Making the decision to transfer colleges is one that college students shouldn’t take lightly, even as legions of college students take the leap.

Data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center shows that more than a third (37.2%) of U.S. college students transfer colleges at least once in their collegiate careers.

Additionally, the NSCR reported that about a quarter (25%) of transfer students crossed state lines to find a new college or university, and that more than half (53.7%) of transfer students moved from four-year colleges to two-year colleges – suggesting that upward mobility and a brand name diploma aren’t as enticing as suggested by conventional wisdom.

Tips for College Students Considering a Transfer

If you’re mulling over a college transfer, know the lay of the land going in. Aside from other risks, academic and financial aid grows more complicated when you transfer. Starting over on a new campus has its cultural challenges, too.

Your best bet when switching schools? Keep these points in mind before you decide to transfer and see how they might impact your potential decision to move on to greener collegiate pastures.

All your credits may not transfer. There’s no guarantee that when you transfer to another college all of your academic credits will be recognized by your new college. Primarily, that’s because credit transfer rules vary significantly on a college to college basis.

For instance, while one college may green light credits on a technical basis, it might declare that those credits can’t count as satisfying specific prerequisites in your designated major.

A U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) study,Students Need More Information to Help Reduce Challenges in Transferring College Credits, reported that the typical transfer student loses 43% of their credits, the equivalent of a semester’s worth of credits. Students who transfer to or from private for-profit colleges lose more credits.

It’s imperative that before you transfer, contact your new college or university, academic record in hand, and ensure that the class credits you have are transferable, what grades are required to transfer credits, and whether or not you’re on a clear path to graduate in your specific major with the credits you’ve accumulated.

When you transfer is a big deal. Transferring at certain times can be an issue, too. For instance, if your transfer colleges during or just after your first year of college, your old high school academic transcripts may carry an equal or higher weight than your college transcripts.

A good rule of thumb here is that if you transfer with less than 60 college credits, your high school grade work will fall under closer scrutiny. If there were any problems with your high school grades, in an early transfer scenario they can come back to bite you – and that’s something you should know going into a transfer situation.

Another hurdle to clear is spring semester transfer enrollments. Ideally, you’ll want to transfer into a new college’s fall semester – there’s more time to handle the necessary paperwork, get yourself a decent place to live and work part-time, if you need to.

Plus, colleges have different rules on spring semester transfers, and you’ll need to know how your target college handles a springtime transfer.

If you’re transferring from a two-year college to a four-year college. Your first order of business when planning a transfer from a two-year college to a four-year college is to sign up for a transfer program at the community college.

In doing so, you’re getting on a path where the courses you take at the community college are the same you would take at a four-year college. That way, there’s less red tape and hurdles to clear when you move your college credits to the new college .

Additionally, you’ll want to get a grip on other key college to college transfer factors like academic (or core) equivalencies, any academic waivers you need granted, and any class or major-specific substitution policies you’ll need to know.

If you’re transferring from a four-year college to another four-year college. Most four-year colleges have a transfer policy on their web site. It’s highly worth while for a student considering a transfer to thoroughly review the current college’s transfer policy and the targeted college’s transfer policy.

Pay particular attention to the section on transfer credits – this will give you a heads-up on what you’ll need to do to ensure all of your credits can be transferred correctly.

It’s also advisable to visit the new college in person, talk to student, graduates and professors in your field of study beforehand, and apply for as many scholarships and grants as you can, to maximize your financial situation heading into your new college .

Financial aid does not transfer. Financial aid scenarios can change from college to college no matter what college you’re at now, so check with your targeted college’s financial aid office first before applying.

Financial aid does not directly transfer from one college to another. Rather, you will have to add the new college to your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). If you transfer mid-year, your federal and state aid will be reduced by the amount of aid you have already received. Financial aid eligibility at the new college will also depend on that college’s policies and your academic standing and year-in-school after the transfer.

Look for an agreement between colleges. You’ll also want to know if your current college has what’s called an “articulation agreement” with the new college.

An articulation agreement, also known as a transfer agreement, lays out a path to follow for students considering transferring colleges, and spells out in advance what programs and courses are acceptable for transfer inclusion.

That gives a student a course-specific roadmap to follow and lets them know which classes may not be approved for course credits when transferring to a new college. It also determines whether the credits count as general credits or toward specific classes.

Start by contacting your current college’s admissions office to see what transfer agreements it has with other colleges.

Good News on College Transfer Graduation Rates

The good news is that college students who do transfer from college to college stand a very good chance of graduating on time, and with solid academic standing.

According to recent academic data from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, which offers transfer-specific scholarships to students, “Community college students who transfer to selective institutions have equal to higher graduation rates as students who enrolled directly from high school or those who transferred from other four-year institutions,” the foundation reports.

“They graduate in a reasonable amount of time, earning their degrees within two and a half years, on average.”

In addition, a 2017 report from the National Center for Educational Statistics notes that 66% of students who transferred into a public four-year university and who attended on a full time basis earned a degree or certificate within eight years, compared to just under 59% of full-time students who started out at the same college.

That’s a great sign – one that shows transferring colleges, done correctly, can lead to the best possible academic outcome – a diploma and a great opportunity to succeed in life in one’s chosen field.