There are many factors to consider when transferring schools, but affordability is perhaps the most important. Financial aid is the crucial backbone for most students hoping to advance their education.

While there are many resources available to students who are searching for information on applying to financial aid as incoming first-year students, transfer students are often an afterthought in this regard. Most transfer students ask themselves the same question: “How do I maintain my current level of financial aid at my new school?”

The answer to this question isn’t as simple as one may think. According to Inside Higher Ed, the recent government proposals for massive boosts in federal aid for students don’t address the root of the problem: “while students may be on the move, their aid is not.”

Making the Choice to Transfer

College students are becoming increasingly mobile in their educational pursuits. In fact, according to a study conducted by the National Student Clearinghouse, almost 38 percent of college students transfer to another four-year institution or community college. In addition, 45 percent of students who transfer do so more than once.

While there are a number of reasons why students choose to transfer schools, some of the most common include:

  • Upward transfer: Several students choose to begin their college career at a two-year/community college with the intent to transfer to a four-year bachelor’s degree program.
  • Dissatisfaction: As students progress through their education, many change their major according to their likes and dislikes. However, since not all schools offer the same majors or caliber of expertise in each field, some students are forced to transfer.
  • Culture shock: Despite in-person college visits, students can’t fully understand a school’s culture and community until they attend. Factors like a challenging course workload and non-compatible teaching styles are common culture shocks that persuade students to transfer.
  • Financial barriers: There are a number of students whose financial circumstances change throughout the school year. If tuition and cost of living creates a burden that interferes with the college experience, transferring to a less expensive school can be a beneficial move.

Financial Aid Challenges of Transferring

Despite this growing trend, there are a number of financial challenges students can face during their transfer process. For example, varying tuition costs and college credit transfer processes can put a financial burden on transfer students. The most common obstacle transfer students seem to face, however, is maintaining, or enhancing, current financial aid status and offers.

“I think transfer students have to be creative when it comes to financial aid,” says Alexander Patturelli, director for Undergraduate Admission at Regis College. This is largely due to the fact that a student’s and/or their family’s financial status can change drastically from year to year.

According to CollegeFinance, some of the most common reasons students lose financial aid packages include:

  • A parent, guardian, or student’s income increased drastically since the initial package
  • A grant or scholarship the student qualified for only counted toward one year or semester
  • The student’s grades were too low to meet the school’s satisfactory academic progress (SAP) requirements
  • The student didn’t meet financial aid requirements for classroom attendance
  • The student’s financial aid was specific to their major and is no longer applicable to their new one

In addition to these common reasons that a student’s financial aid package might be adjusted from one school to another while transferring, there are additional factors to consider when thinking about a school’s affordability.

For instance, federal student loans often automatically enter into repayment status when a student withdraws from a school to transfer to another. To avoid confusion and additional loan payments while still enrolled in school, it’s essential that students who are considering a transfer look into their financial aid options before moving forward.

3 Financial Aid Options for Transfer Students

To combat these challenges, students have a number of options available to them to ensure they receive the most out of their financial aid. If you’re considering transferring colleges, some of the most fruitful actions you can take include understanding your financial aid packages, updating your FAFSA account, and contacting the school’s financial aid office.

1. Understand Your Financial Aid Packages

The most important thing to understand about financial aid while transferring is that virtually none of it automatically moves from one school to the next. Avoid relying on past financial aid packages and try to understand what each school is offering you—both past and present.

While federal aid is largely dependent on the government, there are two types of financial aid awards schools can grant that you should pay close attention to:

  • Need-based awards: Granted based on an applicant’s financial situation and don’t need to be repaid
  • Merit-based awards: Given based on achievements, such as academic excellence or exemplary community service by certain schools, but not all

It’s very uncommon for these awards to remain the same not only year over year, but across schools. For one, need-based awards aren’t just dependent on the financial status of the individual student. They depend on a variety of factors including:

  • Cost of attendance: Financial aid depends not only on your financial situation, but the cost of attendance. Depending on whether your new school costs more or less than your current one, this can be a good or bad change.
  • Fund availability: Some types of aid are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. Your new school may not have as much grant money as your current one, pushing transfer students to the back of the line.
  • School-specific aid: Many schools and states have their own scholarships and grant programs that are separate from the traditional financial aid program. These scholarships don’t accompany you when you transfer.
  • Academic eligibility: Each school has its own baseline for academic performance. Therefore, your grades can be viewed differently from school to school.

Merit-based awards, also known as scholarships, are even more elusive for transfer students. Since not all schools offer this type of aid, students can’t expect a merit award at their transfer school, even if they received one at their current school. This can make a significant dent in your financial aid package, so it’s essential to understand each element in order to advocate for yourself throughout the transfer process.

2. Update Your FAFSA Account

The Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA) is an essential part of the college application process. It determines how much federal and need-based aid students are eligible for in the upcoming school year. Despite this application’s importance during the college admission process, it’s just as essential when transferring schools.

Updating your FAFSA is an easy aspect of transferring schools. While you need to fill out a new application each school year, oftentimes you don’t need to start a new application for a new school. Instead, you’ll need to make FAFSA updates to ensure your new school receives your financial aid request.

As mentioned before, there are a number of important actions related to your FAFSA that you should consider before completing your transfer. For example, if you have federal loans from your previous school, you can avoid starting payments on those newly deferred loans while you're enrolled at your new school by getting an in-school deferment, if you qualify. Updating your FAFSA account to reflect this is one way to avoid this problem. However, there is one more method transfer students should consider.

3. Contact the Financial Aid Office

Reaching out to your new financial aid office is almost essential to the transfer process. Whether or not you leveraged this resource during your initial college admission process, it’s incredibly important to communicate with the financial aid office at your new school since there are many nuances from school to school when it comes to transferring financial aid.

A financial aid officer is typically considered an expert in the field of college financial aid. Not only that, they can speak to school-specific policies and requirements for students seeking more guidance.

For example, many schools allow students to appeal their financial aid packages. According to Patturelli “most schools, like Regis College, have an appeal process. We see many students who get their initial financial aid package and appeal it by referencing the package they received from their original institution.” This process often involves writing a letter, providing financial aid documentation, and meeting with a financial advisor.

Make Transferring Affordable

Financial aid is the most common method of ensuring college is affordable for students. However, since transfer students face many challenges with obtaining the same amount of aid as they did when first enrolled, those looking to transfer may need help ensuring a smooth financial transition. Check out our guide on “How to Transfer Colleges” to learn more about transferring credits, preparing for your new school, and why transferring is the right choice for you.

Download the transfer admission comparison worksheet.

Published Date