What you need to know about transferring degrees

Ever been told your ATAR shouldn’t define your future? Well, it’s true, because transferring degrees once you’re at uni is the most common way to get into the course you want. Knowing the transfer requirements can make the process easier. Not having the right info at hand may see you facing a lot of red tape; or even worse, have your plans for transfer delayed. Find out how the process works and what the experts say to begin planning ahead.

What is transferring?

When you transfer degrees you're changing from one university program to another, this can occur within the same university—known as internal transferring—or involve changing from one university to another—external transferring. This is not to be confused with changing majors or minors in broad degrees like a BA or BSc (jargon for a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Science).

The most cut-and-dry transfers occur between different faculties (a Bachelor of Economics to a Bachelor of Fine Arts) but it is still considered a transfer when you change to a course from the same faculty (a Bachelor of Civil Engineering to a Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering) or, transfer in or out of an advanced program (Bachelor of Arts (Advanced) (Honours) to a Bachelor of Arts). Upgrading to a double degree (Bachelor of Science to a Bachelor of Law/Science) is also a transfer.

Anyone can attempt a degree transfer. At some universities it’s possible to transfer after one semester of study, although the usual procedure is done after one year of studying in a particular course. Think very carefully about this, because when applying for an external study this could mean your application will be based on your ATAR result (instead of your new uni marks as well). The standard procedure is that you apply for a transfer after one year of study: that way your university marks and ATAR result will be taken into consideration. The extent to which this occurs depends on the degree for which you’re applying.

Planning a transfer

If you’re planning a transfer, the first thing to do according to is to check the rules for applying at the university you want to get into, says Kim Paino, the Director of Information Services at Universities Admissions Centre (UAC) in NSW.

“If you are transferring within the same university you will probably just need to fill out a form at that uni,” says Kim.

Begin your research now, because if your dream university has an internal transfer program, you may want to put them at the top of your preference list. It’s often much easier to transfer internally; but, more on that later.

Checking the rules also ensures you’ll have a firm idea of what the prerequisites are and what you need to do to be competitive for entry. In all cases, great marks in your first year are very important.

“Students need to keep in mind that their performance in their first degree will ultimately determine whether or not they can transfer to their desired degree. If you want to transfer into a degree you didn’t get the required ATAR for, you need to work hard in your first year to make sure you get the best results possible,” says Michelle Carlin, Director of Student Recruitment at the University of Sydney.

That means you’ll have to start uni with a good attitude from day one. It’s not easy to get fantastic marks in your first year as most people go through an adjustment process so if you’re serious about transferring consider bridging courses to ease the transition between high school and university study. Bridging courses, which occur at the very start or end of the year, allow students to catch up on prerequisites like Biology or Mathematics if you didn’t study them as part of Year 12. You could also do one or two free university courses online (Coursera is a fantastic example) to get an idea of what level of thinking, reading and writing is expected from tertiary students.

How do you transfer?

As I mentioned, there are two types of transferring.

Internal transfers can be done at some universities entirely in-house without the need to reapply through an admissions centre. The University of New South Wales, for instance, has a free Internal Transfer Program available for both Semesters 1 and 2. Students must take it upon themselves to check what the prerequisites are for each course and find out whether or not their desired course is available for transfer that semester.

Internal transfers can be much easier than external transfers because if you meet the requirements – usually a distinction average – you’ll most likely be successful. ATAR results are usually of less consequence for internal transfers but this all depends on the degree.

Some universities have a very limited internal transfer program and require all other students to reapply through your state’s admissions centre. This process is still heavily guided by the uni, the secret to success is to do your research and ask the right people, like faculty advisors, for help.

External transfers involve reapplying through a university admissions centre. They can be very competitive and your application will take your Year 12 – as well as your first year uni marks – into consideration. Depending on the course you’re applying to, your tertiary marks may be given greater weighing than your high school results.

“How a uni will treat your studies varies so if you're not sure if you'll be competitive enough to receive an offer, you should check directly with the uni. Remember that you're no longer applying as a Year 12 student so ATAR cut-offs are not relevant. Course cut-offs for non-Year 12 applicants can be quite different to the cut-offs for Year 12s,” says Kim Paino from UAC. 

Transferring course credits

One year at university can cost from $5868 to $9792. That ain’t no pocket change, so if you transfer a degree and find your first year of university study counts for nothing—it can be a real bummer. A credit transfer means a university is acknowledging previous study relevant to your degree. If you complete a year of study at one university and then transfer to the same degree at another university, chances are you’ll have a pretty good chance of receiving some course credit. Beware though! This is a general rule and is not set in stone. Always do your research and find out what courses you might receive credit for.

It can be much easier to receive course credit when you transfer within the same university. For instance, if you are enrolled in a Bachelor of Arts at UNSW and plan to transfer into a Bachelor of Economics at UNSW, it would be possible to take subjects that make up the first year of an Economics program (good old Arts programs). Then when you transfer you could receive some credit very easily. Attempting similar first year courses at a different university could be problematic as every uni works from a different syllabus and has different ideas about what constitutes course credit.

But even internal transfers can cause frustrating course credit scenarios.

Yarran Hominh transferred from a Bachelor of Liberal Studies (International) to a Bachelor of Arts/Law at the University of Sydney. “I got credit for all my arts subjects, but the maths subjects I stupidly did in first year as a requirement didn't count (because you can't get credit for them doing Arts/Law). I guess the take-home message there is be aware of what subjects will count towards your transfer degree by looking in handbooks and so on,” says Yarran.

Indeed, the take home message from this whole article is that if you’re serious about transferring degrees you’ll plan ahead. Make an active effort to speak to people from the universities and faculties you’re interested in transferring into and find out what will ensure your course eligibility. When you know what you’re getting into you are much more likely to succeed.