Undergrad Application & Transfer Guide

Counselors help their clients manage a variety of issues, including relationship challenges, mental health struggles, and school problems. They work with young learners to overcome academic and career challenges, help couples manage their relationships, and support groups facing mental health disorders or addictions. Completing a bachelor’s degree places prospective counselors on career paths that meet their professional goals. Submitting a counseling program application, however, can prove challenging. Prospective students need to research the application process to increase their chance of finding the best program for their interests.

An increasing number of students take non-traditional paths to earning a bachelor’s degree, including taking gap years, earning a degree part time, or transferring colleges. According to National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, nearly 10% of college students attended more than one institution during the 2014-2015 academic year. Students transfer for many reasons, including to save money by completing an associate degree before earning a bachelor’s degree or to access specialized academic programs not available at their current school. When matriculating to a counseling program, students need to research transfer credit policies to ensure that they receive credit for all completed courses.

Regardless of the path you take, knowing how to apply to counseling programs or how to transfer to a counseling program will expedite your educational goals. This article shows students how to choose the right program, maximize their transfer credits, and find scholarships to fund their education.

How to Choose an Online Counseling Program

Prospective counselors must consider several factors when choosing a counseling program, such as the program’s length, the cost of a bachelor’s degree, and specializations. Finding the right counseling program will shape your professional career for years.

Before picking a program, prospective students need to research costs, including financial aid. Some counseling programs offer tuition discounts for in-state residents or fully online students. They may also provide grants or scholarships to support students. In addition to cost, students can also research the school’s curriculum and graduation requirements, looking for specializations that fit their career goals. A program with a school counseling or a marriage and family counseling concentration may appeal to students.

Some online programs let students complete their degree fully online, while others carry on-campus requirements. Students considering institutions in other states may want to avoid programs with on-campus coursework requirements. An admission advisor can also help students determine how to arrange practicums or internships near the student’s home.

Finally, students considering transferring into a counseling program need to research which programs will accept their transfer credits. While a bachelor’s degree typically takes four years, students can shorten their time to degree completion by choosing an accelerated program or a program that grants transfer credits. Some online programs offer generous transfer policies, which may accept up to 90 credits or more toward a bachelor’s degree. Speaking with an advisor can help students determine how to maximize their transfer credits by choosing the right counseling program.

Type of Counseling Degrees

Professional counselors can pursue different undergraduate degrees, such as a bachelor of science or bachelor of arts in counseling psychology. The two degrees lead to similar salary outcomes over the course of counselors’ careers, but they may carry different graduation requirements. A bachelor of arts, for example, often requires foreign language credits and emphasizes a range of liberal arts coursework, including humanities courses. In contrast, a bachelor of science may require additional social science and natural science courses.

However, both a BA and a BS in counseling psychology prepare graduates for careers in mental health services and counseling. In general, both degrees require 120 credits of coursework, which takes four years of full-time study -- or less for students with transfer credits or an associate degree. Both also lead to careers that offer starting salaries of around $42,000 a year, according to Payscale.

Additionally, graduates with a bachelor’s in counseling can apply to graduate programs to earn a master’s degree. With a master’s in counseling, professionals qualify for more licenses and certifications, which can increase salary potential and lead to job growth. By earning a bachelor’s degree, counselors meet the entry requirements for graduate programs in their field.

Average Salary by Degree and Years of Experience

Degree 1-4 Years 5-9 Years 10-19 Years 20+ Years
Associate of Applied Science $43,469 $51,040 $58,636 $65,909
Bachelor of Science, Counseling Psychology $41,712 $53,052 $56,930 $62,496
Bachelor of Arts, Counseling Psychology $44,421 $41,072 $68,887 $58,958

Typical Counseling Program Entry Requirements

Online counseling programs set their own admissions requirements, which may differ from the college or university’s entry standards. In general, counseling programs expect incoming majors to have a background in the field, often by completing required introductory courses in the major. Competitive programs may also set a minimum GPA in order to narrow the candidate field.

While the entry requirements vary by program, students planning to submit a counseling program application should prepare to demonstrate their educational experience. This may mean taking introductory courses or earning an associate degree in counseling. Some programs prefer to admit students who meet the institution’s general education requirements. Counseling programs may also set a minimum 3.0 GPA for majors, either for all college coursework or for classes within the major.

Students who do not meet the counseling program entry requirements can improve their chances by retaking courses to raise their GPA or by taking additional lower-division counseling courses before applying to the program. Some online counseling programs also set more lenient entry standards, and they may admit students on a provisional basis if they do not meet all requirements.

Applying to Counseling Psychology Programs

Application Materials

Colleges and universities create their own application process, but typically schools require many of the same application materials, including transcripts, letters of recommendation, and standardized test scores. Some schools also require essays or additional materials. Students may need to prepare the following items as part of the application process:

  • College Application: Nearly every school asks prospective students to complete a college application that details the student’s academic background and extracurricular activities.
  • High School Transcript: First-time freshman and transfer students with minimal college credits often need to provide an official high school transcript or its equivalent, such as a GED or homeschool diploma.
  • Letters of Recommendation: Many colleges require two or three letters of recommendation that speak to the applicant’s personal character, academic achievements, and potential for success at the college level. Students need to request letters in advance of the admissions deadline to give their letter writers time to complete the letter.
  • SAT or ACT Scores: The majority of colleges and universities require SAT or ACT scores. However, schools may waive this requirement for transfer students with some college credit.
  • College Transcript: Transfer students need to submit college transcripts for every institution where they earned credit, and some universities want transcripts for each school the applicant attended -- even if he or she did not earn any credits.
  • Application Fees (or Fee Waiver): Colleges often charge application fees to cover the cost of reviewing the applicant’s materials. Some schools offer fee waivers for students with demonstrated financial need.

When Should I Begin the Application Process?

While students can fill out the application in a few hours, the application process itself can take much longer. In fact, some four-year colleges, such as Arizona State University, recommend starting the transfer application process a full year before the student plans to enroll. By spending extra time researching schools and learning about financial aid opportunities, students can ensure a smoother transition to their new school.

How to Transfer Colleges

The process of transferring from one college to another involves more than just submitting an application and waiting to receive an acceptance letter. Some schools advise students to begin the transfer process a year before they plan to enroll. Students need to research prospective schools, reach out to advisors, and learn about financial aid options before beginning the counseling program application process.

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

Types of Transfer Students

Students transfer between institutions of higher learning for many reasons, including transitioning from an associate degree to a bachelor’s degree or transferring from an international school to a college or university in the U.S. Some students also transfer for personal reasons, including to advance their career goals with specialized degrees or to attend a cheaper college. Each of these groups must consider different factors when transferring.

  • Community College to Four-Year College Transfer: After earning an associate degree or completing community college credits, some students move to a four-year college to work on a bachelor’s degree.
  • Four-Year College to Four-Year College Transfer: Students may transfer between four-year colleges to find a program that better fits their educational goals, to save money by moving to a public school, or to accommodate family or work obligations.
  • Military Transfer: Active duty military and veterans may apply credits earned during their military service toward a bachelor’s degree. Schools review military transcripts to determine how many credits transfer.
  • International Transfer: Students attending a school outside of the U.S. can transfer into a U.S. college or university. In some cases, students may need to provide a translation of their transcript for a credit review.

Transferrable Credits

Each college and university sets its own policies for accepting transfer credits, which can include case-by-case evaluations of transfer student credits. In general, the simplest transfers occur between public schools within the same state university system. Transfers to private or out-of-state institutions may involve additional complications. Students need to pay close attention to school policies concerning course equivalency, course levels, and exchanging quarter credits for semester credits.

Course Equivalency: When evaluating transfer courses, schools must decide which class at their institution resembles the class transfer students completed at a different school. In some cases, students who took English 101 at a community college receive credit for the four-year institution’s English 101 class. In other cases, schools may determine that these classes are not aligned. In some situations, schools grant general elective credits for classes that do not closely match their own curriculum.

Course Level: Schools offer classes at the 100-level and 200-level for general and introductory courses, and they offer classes at the 300-level and 400-level for advanced or specialized courses -- which often meet requirements in a major. Course level matters when transferring credits; schools will not give students credit for a 300-level course if they completed a class at the 100-level, even for similar topics. In general, colleges accept 100- and 200-level transfer credits more easily than upper-level credits.

Quarter vs. Semester Transfers: While most colleges operate on the semester schedule, a significant number use the quarter system. When transferring from a school on the quarter system to one using semesters, colleges must calculate the equivalent number of credits for each transfer course. Students need to confirm the exact policy with school advisors at their prospective school. They can also use the general formula for credit conversion to roughly calculate their credits.

What if My Credits Don’t Transfer Over?

Many students struggle to transfer credits between institutions, whether because of disagreements about course equivalency, course-level discrepancies, or rejected credits earned at an unaccredited or nationally accredited institution. In a study of transfer students between 2004 and 2009, the Government Accountability Office estimated that students lost an average of 43% of their college credits. Students moving from private, for-profit schools to public schools saw the worst loss of credits, with an estimated 94% of credits not transferring.

If your credits don’t transfer, the time and money invested into completing those courses goes to waste -- confirming why students need to research transferable credits ahead of time. Community college students who know they want to transfer into a bachelor’s program can contact the school’s admissions office or a transfer advisor before enrolling in courses to confirm that the credits will transfer. While not all credits transfer directly, some students may still request general elective credits for their community college classes.

Students can also research transfer policies before applying for a transfer. While most schools require a course grade of “C” or better to transfer credits, some schools may offer greater leniency. Before retaking a course, students may want to consider a different school that provides a more generous transfer policy. Many online schools, for example, offer more lenient transfer policies than traditional colleges.

If all else fails, you can always appeal if your new school refuses to accept your credits. The appeals process varies depending on the school, with some asking students to fill out a form to open the appeals process and others requiring a written request.

In-State vs. Out-of-State Transfers

Students considering a transfer must choose whether to enroll at a public, in-state school; a public, out-of-state school; or a private college or university. In most cases, students transferring to a public in-state school face the smoothest transition. Many public colleges and universities enjoy articulation agreements with local community colleges. These agreements grant transfer students more credits toward a bachelor’s degree, and in many cases, public institutions waive general education requirements for students already in possession of an associate degree.

Some students earn an associate degree before transferring to a bachelor’s degree in order to save money. For these students, a public, in-state four-year school often makes the most sense. As reported by CollegeBoard in the table below, in the 2017-2018 school year public, four-year in-state colleges charge an average tuition rate of just under $10,000 a year. Alternatively, public, out-of-state schools cost over $25,000 and private institutions cost nearly $35,000 a year in tuition.

College Tuition Prices

  2016-2017 2017-2018
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

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

Counseling students who earn an associate degree from a community college and transfer to a four-year institution can save thousands of dollars in tuition costs. This serves as just one of the benefits of completing an associate degree before pursuing a bachelor’s degree. Generally, community colleges charge lower tuition than bachelor’s-granting institutions. For example, CollegeBoard found that in the 2017-2018 academic year, community colleges charged less than half the tuition rate of public, four-year schools.

By earning credits at a community college and transferring them to a four-year institution, students lower their educational expenses. In addition, many colleges and universities offer a pathway to complete a bachelor’s degree that grants transfer students with an associate degree credit for all of the four-year institution’s general education requirements. In the chart below, compare the possible cost savings by attending a community college and transferring to a four-year institution.

Two-Year and Four-Year College Tuition Prices

  2016-2017 2017-2018
Public 2-Year In-State College $3,470 $3,570
Public 4-year In-State College $9,670 $9,970

Other Factors to Consider When Transferring

The transfer process does not always go smoothly. Some students lose credits when they transfer, forcing them to repeat courses and pay additional tuition fees. Transferring also forces students to repeat the application process twice, requiring additional essays, letters of recommendation, and other supporting materials. Because of limited space, transfer students face stiffer competition than first-time freshman at certain selective colleges and universities. Finally, some students struggle with the transition to a new college or university, particularly when entering as a junior when current students possess several years of experience navigating the institution.


Many transfer students don’t look at a school’s accreditation status until it’s too late. For example, students who attended an unaccredited institution probably cannot transfer their credits to an accredited college or university. Students need to research and understand accreditation when considering a transfer.

Institutions of higher learning voluntarily undergo regular accreditation from independent, nonprofit agencies. Accrediting agencies may operate regionally or nationally, and as part of their review, they assess the school’s academic standards, learning outcomes, and faculty qualifications. Accreditation affects students in several key ways: accredited institutions follow the highest standards of excellence and credits earned at accredited institutions transfer more easily. Further, counselor licensure may require a degree from an accredited school.

Transfer students can research accreditation status by checking the database of accredited institutions managed by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.

Scholarships for Transfer Students

Scholarships can provide thousands of dollars in financial support to students earning a bachelor’s degree in counseling or a related field. Many of these scholarship opportunities fund transfer students, particularly those moving from a community college to a four-year college or university. By researching scholarships, transfer students can lower their tuition bill and support their educational goals.

Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship
Who Can Apply: The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation offers one of the largest transfer scholarships aimed at community college graduates transferring into four-year colleges and universities. Students in their final year of an associate program or recent graduates who hold a minimum 3.5 GPA qualify. Applicants also need acceptance from a selective four-year institution and must demonstrate financial need.
Amount: up to $40,000 per year

Hites Transfer Scholarship
Who Can Apply: The Hites scholarship awards funds to community college students with a minimum 3.5 GPA transferring to a regionally accredited four-year college or university. Members of Phi Theta Kappa with a record of community activity and leadership may qualify.
Amount: $7,500

Pearson Scholarship for Higher Education
Who Can Apply: Pearson offers scholarships to both full-time and part-time community college students with a minimum 3.5 GPA who plan to enroll at a four-year institution. Recipients must be Phi Theta Kappa members, and the application process involves submitting answers to essay questions.

Guistwhite Scholarship
Who Can Apply: This scholarship caters to community college students transferring to a regionally accredited four-year institution. Phi Theta Kappa members qualify for this scholarship and should boast a 3.5 GPA.
Amount: $5,000

GEICO Pathway to Completion Bachelor’s Degree Scholarship
Who Can Apply: Community college students who apply for the Guistwhite scholarship will automatically be considered for GEICO’s transfer scholarship. Applicants must meet the same eligibility requirements as the Guistwhite scholarship, including Phi Theta Kappa membership and a record of community leadership.
Amount: Varies

HSF Scholarship
Who Can Apply: The Hispanic Scholarship Fund provides a scholarship to community college students who plan to transfer to four-year institutions. Full-time Hispanic students with a 2.5 GPA and a completed FASFA may qualify.
Amount: $500 to $5,000

META Scholarship
Who Can Apply: Hispanic community college students with a minimum 3.0 GPA transferring to a four-year accredited institution can apply for this scholarship. Graduates of a Southern California high school who demonstrate financial need may also qualify.
Amount: $2,000

New Century Transfer Pathway Scholarship
Who Can Apply: This program awards funds to community college students who qualify for the All-USA Academic Team with a nomination from their community college. Applicants must hold a minimum 3.5 GPA and must intend to transfer to a four-year college or university.
Amount: Varies

Cal Grant Transfer Entitlement Award
Who Can Apply: California community college students who transfer to a four-year university qualify for the award. Eligible students must demonstrate financial need, hold a minimum 2.4 GPA, and submit a FAFSA or CA Dream Act Application.
Amount: Varies

Ford Scholars Program
Who Can Apply: Restricted to residents of Oregon a Siskiyou county, California, the program funds community college students planning to transfer into a bachelor’s program. Funded scholars must be full-time students in their current state of residence.
Amount: 90% of unmet college expenses