester, especially at selective institutions. The exceptions to this rule are those colleges that didn’t fill their class before the deadlines. Students who decide to enroll in the spring often come into a difficult situation.

Let’s take the composite case of Kristin, who arrived on campus in a snowstorm, as an extreme example. When Kristin arrived, everything was pretty much shut down and the person who was supposed to give her the key to her room had left early. Fortunately, she met a few students who were building a snowman outside her dorm who took her in for the night.

Kristin was supposed to meet with her assigned transfer advisor to go over her schedule the next day, but he couldn’t get to campus for another day. Consequently, she was shut out of a psychology class that she really wanted to take, but she was able to appeal and finally enroll in the class. Kristin also found it difficult to meet people initially because they were hunkered down in the bad weather and they had already developed a group of friends. She felt like she was trying to insert herself into a conversation that had been going on for some time. Of course, spring admissions do not always include a snowstorm, but they can be particularly difficult because a transfer student is not in the cohesive freshmen cohort for all the new school activity, missed the regular class scheduling, and is a bit of an outsider for a while.


I generally recommend that students take a whole year off if they decide to transfer in May or June, which does not have to be the disaster that parents sometimes assume. Gap years are viewed positively by college admissions staff because of the maturity that students gain if the gap year is well thought out. It can be a mixed period of work, course work, volunteering, or travel that allows the student to gain the self-knowledge and focus that will help them in their next steps.

Sometimes a transfer is forced by academic failure and a student flunks out at the end of freshman year, which may come as a complete shock to parents who don’t have a signed Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) waiver. When that happens, students will be asked to prove that they can handle a nearly full-time course load at a college or community college before transferring. Don’t let your clients be caught off guard. Make sure that they receive a signed waiver from their child so that they will be kept informed of mid-term grades and can arrange for what their child needs, whether it is tutoring, test-taking strategies, counseling, or something else. Under FERPA the student has rights to keep their educational records private, but parents may receive grades if the student signs a waiver. Even if the student doesn’t sign a waiver, parents may obtain a release of records if they are supplying financial support.

I advise parents and IECs to take heart when they get the “I want to transfer” call because even an early college transfer is an opportunity for learning. Former transfers repeatedly told me that they gained important life skills from the process of transferring, including adaptability, perseverance, self-advocacy, and the ability to work within different college systems.

Lucia Tyler, Tyler Admissions Consulting, can be reached at [email protected].