I went to visit the college that became my alma mater during the winter of my senior year of high school. After walking the campus for a few minutes, I got such a great feeling. Everyone was friendly, I loved the old buildings, and when I was walking around the fitness facility with my mom, a few students began talking to us and offered to show us their room.
After previously seeing how stark and bland the dorms were at several other colleges I had visited, I loved the warm feeling of these rooms. They were the largest I’d seen and had lots of woodwork and big windows.
Then we peeked into the cafeteria, which was adorned with large chandeliers and antique looking chairs and tables. I was absolutely in love with this school, and because they had a great English program (which was my major), I was certain I wanted to go.
However, this visit had been a last-minute stop on the way home from a few other colleges. We hadn’t set up an interview or anything. So, to be sure it was the school I really wanted, my mother thought it would be a good idea to schedule another visit, even though it meant another trip involving eight hours of driving for her.
A few weeks later, we went back, and I had arranged to stay the night on campus and attend an English class the next day so I could get a better feel for the school.
My first instinct was right: it was definitely the place for me. But the second visit really solidified it for me. I was able to sleep there; I ate in the cafeteria; and I spent almost 24 hours with students who were able to give me an honest view of the things they liked and didn’t like. I got a feel for class size and how the campus was set up too.
When I look back, I realize that my original unplanned visit and the extra effort I made to confirm my choice may have saved me from transferring schools. The college I chose hadn’t been high on my list, but I got a chance to experience it in person, and I got to see what life was like on campus and how much better it was than my other options. If I had gone somewhere else, I may have ended up being a lot less happy.
Thankfully, things worked out and I never had to go through the process of transferring schools. But now that I have a few kids on the cusp of attending college, I’d like them to avoid transferring too.
Transfer Stories from Parents and Students
I have a friend who told me that one of her kids lost a lot of their credits and their hard work after transferring colleges as a junior. But it was something they had to do because their child was incredibly unhappy and wanted to make a change.
I spoke with another parent who has a son who’s a junior in college and he’s transferred schools. “It was a lot of work to get his records transferred and credits approved by each new school, but I would not have made him stay where he wasn’t happy. I ultimately left the decision up to him.”
Another parent told me they had to take their daughter out of her dream college after realizing they couldn’t swing it financially. “She was on a scholarship but had to maintain a certain average to keep it. She was struggling but loved the school. However, without the scholarship we just couldn’t do it financially, and she had to transfer.”
How to Avoid or Minimize the Chance of a Transfer
The idea of transferring is a worry for me since transfers can be costly and may disrupt my child’s life and be a lot of trouble. But what’s the cost of them staying somewhere they aren’t happy or that you can’t really afford?
I know I wouldn’t make my child stay in a place where they were sad, not thriving, or feeling like they could have a better experience if they were somewhere different. And I wouldn’t want to rip them away from a school they love because we’re not able to make it work financially.
The ultimate goal, then, is to avoid transferring altogether, even though there are no guarantees. So how can we best avoid it?
Fellow parents recommend that the main thing is to make as many campus visits as possible. If you live really far away and travel is too difficult, have your student do as many virtual visits, activities and meetings as possible.
You should also take a hard look at your financial situation—especially taking into consideration what a lost scholarship or a change in financial aid might look like. You need to make sure college is something you and your student can do financially.
We also need to realize that things come up. We may have a student who doesn’t get a lot of playing time in their sport of choice, or thought they’d fit into a certain atmosphere but found their school wasn’t a healthy choice for them.
Transferring schools isn’t the worst thing in the world when the alternative is a lot of unhappiness or disappointment. But it is nice to avoid it, especially since it’s a lot of work to get into a college, and it can be more to transfer.
Still, we can all make mistakes or realize a place we thought we’d love isn’t what it was cracked up to be. But if we can catch it before our kids go off to college, by making as many visits as possible and doing our financial planning homework, it can save a lot of work and headaches for them … and for us.
Need Help with College Planning?
Hi, I’m Brad Baldridge, a college funding specialist and the owner of Taming the High Cost of College.
If you’d like to get great tips and advice on how to save more money for college, reduce your costs, and put your student on the road to a bright future, subscribe to my free e-newsletter.
You can also check out some of my useful college planning articles and resources below.