Transferring Colleges: A Waste of Time?

Even though Michelle likes her school, she feels like transferring to another one. She suspects her business-degree program isn’t delivering the goods, and has her eye on Northeastern University.

Hi Judge Josh,

is it too late to transfer schools, as a junior?

No! But let’s have more detail.

I am in a minor dilemma and do not know what to do. I like the school that I am in now, but I really really want to transfer out.

Whoa. You’re curveballing me already, but OK, go on.

I feel like I will not be benefitting/learning as much as I could from this school as opposed to other schools.

Well, unless you go to Harvard, that’s probably gonna be true anywhere. Not saying your concern isn’t legit…just saying, that’s a statement that will probably always be true. You just have to find somewhere that’s “good enough” for you, your situation and resources.

transferring colleges
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I feel like the business program at my current school (which is a public university) is not that strong. Basically the business program does not have anything significant that makes it good as compared to other schools.

These are really broad comments, and I’m really not sure what you mean. I also don’t know what school you’re attending now, so I can’t really check into it. What kind of things are you looking for that the school doesn’t offer, and that you DO see other schools offering?

I will say, just as a general statement here, that business is one of those areas — especially at the bachelor’s degree level — where you certainly don’t need an elite university program (or sometimes any college at all) to teach you the essentials you need to succeed.

What I mean is, there are millions of successful businesspeople all over the world who either a) graduated from a very average business program; b) graduated from college, but didn’t study business; or c) didn’t go to college at all.

This is not true of a lot of other disciplines. You don’t meet dentists who skipped dental school and just picked up the art of tooth-pulling and root canals on their own. In business, though, this doesn’t just happen, it’s common.

That doesn’t mean I’m suggesting you drop out of college; I just mean that, if you’re worried you can’t succeed in business without going to an acclaimed business school, then rest assured that’s not true. Keep that in mind while you make up your mind about transferring.

The only thing my schools business program does is set up business networking events or guest speakers.

Actually, those are pretty good things. Again, I don’t know what your unmet expectations are of your program, but a good speaker can teach you a lot more than most textbooks.

And having a robust network of contact is, frankly, even more important than being competent. There are lots of brilliant people out there who struggle and fail because they don’t network. Conversely, there are a lot of very rich and successful people who aren’t particularly smart or savvy, but have excellent networking skills.

I really want to transfer schools (to Northeastern university) , however since I have not yet taken one of the classes required by the school in order to transfer, I would have to wait to try to transfer out at the end of my sophomore year, which would make me a junior when I start the school that I would transfer to. Would I be wasting time/money if I started a new school as a junior?

Transferring colleges as a junior is no big deal at all. Tons of students transfer in as juniors (including everyone who does the first two years at a community college, of course).

So far, though, I’m definitely not convinced that you have much reason to transfer. I can’t be sure because I don’t have all the details, but so far, your current program doesn’t sound like it’s sorely lacking anything — plus, you said you like it there. All else being equal, I’d tell you to stay put.

And let’s give at least a little attention to the elephant in the room — Northeastern is private and costs right around $50k per year when you include room and board. That’s a LOT of money, and I suspect quite an increase over what you’re paying now at a public university. For that kind of money, I’d want a giant, tangible increase in my benefit of attendance, and I’m pessimistic that you’ll get that.

Do you think I would still receive some sort of financial aid? Do schools award financial aid to transfer students?

Sure, if you’re eligible for it. Remember, the federal government decides whether you’re eligible for federal financial aid, not the school. And your state decides whether there’s additional state aid available to you.

Would it take longer for me to graduate if I transfer as a junior?

That depends on how many of your credits transfer into your new degree program at the new school, and you’d need to consult the new school on that. It’s possible, yes, but I’d suspect that during your first two years you’re probably taking a lot of general courses, most of which ought to transfer over OK. No promises, though — check it out with the new school, if you decide to transfer.

— That’s all I’ve got to say on the matter. Personally, I’d hate to see her transfer for no real benefit, but I admit there could be plenty I don’t know about the situation. What about you guys — should she stay or should she go? Let us know in the comments below.

20 thoughts on “Transferring Colleges: A Waste of Time?”

  1. I would recommend not transferring (based on the information given). It is true that the program may not be as “strong” as others but in what regard? The little bit on “the only thing my schools business program does is set up business networking events or guest speakers” does not seem that negative, as networking is critical for getting one’s career started after college. It would help if there was more detail on Michelle’s situation but with the given information, I recommend not transferring.

  2. Hi,

    Basically I feel like those other schools business programs are stronger and that I could benefit more and learn more from them. For example I know that Bentley has a trading room and northeastern has a program where students team up and execute a business plan for an existing company (my school doesn’t really do/have anything significant which can help students further their skills in business) I also feel like since my school is a public school there’s not a real sense of community. I barely know any of my other fellow students that are majoring in business.

    But after reading your comment about how it doesn’t really matter where you get your undergrad in business, I’m thinking that I stay in my current school and try to go to a school like Northeastern for my MBA

    Thanks for answering!! You definitely gave me some new things to think about.

  3. I’m considering transferring myself- though for me, it’s from an online college to a campus based college… with a major $$$ difference, so my situation is a bit different. I’d save money if I transferred…. at least, tuition wise- but I’d have to move, find a new job before I move, and hope that my credits transfer over. It’s a big deal no matter what, really.

    1. I would see if your credits transfer BEFORE you move. It will save you a lot of trouble and money in the end. Don’t just hope, act!

  4. Nooo!!!

    It sounds like she’s just sounds disappointed what’s offered at the business school there.

    Forgive me if I’m wrong, but other than the theoretical business classes and case studies, that’s the most important thing that business schools offer: guest speakers and networking?


  5. Thank you very much for this post Judge Josh. I was considering emailing you for a similar question. I will have to transfer to another college anyway because I am currently at a community college. I have spent months looking at many undergraduate business school programs, and I was worried that the one I finally settled on was not good enough to get me into respected graduate programs and find good jobs. I feel as though I am a determined student and can achieve all of the things I want. Hopefully, my choice will not hinder me.

  6. I have to say that if you are going to graduate school, what matters more is what level of experience you gain before going to business school. Do not worry so much about your undergraduate education. Odds are, even in this economy, the average graduate will graduate without an offer. Therefore, look at getting the experience you will need. The GMAT does not test anything that you will learn in college. See how the school works to get you internships, those are your best chances in landing post-grad work.

  7. I say stay. I went to a private University before transferring and I suggest never go to a private University unless they have a field of study that isn’t normally offered at state schools that you want to go into. I spent way too much money at said private university before transferring to a state school this year my junior year and I nearly have nothing to show for it. The only really good that came from there were the friends I made the the husband I married.

  8. If you choose to transfer schools, be aware of the federal student aid limits and be selective about what courses you transfer to the new school. The 1973 Education Act has two limits for student aid. These limits occur when you attempt 180 credits or when your attempted credits reach 150% of the credits in your established curriculum. Once you hit one of these limits there is no more student aid.

    Before you transfer anything, visit your department advisor, not the admissions department, and ask the following questions: What courses on my old transcript will apply towards the new curriculum? Which ones won’t apply? Be selective–transfer only the credits that apply to your new program.

    Make sure you ask this question to your academic department, not just admissions. While an admissions advisor can tell you if a credit will be accepted, this advisor can’t tell you what will apply towards a specific program. If you rely on the admissions department, or just choose to transfer everything, you might wind up with a number of useless courses on your academic transcript that that consume your federal student aid allowance. The result is not pretty.

    I transferred about three years of coursework to a new university expecting that everything will apply. The admissions advisor at the new college said it all would transfer over. However, I found a couple of months later that the academic department did not recognize any of the transferred credits. Sure 60 credits sat on my transcript, but the new academic department said they were insufficient to apply towards the program. The result was that these transfer credits consumed my about 1/3 of the federal aid lmit I lost aid before I could gradaute. I had to pay for a year of college out of pocket and it took me a long time to finish the program. If I would have planned and transferred only the courses that applied to my program, this would not have happened. Dont let this happen to you.

  9. this is just like my situation right now! im trying to still decide if i should transfer out of my school, a public city university, and go to a more accredited state university. my major is art and i want a degree in studio art but my school doesnt really offer a strong program for it, let alone any internships. its really more of an engineering school. but i am currently a junior as well and i really wanna transfer to FIT, which is totally great art school with a totally better accredited art program that hands you internships by your senior year. do you think i should transfer as well by next fall or summer? (dont mean to steal the spotlight-i just really need to know o_O)

  10. Do what you want to do! You can’t go wrong, and if you end up not liking where your life is headed, you can always transfer again! You have every opportunity in the world, you just need to choose what you want to do. I don’t think there is a wrong choice here. It’s all based on how YOU feel.

  11. @Steve, I hit that limit as well. A key point is that ALL of your courses count, even the ones you withdrew (W on transcript) count. I didn’t think those counted and those were the ones that did it. My advisor was good, but she didn’t warn me about this problem. It is not 180 hours, but the 150% credits for your degree curriculum (which is typically the 180 hours); for CC’s, it is typically 90 hours for Associate’s. FYI, transferring doesn’t change the requirement so all of your previous courses count for these purposes.
    I would visit the department advisor for your expected degree of the school you want to attend since your department advisor is not the final say in the other school’s transfer policy. I am not sure how many schools allow you to choose which credits you want to apply. In my experience at 10 different schools, none offered me that option. Generally speaking, all of the courses count towards GPA at the transfer school so the value of choosing, if allowed, has limited or little value.
    I am not sure why you think transferring only the courses you want would have avoided the limit, but it wouldn’t have. Federal aid looks at ALL of your previous coursework regardless of whether or not it applies towards your current program, not just the ones you want applied to your degree.

  12. @ anonymous, I strongly disagree. As Steve and I pointed out, there is a federal aid limit. Basing things on how you feel is a great way to screw yourself over in a big way.

    If the school you attend offers coops or internships, take advantage of them. If not, check out internship offers at local businesses. Many nonprofits are happy to get interns or volunteers. Volunteering is often considered equal to the same amount of paid employment.

    Steve makes a great point about transferability. In one of my transfers, several of my courses could have been transferable if I had chosen a different degree, but weren’t due to my specific degree didn’t allow for transfer of 300/400 Level courses that were degree specific.

    If you need specific courses, make sure that will transfer, but also the transfer is at the same level. A 200 Level course won’t transfer as a 300 Level course (Fin Acctg ACCT200 is not Fin Acctg ACCT300 even if it is the exact same course in all other aspects).

  13. @Steve, at Grad Level, the limit is still 150%, which translates to around 45 (30 hour program) to 54 for 36 hour program. Again, all courses count (A, B, C, D, F, W, WF, WP, etc.) regardless of whether or not the courses count towards your current program.

    If you are applying for a second degree at the same level after you complete the first degree, the rules apply but in a slightly different way. So, if you want a second B.S., finish the first B.S. so you shouldn’t meet the limit before starting the second one. You can choose electives that count towards the second B.S. to reduce completion time for that degree.

    Loan limits come into play as a factor. My wife was pursuing school at a CC because she had met the 150% limit at the 4 year level, but had completed an A.A. so she could still get Fin Aid there. This allowed her to take some courses at the 4 yr. school, but she hit the student loan limit. This limit is based not only on which degree you are pursuing, but also what courses you are taking.

    I talked to my advisor, was in the Grad program, but I took an undergrad degree and the school counted me as an Undergrad which limited how much I could get.

    Student Loan limits are max. amounts per degree program, but also per school year.

  14. James, the 1973 Education Act establishes two limits, 180 credits or 150% of the established curriculum; whichever comes first. Once you hit one of these limits the school makes a report to the DOE and the aid is done. No appeal can be made because these caps are established by federal law. Most people hit the 150% rule first, but some elect a double major or a minor and can extend this allowance up to the hard cap of 180 credits.

    I was saying that if you transfer from another school, you can get around these caps by being selective about what courses are transferred to the new university. Before you transfer schools, if you sit with a departmental advisor and verify which transfer credits will actually replace a course within the new curriculum, and then transfer only those credits, you will be much better off than blindly transferring every course over without verifying how they apply.

    Every year I see angry students who were so motivated to transfer all of their credits from a community college or another four year university with the expectation that they will apply in the same way at the new school. They transfer all of their coursework with the expectation that the transferred courses will somehow equate to the new curriculum because the courses have similiar titles. This results in a situation where about 30 credits of the coursework are added to the transcript but the courses aren’t recongized as equivalent by the new department. The credits sit on the transcript and do nothing more than consume the credit allowances. These useless transfer credits just cause the student to hit the 180 credit or 150% cap much earlier. If they would have controlled what they transferred to the new school, rather than transferring everything, they would not have hit the credit caps as early. They would have only been controlled by dollar limits. Sometimes they can escape this problem by electing a double major, and the 150% rule is stretched. However, the change must be made before they hit the 150% cap or 180 credit limit.

    Before one trasnfers to a new school, they must sit with a departmental advisor and verify that that each course with the same title will replace a course within the new curriclulum. If you just go to admissions and ask, “Hey do these credits transfer?” every admissions department will confirm that they will all transfer over. However, the admissions department wont tell you whether or not they will apply towards a specific program, thats the job of the academic advisor. It is the student’s responsibility to verify what courses will apply with the academic department and transfer only those courses that apply. Those who transfer the credits that stand idle will just wind up consuming the credit caps in their federal credit allowances and it becomes an angry surprise in the senior year.

  15. I am in a graduate program and went to one school for a year. I did not care for the school (as it is an extention program). I was going to transfer out the first semester, but decided to stay 2 more semesters. When I finally found a school and a program I was more intered in, I was only able to transfer one course to the new school. If you are thinking of transferring out of a school . . DO YOUR HOMEWORK and make your decision ASAP! I wasted time, energy, money (student loans), and the adjustment period, well, I’m still going through it! I was off the entire summer and am having a hard time readjusting. Good luck to all!

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