Not everybody takes the traditional route to college graduation. For financial, personal, academic reasons, or otherwise, some students find themselves having to apply to transfer colleges their freshman or sophomore year. Though it may seem like a glorious second shot at one’s dream schools once again, here are some opportunity costs to consider before applying.

1. “What Could Have Been”


It is human nature to reflect on past decisions and wonder if they were mistakes. As you’re applying to transfer, you may be awed by the beautiful catalogues that various colleges mail you, or by the grandiose campus tour videos posted on Youtube. Consequently, you may be partially blind to the faults that also exist within your dream colleges. Compared to your current school, where you fully understand the pros and cons of campus life, classes, extracurricular opportunities, and safety, it is only natural that other institutions seem to offer the picture perfect college experience you yearn for.

However, once you do transfer, it may be possible that you regret not giving your original school a fair chance. As you come to recognize and understand the cons of your new college, those faults may present a greater inconvenience than the things you disliked at your old institution. You may find that you don’t fit in as well, and consequently regret leaving a comfortable and familiar place where you already established your friend groups and relationships with professors.

2. “College Applications…2.0”


Remember the stress, the nail-biting anxiety, the sleepless nights, and feelings of panic that you went through senior year of high school? Transfer applications may be just as stressful, but for different reasons. Whereas in high school you were surrounded by peers going through the same process and were constantly reminded about the importance of essays, in college you may be the only one in your friend group choosing to transfer.

In between midterms, working job shifts, and going to club meetings, you may find it difficult to maintain motivation to complete the application process. Especially if your friends are out partying on a Friday night while you’re staying at home catching up on the new Common App prompts and planning out how to approach your professor for a letter of recommendation. You may start to reconsider your decision to transfer if you struggle to balance your classes, jobs, applications, and health.

3. “Big Fish In A Small Pond…Or Small Fish In The Big Sea”


Everyone has different reasons for transferring, and for some people it may be that the current college doesn’t offer a challenging enough program. If that applies to you, then it may be important to consider some potential difficulties you may face at a more demanding school. Whereas in your home institution it’s easy for you to be at the top of the class while balancing your health and social life, at your new school it may be the opposite.

You may find yourself constantly struggling to catch up and feeling stressed. Additionally, you’ll need at least a month or two to adjust to your new environment as a transfer student. If you’re transferring your junior year, then the fall could be the prime time that people are recruiting for internships that lead to a full time offer after graduation. While you’re just figuring out where the financial aid office is located, your peers may be interviewing for a summer internship through an inside connection at the company. Though that is not to say that you can’t do the same, you will need to be proactive about understanding the opportunities available at your new environment, especially the summer before matriculating.

4. “Freshman Struggles Once Again”


They say that you make most of your friends in your freshman year of college (supposedly). Between orientation, dorm life, late night escapades, and freshman-specific classes and seminars, it’s not hard to imagine why that would be the case for many people. As a transfer student, you may find yourself reliving your freshman year experience of looking for friends and joining new clubs once again, except this time with fewer resources to help support your transition.

Many transfer students may not live in the dorms due to the higher costs, or lack of space. For quite a few clubs, transfer students may be at a disadvantage in applying because they are only in college for two more years, and those clubs may prefer members who can commit least three to four years. While freshmen start off with a clean slate and their pick of majors to pursue, transfer students may have to stress about getting into specific classes to graduate in time with their major, especially if some of their class credits don’t transfer over.

5. “Money, money, and more money”


Many people who transfer are coming from community and state colleges, which they attended to help their families save money. If you fall into this bucket, then you may want to avoid universities with high living costs, if sustaining yourself means sacrificing your health or academics. Even if the school offers you enough financial aid, there may be a lot of external costs that you may have to shoulder, which you may not expect because you are unfamiliar with the environment.

At a school like UC Berkeley, for example, housing is hard to find, and also very expensive. Food costs are also quite high, and other than the school dining halls, there aren’t any supermarkets that are conveniently close to campus. However, that is not to say that transfers shouldn’t consider Berkeley. Thanks to continuous efforts by dedicated staff and students, there are various basic needs resources for struggling students, such as the Berkeley Food Pantry. There is a welcoming transfer student community, and there are plenty of work-study opportunities available. So if financial cost is a very important consideration for you in terms of choosing which college to transfer to, then also remember to research the resources available at the schools you’re considering to determine the best choice for you.

6. “Is Ivy Status Worth It All?”


For Ivy League institutions and some other private schools, transfer applications are accepted the first year of college. Consequently, the application requires more information regarding your high school performance, given that you haven’t even finished a semester of college. Many people who choose this route may decide even before matriculating into their university. If this applies to you, then you may want to think deeply about your situation before opting for this path.

Why? Because this means that while people are excited about their new school and making friends and joining new clubs for the long haul, you may be consciously selecting activities that fit in with your high school profile. While you are with peers cheering on the football team at games, you may be secretly imagining a different set of school colors — the ones that your dream college has. Negative feelings from possible rejections just a few months back in high school may cloud you from appreciating your new school and giving it a fair chance. Though your life is how you choose to live it, it may be prudent to consider these things before applying to transfer your freshman year.


Overall, deciding to transfer colleges is a commitment to both a new school and a new culture for two years of your life. It is important to consider the opportunity costs associated with transferring colleges before making that choice. If you are happy and content at your current school, then you may want to think about your reasons for transferring. Parental and peer pressure can influence your decision, but remember that your life is how you live it, and ultimately it is you who is making this commitment.

The option to transfer college often seems like a second chance for people in the college system — and in many ways it is. I have had friends who faced disappointing results their senior year of high school, and ended up going to community college for two years. They worked incredibly hard day in and day out, and finally made it into their dream college program in junior year. They thoroughly enjoyed their time at community college and made valuable friendships.

On the flip side, I have met people who got into top schools but chose to transfer after their first year to achieve the Ivy name. Some of them thoroughly enjoyed their first year and participated fully in the college experience, by making friends and joining organizations that interest them. Some of them, on the other hand, joined many organizations their first year of college, finished the transfer application, and then essentially dropped out of these clubs.

There are all types of experiences associated with the different transfer options, and hopefully if you’re thinking about transferring schools, you’re doing it for the right reasons for yourself.

Sara Tsai

Sara is part of the Class of 2020 at UC Berkeley, intending to double major in Business Administration and Interdisciplinary Studies. As a graduate of Mission San Jose High School in Fremont, CA, she is well-accustomed to the boba scene in the Bay Area, and her favorite toppings include pandan noodles, red tapioca, and lychee jelly. In high school, she was the 4'10'' "tiny but mighty" drum major of the marching band and best known for her penguin drawings.