How to Transfer High Schools
February 6, 2024
Are you considering transferring high schools? Are you wondering how transferring will affect your future, particularly the college application process? Initiating the process can be overwhelming (or even downright scary), but it doesn’t need to be overly complicated.
Before starting the process, it is important to consider your options, determine your own motivations for transferring, and outline the necessary steps (and potential complications). Moreover, you should evaluate how transferring high schools will affect your college aspirations.
In this article, we’ll cover how to transfer high schools, including:
- What it Means to Transfer High Schools
- Reasons to Transfer High Schools
- When to Transfer High Schools
- How to Start the Process
- What Happens After my Transfer Request is Approved?
- GPA Continuity and Credit Transfer
- How will Transferring High Schools Affect my College Applications?
What it Means to Transfer High Schools
Transferring high schools entails unenrolling from one school and enrolling in a different school—typically between academic years. Simple, right? Often, it can be! The relative ease of the process depends on a student’s reasons for transferring, the cooperation of parents or guardians and school administrators, and state- or district-specific policies.
Moreover, the process will depend on the types of schools you are transferring to and from. Are you transferring from one public school to another? From a public school to a private school? To an online high school? Below, we provide a general overview with some specific examples.
Reasons to Transfer High Schools
There are many legitimate reasons to consider transferring high schools. They range from changing personal or familial circumstances to evolving academic or extracurricular preferences. Here are a few common reasons students pursue transferring high schools:
Whether your parents are relocating to a different state or simply moving across town (or your move is the result of a separation or divorce), this is the most common reason students transfer high schools. Occasionally, if the move is relatively local, you may have a choice as to whether to continue at your current school or transfer. Often, though, a transfer is necessary under such circumstances. This means that the process, while perhaps unwelcome, will not be terribly complicated.
Interest in a Different School
In this case, a student might wish to transfer from their current school to one with different academic, extracurricular, or athletic offerings or opportunities. Perhaps you’d prefer a high school with more AP courses? Or one with advanced art or music programs? One with a robust speech & debate team?
Even between public high schools in the same district, there can be wide variations in teaching methods or extracurricular offerings. One school might have an excellent drama department and the best-in-state marching band. Another might have a strong STEM focus and a competitive swimming team.
Alternatively, perhaps you are interested in transferring from a public school to a private school (or vice versa), in which case you should familiarize yourself with the differences between public and private high school. Likewise, it is not uncommon to transfer from one private school to another, or from in-person school to online school.
Need to Leave Current School
In this case, a student may not have a different high school selected, but does know that they cannot or would prefer not to stay at their current school due to social issues (bullying, difficulty making friends, etc.), learning issues (need for additional accommodations, for example), or disciplinary issues. Likewise, perhaps your family’s financial circumstances have changed, necessitating a transfer from a private high school to a public one.
When to Transfer High Schools
A student may not always have a choice regarding when to transfer, especially in the case of a move. That said, the simplest time to transfer high schools is during the summer, meaning that you’ll have completed the academic year at one school before starting at a new school—allowing for a relatively smooth transition.
Likewise, earlier tends to be better. Matters such as credit transfer only become more complicated the longer you’ve spent at your current high school (although if you are staying within the same school district this may not be an issue). Transferring after your first year of high school tends to be less disruptive. This is true both academically and socially. Transferring after your sophomore, or, especially, your junior year can be more difficult. Similarly, if you are transferring in pursuit of more opportunities or a better fit, the earlier you transfer the more time you’ll have to accrue the benefits of your new high school. In short, transferring earlier ensures you’ll have the most time possible to minimize or maximize (depending on individual circumstances) the impact of your transfer on college admission.
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If waiting until the summer is not ideal, try to time your transfer at the quarter, trimester, or semester break, depending on how both your current and new schools structure their academic years.
Know that transferring during the summer or another academic break may not be the best option for you. This is particularly true if you are transferring due to health or safety issues, or in other cases where it is more important to leave your current environment quickly than prioritize a smooth transition. If you need to leave in the middle of a semester, you may need to pursue some non-traditional options. These may include online classes, independent studies, homeschooling, or a formalized leave of absence—as you may not be able to enroll at a new school immediately. Keep in mind that transferring under such circumstances may delay your high school graduation date, require enrollment in summer school in order to catch up, or entail retaking courses that were only partially completed.
Finally, no matter when you plan to transfer, it is important to initiate the process as soon as you know you want or need to transfer high schools. The earlier you start the process, the easier it is to anticipate and mitigate complications.
How to Start the Process
Okay, so you know you want or need to transfer high schools. What happens next? First, know that if you are younger than 18 years old, you will need the approval and assistance of your parent or guardian in order to transfer high schools.
Most often, the next step is to apply or submit a transfer request to the school you’d like to attend. You can accomplish this by reaching out to the administrative office at the school you’d like to attend. Or, in the case of transferring between districts, by contacting the district administrative office. At a minimum, most transfer applications will require identifying information, proof of residency, medical forms, and transcripts from your current high school. Your guidance counselor at your current high school can serve as a helpful resource in terms of facilitating the transfer request. This is particularly true if you are planning to stay in the same school district. Transfers requested due to a geographical move or in the case of serious issues such as severe bullying are typically approved quickly and without much hassle.
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You may encounter more questioning and additional obstacles if your transfer request is based on personal preference or academic/extracurricular interests. Be prepared to articulate your reasons for transferring and/or submit additional materials. Such requests may be denied or delayed based on state or district policies or enrollment caps at your chosen school.
Indeed, most states provide specific guidelines for transferring schools. For example, in Texas there are two types of transfers:
- An Open Transfer is any transfer requested based on the student’s and family’s needs. Anyone can request an open transfer but may have trouble getting approval if space is limited. If a student needs a transfer for medical reasons, an official letter from their doctor is required.
- A Public Education Grant (PEG) Transfer may be requested if a student’s district zoned school has a history of failing to meet state academic standards. Parents can request a PEG transfer to a different school within their school district or outside the district. In most cases, PEG transfer applications follow the same process as open transfers. However, students in PEG schools receive priority as space becomes available.
Likewise, the state of California outlines a number of transfer scenarios, including intradistrict and interdistrict transfers. In an intradistrict transfer request, a parent or guardian wishes to enroll their student at a school other than the designated school in their attendance area within their district. California permits parents to indicate a preference, irrespective of the student’s place of residence within the district, and requires the district to honor this parental preference if the school has sufficient capacity without displacing other currently enrolled students.
Meanwhile, in an interdistrict transfer request, both districts must approve the request before it becomes valid, and either district may include terms or conditions or revoke the agreement at any time or for any reason the local board or district superintendent deems appropriate. In both types of transfer requests in California, districts are permitted to consider the locations of parents’ places of employment in determining enrollment and transfer policies.
Be sure to look up your state’s guidelines and policies for transferring schools. You might discover additional justifications for transferring. For example: parent’s place of employment. You will also learn how to appeal denials of transfers.
Finally, if you are transferring from a public school to a private high school, or to a more selective public high school, the application process will likely be more involved. Such a transfer might involve an interview, essay or portfolio submission, letters of recommendation, a financial deposit, etc.
What Happens after my Transfer Request is Approved?
If your request is approved, the school’s principal will sign the transfer form. You’ll probably still need to wait a few weeks or months to switch schools. However, you’ll need your parent/guardian to deliver the signed form to your current school for approval in order to officially withdraw.
After that, you’ll need to coordinate with both your current and new schools in order to both solidify the timeline and begin transferring credits. Ideally, you’ll already be familiar with the academic, extracurricular, and/or athletic offerings at your new school, but if not take some time to do some research. Peruse course offerings and ask to be introduced to current students who share your interests.
Before starting at your new school, you’ll likely meet with an academic advisor or guidance counselor to determine your new schedule. You may also be required to take placement tests, particularly if you are seeking to enroll in AP or Honors courses. Some schools offer informal gatherings for transfer students either before or at the start of the school year. And once your transfer is processed you can try out for sports and join extracurricular groups.
GPA Continuity and Credit Transfer
When you transfer, what happens to your GPA? Well, it depends on your new school’s policy: Do they factor in pluses or minuses? Do they grade on a weighted or unweighted GPA scale? Most likely, your current GPA will be recalculated to fit the grading patterns of your new school. In some cases, you might keep your current GPA until you receive grades at your new school. Keep in mind that if you transfer between schools with different GPA policies or grading patterns, you may choose to explain any disparities when completing college applications. Most likely, though, your GPA will not change significantly. Rather than fretting about GPA continuity, make sure you know your new school’s policy ahead of time so you’re not surprised.
In terms of transferring credits, you’ll likely face minimal issues if you are transferring from one public school to another within the same district or state. However, if you are transferring from a public school to a private school or across state lines, you might find that some of your credits will not be transferred. Reasons for this might include:
- A class has no equivalent at your new school
- A class did not meet the requirements of your new school
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You should be able to determine which credits will transfer before you even initiate the transfer process. Many states, including Florida and Ohio provide detailed guidance for transferring credits between different types of institutions, or for calculating credits for home-schooled students.
While it is a bummer not to receive credit for a class you’ve already taken, be sure to talk to your new guidance counselor right away to see if there is any flexibility and to determine whether this will delay your graduation date or require you to attend summer school. That is, don’t despair immediately! Often there’s greater flexibility than originally indicated. You might simply have to submit additional materials. Or, alternatively need to provide justification as to why you should receive credit for a certain class. Even if there is no wiggle room, finding that 1-2 credits won’t transfer typically isn’t a disaster. Your new school will want you to be successful, and will work with you to find an acceptable solution.
How will Transferring High Schools Affect my College Applications?
Transferring high schools is relatively common (and often can’t be helped). Further, chances are that switching high schools will either have no impact or only a positive impact on your college applications. This is especially so if you transferred to a high school with more opportunities for enrichment. Moreover, if the transfer was the result of a move, you’ll have the opportunity to demonstrate your own adaptability and perseverance!
No matter the circumstances, you’ll likely have to submit transcripts from both schools. And depending on when you transferred you may opt to solicit letters of recommendation from representatives from your previous and current schools. You can also list your extracurricular participation at both schools.
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Transferring can have a negative impact on college applications in the case of a dramatic change in academic performance before/after transfer, or if your transfer was due to behavioral or disciplinary issues. In those cases, you’ll want to be upfront about your circumstances. Control the narrative by addressing these issues honestly and clearly in your personal statement or in the section of the application that asks for “any additional information.” Similarly, if you transferred high schools more than once, or your academic record shows a gap between leaving one high school and starting at another, you’ll need to provide an explanation.
Transferring high schools can seem daunting, but the process is often very straightforward. Remember that even if you are excited to transfer high schools, the transition can still be socially and academically challenging. Give your new school time, ask for help and guidance, and know that your experience transferring high schools will make you all the more prepared for the transition from high school to college!