Transferring from one college or university to another is a crucial decision for a student-athlete. Those considering a transfer should review a variety of factors, including academic pursuits, athletic opportunities, campus life and personal considerations. In part because transferring can impact a student-athlete’s academic progression, NCAA member schools have established rules aimed at ensuring a decision to transfer is made carefully.
In 2017-18, 7% of Division I student-athletes were transfer students from another four-year school. These frequently asked questions examine the key issues surrounding student-athlete transfers.
Does the NCAA prevent student-athletes from transferring?
The NCAA does not prevent any student-athletes from transferring. Where NCAA rules come into play is with questions about how quickly a student-athlete can compete at the new school. Transfer student-athletes who do not qualify for a transfer exception or receive a waiver are not allowed to compete during their first year at the new school.
While the NCAA allows any student to transfer, student-athletes who sign a National Letter of Intent, a program operated by the Collegiate Commissioners Association, cannot transfer during the initial year of competition or compete immediately at the next school unless they receive a release from the initial school.
The NCAA transfer portal, which launched in 2019, provides student-athletes with the ability to publicly declare their intent to transfer and desire to speak to other schools.
Why can’t some student-athletes compete immediately after transferring?
NCAA research shows that on average, student-athletes who transfer to a different school take longer to graduate and are less likely to earn a degree than student-athletes who remain at one school. A year in residence to acclimate to their new school may help offset this dynamic.
Student-athletes who participate in most NCAA sports are eligible for a one-time transfer exception, which allows them to compete immediately after transfer once in their college experience if they meet other requirements (such as being academically eligible and receiving support from their previous school). If the previous school does not support a student-athlete’s one-time transfer exception, it must provide that student an opportunity to appeal, and that process is conducted by individuals outside of athletics.
Can coaches dictate where a student-athlete can transfer?
Coaches can’t tell student-athletes when or where they can transfer. Student-athletes can transfer at any time if they believe attending a different school is in their best interest.
Student-athletes who leave their current school academically eligible may receive an athletics scholarship at the new school, regardless of whether they will be eligible to compete in their first year at the new school. Once a student-athlete informs a school of the intent to transfer, the school can cancel the student’s athletics scholarship at the conclusion of that term. The NCAA requires member schools to have a clearly communicated transfer policy that describes how exploring transfer options impacts access to services and benefits.
Is there a waiver process available to student-athletes who cannot compete immediately?
Yes. The student-athlete’s new school can apply for a waiver that is initially reviewed by NCAA staff using guidelines developed by member schools. More information on that process can be found here.
Are there different rules for graduate students?
Yes. After they have graduated, Division I student-athletes in all sports can use their remaining eligibility at a new school, provided they meet the graduate one-time transfer exception requirements or qualify for a waiver at the time of full-time enrollment, including enrollment in a graduate degree program.
Why can’t coaches contact student-athletes on other NCAA teams about transferring?
The NCAA regulates contact between coaches and student-athletes on other teams to prevent the disruptive impact of continuous recruiting. Coaches can contact current student-athletes once they are listed in the transfer portal if the student has not activated the “do not contact” indicator.
How does the NCAA transfer portal work? Is it available for the public to view?
Division I student-athletes who wish to transfer must inform their current school in writing. The school then has two business days to enter the student’s name into the transfer portal, which allows other schools to confirm that the student can be recruited.
If the student-athlete withdraws his or her name from the database or the school lets the NCAA know that the student has enrolled elsewhere, the student’s record is updated in the portal. The transfer portal is reset at the end of each academic year.
The transfer portal is accessible only by administrators and coaches on NCAA member school campuses. The portal is available to all three divisions, though each division has different rules on transfer policies and portal use.
Can student-athletes transfer without penalties if a coach leaves the program?
A student-athlete can transfer at any time; however, the student-athlete may have to sit out from competition the first year at the new school unless he or she can meet an exception. A limited exception does exist to allow a first-time incoming student-athlete (i.e., a true freshman) to compete the first year at a new school if a head coaching change occurred during the summer before the student’s first fall semester at the original school.