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Transferring Graduate Schools: What You Need to Know

Transfer graduate school to find a better fit

You’ve been accepted into an online masters degree program. Congratulations! But what if you start taking courses, only to discover your chosen online school isn’t such a great fit after all? Instead of living happily-ever-after, you might find yourself transferring graduate schools.

Maybe you chose an online masters that looked really interesting to you only to have your situation change mid-program. Suddenly your chosen major looks to be a poor fit. What then? Do you stick it out and finish? Do you just withdraw from college and forget about it? Do you start all over again from scratch?  Or maybe there’s another — and better — option …


How to Transfer Graduate Schools

Once upon a time, this happened to me. I had to learn the hard way all the issues involved in transferring graduate schools. By carefully researching transfer graduate credit policies I was able to port myself (along with several of my hard-won credit hours) into a different online program.

The important thing to remember: just because you haven’t found the “right fit” and need to transfer to another school doesn’t automatically mean that you have to start over. Don’t despair! With a little research, you can find a program that will accept some (or even most) of your old credits.

If you’re starting to re-explore your options for a masters, keep the following 4 critical questions in mind before you commit to a new program.

1. How many credits or courses will you be allowed to transfer?

First, check transfer credit policies at your new program. You want to make sure your hard-earned credits will count for as much as possible towards your new degree. Transfer credit policies often vary widely from school to school.

For example, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Master of Business Administration allows students to transfer up to 12 credits from other AACSB-accredited programs, but the same school allows only 6 credits to be transferred if you are seeking a different masters degree. Some degree programs such as the University of North Carolina’s Master of Business Administration are designed with strict course schedules. These programs, as a matter of policy, do not accept any transfer credits.

Even if a graduate school indicates they can accept transfer credits, don’t automatically assume they will. I experienced this first-hand when I found out one class I initially thought was a sure bet for transfer credits… wasn’t. Surprise. Transfer approval is always at the discretion of the graduate office. Be prepared to defend why you think your previously earned credits might be a good substitution for theirs when transferring masters programs.

2. Is there a minimum GPA for admission?

Could your undergraduate GPA keep you from being admitted as a transfer student? Even if you’ve already made it into a program, remember that a new graduate school might go back in your academic history and take your undergraduate GPA into consideration when admitting you.

If your bachelor grades don’t quite match  your new school’s requirements, include a letter in your application that highlights the strong points in your undergraduate record. That’s the approach I took applying to school when seeking my masters (both of them). My overall undergraduate GPA wasn’t very high, so I focused on the fact that I had a 3.0 GPA with all of my computer programming-specific courses (the online masters I was seeking was in computer and information systems).

3. Are entrance exams like the GRE/GMAT recommended or required for admission?

Depending on the school, an entrance exam like the GRE or GMAT might be required, or simply recommended. Ask yourself, if you haven’t done so before, are you open to taking these entrance tests? If you’re not up for these exams, does the new masters you are considering allow for some kind of test waiver? Which leads us to question #4…

4. Can the program’s admission recommendations be waived due to experience?

If you’re in good standing at your current university, the prospective graduate school may take this into account and waive the GMAT/GRE and/or other entrance requirements in your particular situation. This is most likely to happen if you have some solid career experience in your major area or if you have already taken some graduate level courses with a good GPA.

Neither the GMAT or GRE were required for me to get my first masters, so when I began considering transferring masters programs to get a degree from Dakota State University’s Online School of Information Systems, I had planned on having to study for the GMAT.

However, after visiting with the graduate office I was surprised to discover I qualified for DSU’s policy that allowed applicants with previous graduate credits to waive the GMAT/GRE requirement. Needless to say the GRE/GMAT waiver policy made my application and decision to transfer a LOT simpler!

You may find yourself transferring masters programs mid-degree for many valid reasons. Maybe you come across another graduate program that appears a better career fit. This new masters may require fewer credit hours, have a more flexible schedule, offer a better selection of courses, or offer lower tuition. Maybe it even offers a higher accreditation level than the masters you are currently enrolled in.

As I mentioned in a previous post on choosing the best online PhD, it’s important to find a graduate degree program that fits your unique needs. After all, no one wants to spend years studying something they hate or earning a degree that does not pay off in the workplace.

Don’t feel like you’re stuck with your first pick. Go ahead, it’s OK to transfer. But look before you leap… Just because you’re thinking of starting at a new graduate school doesn’t mean you have to start back at square one!


About the Author: In addition to pursuing and writing about higher education, David Handlos works as a Lead Software Performance Engineer at Fiserv. He has also worked for Kansas State University as the webmaster, managing both the College of Engineering and Engineering Extension web sites. Handlos holds a Bachelors of Science in Computer Engineering from Kansas State University and a Masters in Information Systems which he earned online from Dakota State University.

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