Kids & Money

Navigating the college transfer process

Updated: 2013-11-16T06:14:01Z

By STEVE ROSEN

The Kansas City Star

With final exams around the corner, this is the time of year when many college students throw up their hands and ask themselves “What am I doing here?”

For many, the answer is to transfer to another school at the end of the semester.

According to some estimates, about one-third of college students, including those at two-year community colleges, will pack up and leave at some point during the academic year.

Whether transferring because of financial need, unhappiness or poor grades, or seeking a fresh start with a better academic or social environment, students could find the process full of potentially costly money missteps.

Financial aid issues vary from school to school, but typically there is less financial aid available for transfer students, especially midyear transfers, than for first-time and continuing students, said Mark Kantrowitz, a financial aid expert and senior vice president and publisher at Edvisors.com.

So if your student is considering making a move, factor in the financial considerations and ask the new school about its loan and scholarship policies as soon as possible. At the same time, alert your current school, because you might be eligible for some tuition refunds based on its policies.

Here are some essential money issues for families to think about:

• Leave your current school in good standing. Pay those parking tickets, bookstore fees and the last term’s bill for tuition, room and board in full.

If you have unpaid bills, the college is within its rights to withhold official transcripts until debts are paid, according to the FastWeb.com higher education website. Most colleges will not accept a transfer student who cannot provide official transcripts.

• Most financial aid is not portable. Instead, a student must reapply for aid at the new school, which will calculate your eligibility based on complicated formulas.

The amount you’re eligible for will also depend partly on whether you are transferring to a more expensive or less expensive college, Kantrowitz said.

• Some types of financial aid have annual limits or cost-of-attendance caps, which can affect students who transfer in the middle of the academic year. For example, Kantrowitz said, if a student has already hit the annual limit on federally funded low-interest Stafford loans, he can’t load up on more Stafford funding until the next academic year.

• Check out scholarship possibilities. Some colleges have scholarship programs earmarked for transfer students in hopes of attracting underrepresented portions of their student body, according to the Princeton Review. This is free money based largely on academic merit. Ask the financial aid office about programs, the application process and deadlines.

In addition, many private scholarship programs offer money to transfers. One of them is the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation (at www.jkcf.org), which helps students transferring from community colleges earn their degrees at four-year colleges and universities.

• Time is money. Will transferring add a semester or two or longer to earning a degree? Adding time increases costs — and potentially more debt. So if you’re thinking of leaving your current school because you’ve broken up with your boyfriend or it doesn’t offer big-time sports, you may want to reconsider.

To reach Steve Rosen, call 816-234-4879 or send email to srosen@kcstar.com.

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