College is often the first time that students are living away from home, and it can be surprisingly hard for many.

Consequently, some decide very early in their college career to transfer to another four-year school. This type of transfer is usually referred to as a “horizontal” transfer because the student is moving laterally, from one four-year college to another.

The problem is that many who make this switch may do so for the wrong reasons and with the wrong focus.

What important factors should you take into considerations before deciding to transfer?

Unsound Reasons for Transferring

“I am not happy.” – That is all too often the generic reason college students give for their desire to transfer.

While you should certainly feel content and enthusiastic about your college career, it is wise to first ask a very pointed question before you decide to switch:

1. “What are the reasons that I am not happy?”

If you are struggling to settle in at college—having trouble making friends, feeling homesick, etc.—there most likely is an explanation. But you should not give up too quickly and automatically assume that leaving the school you are at would remedy the situation. Instead—pause and contemplate. Consider giving it a little more time before jumping headlong into a transfer.

Making a thorough personal self-assessment for why you are not connecting with your school should be the first step—before you ever look for outside reasons. If you need some help, take advantage of the support and resources available at the college, especially the campus mental health services. They can help you sift through the many reasons you may not be happy at your college.

I also suggest taking time to connect with people on your campus. Research on student engagement tells us that one of the most powerful things you can do at any college to feel connected is to have a mentor. Seek out a professor in one of your classes, find out when office hours are being held, and ask questions. See if your professor has suggestions for career choices or other classes you might take or what majoring in their subject is like. Even busy professors are usually interested in talking with students like you.

If you still feel it is due to an external reason that you are unhappy—your current college is just not a good school for you after trying to connect or taking advantage of what it has to offer—you may also want to ask yourself the second question:

2. “What are my chances of getting into another—better—college?”

Some students choose to transfer to another four-year school because they have their hopes set on attending a more prestigious college or university. However, that may not be as easy as you think.

Chances are big that a highly selective college will not take you as a transfer student. These schools will have limited slots for transfers since they are already getting a large pool of first-time applicants.

Stay reasonable. You may be setting yourself up for a greater disappointment if you do not succeed in making the switch or if you do make it and still feel unhappy.

Valid Reasons for Transferring

Of course, there are well-founded reasons why a certain school is not a good fit and a student may want to pursue a horizontal transfer.

To make an informed and prudent decision, ponder on the following two aspects:

1. “Have I changed? Is the college I am in no longer a good fit for me?”

You were accepted into a great college. After overcoming the initial hurdles of your first semester, you continue working hard on getting good grades. You should be in a place where you feel successful, but somehow you are now feeling that your school is not the right fit for you.

A lot has changed since high school. Perhaps you have changed, too?

It could very well be that you have grown in a different direction. People evolve throughout their lives. It is not wrong to change your mind about decisions you made years back. Just make sure it is for the right reasons.

2. “Have my career goals and preferences of major changed? Is the field of study I am now interested in offered at my current school?”

Perhaps you had your heart set on a particular major. Yet, when you began taking classes, you discovered you were really not interested or not good at the subject.

For example, business is the number-one major in which students enroll. Often, though, when they get to college, they find that the math requirements are beyond what they expected. Subsequently, they may pursue another major.

This may be the case with you, and would certainly be a good reason to consider changing directions. However, as you get a better idea about what you want to study, you may discover that your desired major is not offered at all at your current college. And that is when a horizontal transfer may become necessary and advisable.

Finally, there is also another possibility you should seriously contemplate:

3. “Do I need an academic reset and take a step back altogether?”

Possibly, your self-examination has led you to realize that you are not ready to commit to college just now. Some students choose to take a step back, withdraw from their college, and take a Gap Year. This might include work or internships, travel, volunteering or some combination.

However, if you choose to take time off from college, make sure you withdraw from your current school properly. Typically, the registrar’s office can inform you of all of the procedures you have to follow to formally withdraw from school. Even if you are certain that you will never return to your current school, keeping all options open is a smart move because…you truly never know. Trying to re-enroll later without following proper procedures will cause you a lot of problems down the line.

If you’re considering taking time off from college, also pay careful attention to keeping your grades in your current classes as high as they can be. Often, as students start considering taking time off from college in the middle of a semester, their grades decline significantly because they lose motivation and have begun to “check out.”

When they decide to go back to a four-year college, these grades will be considered by the admission office at that time. If you allow this to happen, your ability to re-enroll or transfer to another school could be in serious jeopardy because of a collection of markedly low grades.

Still, giving yourself a chance for an academic reset can help you get back on track. Restarting to mature and regain your focus and enthusiasm is especially important if you are considering graduate school in the future.

After thoroughly thinking over these questions, if you are still struggling with whether or not to transfer to another four-year college or university, consider working with an Independent Educational Consultant. I would certainly be pleased to help you through the decision-making process so that you can feel secure about your ultimate choice.

For more information on Transfer Student Advice click here