Undergrad Application and Transfer Guide

An increasing number of students are following nontraditional pathways to college. For example, many learners now take gap years after high school, complete their degrees online, or transfer college credits from one school to another. Nearly 10% of students attend two or more colleges in a single year, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

Some learners start their programs at a community college to save money and then transfer to a four-year university

Students transfer colleges for different reasons. Some learners start their programs at a community college to save money and then transfer to a four-year university. Other students transfer schools because they find a different program more tailored to their specific career goals. Military students and veterans often transfer credits they earned during their service. Sometimes, students come from outside of the country to attend a U.S. school.

Whether you are transferring for financial, academic, career, or other reasons, you must learn how to properly research programs and transfer your credits. Educational institutions offer many resources to transfer students, including academic advising and transfer scholarships. Doing your research before beginning the application process can help you succeed.

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How to Choose an Online Social Work Program

Before committing to a program, students should research each school’s social work transfer requirements and application process. Some schools boast generous policies, while others only accept a small number of credits. Call or email the admissions office to ask how many credits your prospective school will allow you to transfer.

When choosing a program, you should also consider the curriculum and overall plan of study. You may choose a school because it offers unique classes in a highly specialized area of social work. Also research concentration options. Choose a school that offers a specialization in an area relevant to your career interests. You should also look into any required internships, practicums, or capstone projects. Make sure your school will allow you to complete any field components at a location near your home or workplace.

Choose a school that offers a specialization in an area relevant to your career interests.

You may also consider taking some or all of your courses online. Many schools offer fully online options, while other schools require some in-person courses or components. If you decide distance learning is a good fit for you, try to determine if the courses follow a synchronous or asynchronous format. Synchronous courses require students to log in at certain times to participate in video conferences and watch lectures. Asynchronous courses allow students to complete assignments and review course material on their own schedules.

Many students make their college decision based on cost. In-state public schools typically charge the lowest rates, but many out-of-state schools offer discounted or in-state tuition to online students. Ask an enrollment adviser about total cost of the program, including tuition, materials, books, technology, and other miscellaneous fees.

If you plan to enroll part-time, make sure your school will allow you to do so. You may also check if the program follows a rigid cohort format or a more flexible self-paced format. Finally, learn about the accreditation status of each school and program. Accreditation demonstrates quality education, credibility, and dedication to improvement.

Type of Social Work Degrees

Like most other learners, social work students can choose to complete an associate degree, bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, or doctoral degree. An associate degree is the first level after high school. Most associate programs consist of 60 credits and take two years to complete. If your school does not offer an associate in social work, you may opt for an associate in human or social services instead. Some students skip an associate degree and enroll directly in a bachelor’s program.

After community college, many social work students transfer to a four-year university and complete a bachelor’s program. A bachelor’s degree in social work prepares you to provide counseling to children, adults, and families. These programs require a minimum of 120 semester hours of coursework. Typically, students earn their bachelor’s degree in four years of full-time study. Students with an associate degree can earn a bachelor’s in just two years.

You may choose to eventually pursue a master’s or doctoral degree in social work. These degrees qualify you to provide mental health services and diagnose illnesses. Many states require social workers to earn a master’s degree before they can obtain state licensure. Other states only require clinical social workers to hold a master’s. Check the licensing requirements for the state where you plan to work.

Average Salary by Degree and Years of Experience
Degree1-4 Years5-9 Years10-19 Years20+ Years
Associate of Arts (AA), Social Work$33,751$37,331$35,932$48,500
Bachelor of Arts (BA), Social Work$41,558$44,858$53,734$66,411
Bachelor of Social Work (BSW)$38,330$45,953$52,080$58,046
Source: PayScale

Typical Social Work Program Entry Requirements

Social work college requirements vary from school to school. All students, regardless of transfer status, must submit proof of a high school diploma or GED. Many schools require a social work application essay or personal statement. Other schools may request a phone or in-person interview. Most four-year schools ask for a minimum cumulative GPA, although specific requirements vary. Some colleges ask students to complete placement tests or entrance exams.

Learners with prior credits must research the transfer student entry requirements for each individual school. Many online programs, especially degree completion options, require students to already hold an associate degree or 60 lower-division credits. Some schools require students to complete certain prerequisites, such as an introduction to social work course or basic statistics. Usually, students can only transfer credits they earned with a grade C or better. Transfer students with a low number of credits may be required to submit ACT or SAT scores.

Applying to Social Work Programs

Application Materials

Each school sets its own guidelines for application materials, and specific social work transfer requirements vary depending on the program. However, all college applicants and transfer students can expect to submit the following items:

College Application

Transfers students must complete and submit an online college application. Some schools set a specific deadline, while other schools allow students to apply at any time. You can find the college application on each school’s website.

High School Transcript

To obtain a copy of your high school transcript, call the registrar’s office or counseling office at your high school. Students who earned a GED should submit a copy of their certificate.

Letters of Recommendation

To obtain a letter of recommendation, ask a professional reference such as a supervisor or manager at a current or previous employer. Other options include a former teacher or professor. This person must be able to vouch for your credibility and dedication to academic endeavors. Make sure you ask for letters of recommendation several weeks or months in advance.

SAT or ACT Scores

Some schools do not ask for standardized test scores. However, most colleges request to see your SAT or ACT results. Call or submit an online request to have your official score reports sent directly to the school.

College Transcript

All transfer students must submit official transcripts with their college application. You can order official transcript from the registrar’s office at your previous college.

Application Fees (or Fee Waiver)

College applications often include a non-refundable application fee, usually $40-$70. Some schools offer a fee waiver to highly qualified or low-income applicants. Applicants can pay the fee with a credit card or by mailing in a check or money order.

When Should I Begin the Application Process?

Deciding when to begin the application process depends largely on the school you are applying to. Some four-year colleges, such as WGU, have rolling admission policies. Without application deadlines, applicants can start the process and complete their application at any time. Other schools, including Arizona State, encourage applicants begin the application process one year ahead of the time. Applying early gives students more time to find various financial aid opportunities.

How to Transfer Colleges

Transferring colleges is a more complicated process than simply submitting an online application. The following checklist briefly breaks down the steps you must take to transfer your college credits from one school to another:

  1. Research Your Prospective Transfer Schools
  2. Check Accreditation Status and Articulation Agreements
  3. Contact School Advisers
  4. Confirm That Your Credits Will Be Transferred Over
  5. Research Financial Aid Options
  6. Begin Application Process

Social Work College Requirements

Each college maintains its own admissions and transfer policies. Transfer students typically must meet with an admissions counselor to create and finalize a transfer credit plan. Colleges may evaluate and approve your credits on a case-by-case basis. Most schools only accept credits you earn with a grade C or better. Students with an associate degree may need to achieve a certain minimum GPA to successfully transfer their credits and enter a bachelor’s program as a junior. Oftentimes, schools limit the number of credits students can transfer in. For example, many colleges with generous transfer policies accept a maximum of 90 credits.

Types of Transfer Students

There are several types of transfer students, each of which has their own unique needs. Determining which kind of transfer student you are can help you choose a school. Below are some examples:

Transferrable Credits

Some schools accept a large number of transfer credits, while others only accept a few. Many colleges set specific policies on the types of credits they accept. For instance, a university may accept low-level credits, but not equivalent upper-level credits. The easiest way to switch colleges is to transfer between public schools within the same state. Some schools facilitate credit transfers through articulation agreements. Pay close attention to the school’s policies about course equivalency, course levels, and quarter systems versus semester systems.

What if My Credits Don’t Transfer Over?

Since each school sets its own transfer policies, you may encounter a situation where some or all of your credits don’t transfer into your new program. In other cases, your school may apply your transfer credits to general elective coursework, as opposed to upper-division major-specific courses.

According to the Government Accountability Office, when students transfer to another school, they lose approximately 43% of their credits. A portion of students who transfer from private for-profit schools to public schools lose more than 94% of their credits. To avoid wasting your time and money, do your research in advance to ensure your credits will transfer.

To transfer credits, you typically need a grade C or better. However, for schools with stricter requirements, you may need to earn an A or B. If you are not satisfied with the transfer decision, then you may file an appeal either through a written request or a transfer credit appeal form. You may decide to enroll in a different school with a more generous transfer policy. For instance, many online schools offer more lenient transfer policies than traditional on-campus schools. Before applying to a school and enrolling in courses, speak with a transfer adviser in the school’s admissions office.

In-State vs. Out-of-State Transfers

Students who go to college in a different state usually have to pay expensive out-of state tuition. Transferring to another school within your state ensures you will receive a lower rate and in-state grants. Additionally, some online colleges offer in-state tuition to all distance learners, regardless of where they actually live. The following table shows differences in cost between in-state and out-of-state tuition.

Schools are also more likely to accept transfer credits from other colleges in the same state. Many public universities and community colleges maintain articulation agreements with one another. These agreements allow students to seamlessly transfer credits to their new school.

College Tuition Prices
Public 4-year In-State College$9,670$9,970
Public 4-Year Out-of-State College$24,820$25,620
Private 4-Year Nonprofit College$33,520$34,740
Source: CollegeBoard

Benefits of Transferring From a Community College to a Four-Year School

Community colleges typically cost less than four-year schools. As a result, financially motivated students often start their education at a community college to save money. Articulation agreements allow community college students to easily transfer into bachelor’s programs with their first two years completed. Articulation agreements sometimes include joint admissions agreements, which means that transfer students do not to reapply to their second school. The following table compares tuition at public two-year and four-year schools.

Two-Year and Four-Year College Tuition Prices
Public 2-Year In-State College$3,470$3,570
Public 4-year In-State College$9,670$9,970
Source: CollegeBoard

Other Factors to Consider When Transferring

Starting your social work degree at a community college presents several advantages. However, there are also some drawbacks to consider. The new school may not accept all of your previously earned credits, and may require you to retake some classes. Additionally, the coursework you previously took at your community college may not have fully prepared you for the rigor of a four-year university. Transferring schools also means you have to go through the college application and admissions processes again. Some schools have limited space available for transfer students, which means the acceptance rate for transfer students may be lower than the regular student acceptance rate.


Accreditation demonstrates a school’s commitment to quality education, professional outcomes, and continual improvement. Before you enroll in any social work program, make sure it holds accreditation from a reputable agency, including one of six regional agencies recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. Most schools do not accept credits from programs or schools without accreditation. Enrolling in an accredited school ensures your eligibility to receive financial aid.

Social work students may choose a program that has been accredited by the Council on Social Work Education. You can find out whether your prospective schools hold accreditation by checking the CHEA database of accredited schools.

Scholarships for Transfer Students

Students can pay for college through loans, grants, scholarships, fellowships, and work-study. Students should prioritize scholarships and grants because they do not need to pay back any portion of these awards. The list below describes a few options available to social work students.

Transfer Student Scholarships