The Lost Student’s Guide to Transferring Universities

You’ve been accepted to college, spent a semester, a year, or maybe even two years at your college of choice. But something doesn’t seem right – maybe you feel like you don’t fit in with the rest of the student body, or maybe the academics aren’t what you expected. You might even feel like the environment is impacting your performance or ability to socialize.

If any of these statements resonate with you, then you might want to consider transferring to a different university.

Why I transferred universities

There are many factors that could push a student to want to transfer – prospective transfer students may feel unhappy with anything from the social environment to the ranking of their current school. I had already started thinking about changing to a different university during my first semester. As a freshman, I attended San Diego State University (SDSU), where I had been accepted with a scholarship. However, I knew almost immediately that SDSU was not for me. Here are some of the factors that pushed me to transfer:


Before starting at SDSU, I had never visited California. As a student who preferred to stay away from the beach and poolside (I visited the SDSU aquaplex a total of 3 times), and found it hard to relate to the laid-back California attitude, I knew early on that I wanted to transfer to a school on the East Coast.


Almost 35,000 students attend SDSU. It’s a HUGE school! My first day was incredibly overwhelming, and freshman orientation invovled me and 8,000 other classmates. Walking across campus, I rarely recognized anyone – not even the people who lived in my 12-floor dormitory. As a student who had looked forward to the “community feel” of an American college, I was disappointed.

Student Body

I also felt different from the rest of the student body at SDSU. 10% of students were commuters, 30% of students were involved in Greek life, and the majority of students were from the US – mostly from California. As an international student with no interest in joining a sorority, I felt out of place.

Academic Focus

SDSU is largely focused on business and nursing – there were few opportunities available to students interested in international relations (IR). I enrolled in all IR-related activities on campus, and even went on an intermission study abroad program with another university. I felt like I had already exhausted all IR-related opportunities after one semester.

Why you should think twice before deciding to transfer

I ended up successfully transferring to Tufts University in Boston. While transferring might seem like a lucrative option, especially if you’re a student who feels that your high school grades prevented you from getting accepted to the level of university that you had hoped for, it requires careful consideration, and might not be the best option for all students. Here are some challenges that transfer students face: 

Social integration and assimilating to a new environment 

Transferring to Tufts was tough at first; although the International Pre-Orientation and Transfer Orientation programs were a fantastic introduction to the campus and allowed me to find friends early on, the social integration process was hard. Several of my transfer friends struggled with depression and feelings of social isolation after our first semester, and some even ended up transferring back.   

My advice: look for a university with solid orientation programs. These will be your social base at your new university. Also, remember: upperclassmen are not as interested in making new friends. You will have to take initiative and go out of your way to meet people.

Transfer of credits

You should be prepared to fight to get your credits approved to transfer; it took several visits to the head of Department and the Dean before I finally got all of my credits approved. Many of my friends ended up with far fewer credits than they’d expected, and as a result were forced to take a heavier course load with less flexibility.

My advice: make sure to reach out to the university about credits before you decide to transfer. Depending on the number of credits that you get approved, you risk missing out on other opportunities, such as double-majoring and studying abroad.

Ranking does not equal better opportunities

Rankings are tempting, but do not actually represent the types of experiences available at any given school; as a top student at a slightly lower ranked school, you might actually have access to more prestigious opportunities than you would as an average student at a top school. However, no matter which school you attend, YOU will have to find the drive within yourself to seek out valuable experiences – they will never be handed to you.

My advice: don’t transfer just for the ranking. If you have good relationships with the faculty and administration at your current school, it might actually be beneficial for you to stay where you are – especially if your goal is to attend grad school.


Are you an international student hoping to get substantial (or any) scholarships? Then think twice before transferring. Getting scholarships as a transfer student is incredibly difficult – in fact, many universities do not even offer it as an option to international students.

My advice: do careful research before building your college list if you need scholarships. You might even want to consider staying where you are – chances are your current scholarship is more substantial than what you would be offered at a new university.

I decided to apply for transfer admission to five private, medium-sized schools on the East Coast, with a bigger emphasis on international relations and smaller focus on Greek life. After careful consideration, I decided to attend Tufts University. While the assimilation process was certainly challenging, transferring to Tufts might have been the best decision I ever made.

Frida Lundgren is an Educational Consultant at Hale Education Group and a graduate of Tufts University. 

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