Steps to Take Before Entering the NCAA Transfer Portal – Eligibility Guide for 4-Year College Transfers

Published on March 9, 2022

Did you know more than 16,000+ student-athletes entered the NCAA Transfer Portal in 2021? By entering the Transfer Portal, student-athletes are intending to leave their current school and will be able to speak with coaches from other schools.

While the decision to transfer has become more popular in recent years, student-athletes must understand that the decision can involve long-lasting implications on your collegiate athletic and academic careers.

Honest Game has outlined what you need to know and what steps you need to take before entering the Transfer Portal.

What is the NCAA Transfer Portal?

The NCAA Transfer Portal is a compliance tool to systematically manage the college transfer process from start to finish, add more transparency to the process among schools, and empower student-athletes to make known their desire to consider other programs.

The Transfer Portal is accessible to NCAA Division I (DI), Division II (DII), and Division III (DIII) coaches and administrators. NAIA and two-year colleges do not have access to the Transfer Portal.

If you wish to leave your current four-year school as a DI/DII student-athlete and transfer to another four-year institution, you must complete the Notification of Transfer process and have your name added to the NCAA Transfer Portal by your school’s Compliance Officer.

DIII student-athletes must complete a “Permission to Contact” form. DIII schools may utilize the portal at their discretion to search for prospective student-athletes; however, it is not legislated by the NCAA.

All students who enter the Transfer Portal must have an NCAA ID (and certification account) with the NCAA Eligibility Center. Compliance staff will assign the NCAA Transfer Portal video to the student-athlete, which educates them on the process of entering the Transfer Portal. Once the student-athlete has completed watching the video and has a completion certificate, DI schools must enter their students’ names in the portal within two business days; DII schools must do so within seven business days.

The school’s Compliance Officer is typically the person to enter the student’s name and supporting information pertinent to the student-athlete. Supporting details may include the number of completed competition seasons if the student-athlete would like to be contacted by other college coaches, and the contact information to do so.

Additional details will also include if the student-athlete was recruited by their current school, and for DI schools – whether their aid is canceled due to entering the transfer portal. Student-athletes will be notified by the supplied email once the Compliance Officer submits their name and information.

Honest Game Insight – Use a non-school email address, as some schools may deny access to their email system once a student withdraws or leaves the school. The email you provide in your portal will be how college coaches contact you and how the NCAA will notify you about your account. Make sure you have access to the email you provide!

What is the “One-Time Transfer Rule”?

For those students who wish to leave their school and are currently academically eligible to play the following year, a new NCAA legislation now allows a one-time transfer to a new school and allows the student-athlete to receive aid and compete right away, as long as they follow the Notification of Transfer rules. Each sport has a window of time in which the student-athlete can enter the Transfer Portal.

If a student-athlete requests to be entered into the Transfer Portal outside of their sport’s window of time, they will need to wait until it opens later in the year. Graduate Transfers may enter the Transfer Portal at any time.

But what should you think about before walking into your Compliance officer’s office? Let’s dive in right now.

What Happens to My Current Scholarship When I Enter the Transfer Portal?

NCAA DI schools are allowed to cancel or reduce a student’s scholarship as early as the next term after a student-athlete enters the Transfer Portal. Unfortunately, for those students who enter the Transfer Portal and then change their mind at a later date, they may have lost their scholarship (and their roster spot) by the time they finalize their decision. NCAA DII schools may also cancel or reduce a scholarship at the end of the period of the award on the scholarship agreement.

What is the Worst Thing That Could Happen If I Enter the Portal Without Thinking Through the Details?

If you owe any money to your current college/university, such as tuition bills, library fines, and parking tickets – your current school will not release your transcript. When this happens, you will not be able to compete or receive a scholarship at a new college until your existing school bills are paid.

Honest Game Insight – Speak with someone in the school’s Financial Aid Office to become better educated on whatever bills might be outstanding and what aid you are currently receiving from the Athletic Department.

What Will Happen for the Remainder of My Time At My Current School?

The day you enter the Transfer Portal, your access to student-athlete services could be taken away. Access to daily perks like tutoring, academic advisors, strength and conditioning facilities, athletic training room, team meals, and locker rooms could all be denied.

Since you are no longer considered a “student-athlete” who plans to return the following season, those services are no longer promised to you.

Honest Game Insight – Think about the timing of when you enter the Transfer Portal and whether or not you can continue the semester without those services. Research services for the general student population at your school and become familiar with how to sign up and access them before you enter the Transfer Portal.

Will the Grass Be Greener at a New School?

Many student-athletes may feel their current situation could not get any worse and another school, coaching staff, or team would definitely be better. While it is a violation for a student to speak to a coach from a different school before they enter the Transfer Portal, they are permitted to speak to student-athletes and alumni of other schools at any time to gain a better understanding of the prospective program.

Honest Game Insight – Make a list of the reasons you want to transfer and research to see if those items can be found at your new prospective school. Ask current and former players questions about their experience, making sure to mention the parts of your current experience that you are currently not happy with. Maybe the early morning practices, lengthy running workouts or missed-class policies you hate now are also expectations at your next school.

Can Your Situation Change at Your Current School By Next Year?

Are you unhappy with the playing time you hoped for? Will that be different next year? Were you playing behind a strong upperclassman who had more college playing experience? Will they be graduating and opening a spot for you and next year could be much different? These are all questions and scenarios to consider before making the often stressful decision to transfer schools.

Honest Game Insight – Speak candidly with a member of your current coaching staff about where they see your role next year. Maybe your time has come and patience is on your side. Leaving now and transferring to a new school could put you in the same position you were in last year, but with a new team of veterans.

Are You Entering the Transfer Portal Because Your Current Coaching Staff Has Left?

The collegiate coaching carousel and transient nature of coaching mean the coaching staff who recruited you may not be there on graduation day. Did your coaching staff leave for another job and now you are left wondering if the new staff will see your role the same? Are you entering the portal because you are nervous about what next year will bring?

Honest Game Insight – Consider staying at your current school and giving the new coaching staff a try. You have comfort in this school. You’ve established yourself, made friends and you’ve navigated being a student-athlete with your school’s resources. Transferring schools now will not only have you starting over at a new school with a new staff but also in a new environment. If you have to play for a new staff, at least have it be at the place you already know.

How Will My Current/Past Academics Affect My Transfer?

Just getting accepted at a new school and receiving an offer for an athletic scholarship does not mean you will be able to compete upon transfer. Transfer student-athletes must meet specific and nuanced academic eligibility rules if they want to compete at their new school.

Students must have passed at least 6 credits in the term before they transfer and depending on the year in school, 18 credits between fall, winter, and spring terms prior to transferring.

Additionally, student-athletes who begin their junior year (5th semester) must have 40% of the degree completed at their new school upon entry. That means roughly 48 credits from your first school must be directly transferable and degree applicable to your major at your new school.

Many schools also have transfer rules that only allow grades of C or higher to transfer, and thus students usually lose credits during transfer. Additionally, you should investigate if you can be accepted into the major you want at your new school. These are usually pieces of the puzzle that may not be directly answered until students are ready to enroll at their new school and released from their previous school.

Honest Game Insight – Speak with Admissions or Academic Advisors at the new school prior to entering the Transfer Portal. These are all professionals who can speak with you per NCAA rules and will be able to offer a Preliminary Transfer Evaluation of your current classes.

At some schools, there is a limit on the number of transfer credits they accept. For those transfer student-athletes entering a new school in their senior year (7th semester), they will need to bring in 72-degree applicable credits of C or higher at most schools to be eligible. Unfortunately, some universities have transfer caps that don’t allow for this possibility, and even if you have a 4.0, you can not transfer and be eligible to compete right away.

How Close to Graduation Are You? Will You Be Transferring for a Graduate Degree?

Some students are efficient with their time at their first school and complete their degree with a year or two of eligibility remaining. These “grad transfers” are allowed to enter the Transfer Portal, attend a new school, and compete while in a graduate program. However, some students rely on summer school to finish their undergraduate degree. Once students enter the Transfer Portal, their institution does not need to pay for summer school during the summer prior to transferring to graduate school, and thus, student-athletes are left with a tuition bill. Those who can’t afford to pay for summer credits, then can not graduate, transfer and compete.

Honest Game Insight – Be educated early about your progress towards graduation and how many credits you need to complete your degree, and when those courses are offered. If you think you may be transferring for graduate school, start planning in your junior year and work with your Academic Advisor to schedule your coursework to be completed during the spring of your senior year.

How Much Playing Eligibility Will You Have Upon Transfer?

Seasons of competition are different for each sport but in general, competing for the team could mean you’ve used a season of eligibility. Some students think of transferring after a year of limited playing time thinking they are eligible to reuse that year of playing eligibility, but that is not always the case. Your Transfer Portal information will have the number of seasons of competition used, and many prospective coaches using the Transfer Portal will look for how many seasons of eligibility remain on your eligibility clock.

Honest Game Insight – Speak to a Compliance Officer about the number of seasons you are eligible to compete. Educate yourself on the COVID waivers and rules regarding seasons of competition. If you were injured and plan to use a Medical Redshirt, your CURRENT school must file that Medical Hardship waiver documentation for you.

Does Your Current Conference Have an Intra-Conference Transfer Restriction?

Many conferences have rules which prohibit a student-athlete from transferring to an institution within the same conference and competing right away. Often, this involves sitting out one year before playing and losing a competition season.

Honest Game Insight – Ask members of your Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) for the Intra-Conference Transfer policy and your Student-Athlete Handbook to familiarize yourself with those policies.

What If I Change My Mind After I Enter the Transfer Portal?

Some student-athletes enter the Transfer Portal thinking they will receive an abundance of offers, but in the end, they do not receive overwhelming interest from prospective coaches. As stated above, you may have lost your roster spot and athletic scholarship by the time you change your mind.

Honest Game Insight – Make sure you are confident in your decision to enter the Transfer Portal. While your current school has the obligation to remove your name from the Transfer Portal upon your request, oftentimes the emotions of requesting to initially transfer can impact the relationship you have with your coach.

Have more questions about entering the Transfer Portal or are you interested to know where you or your student-athletes’ academic eligibility status stands? Honest Game Counselors are available to provide one-on-one assistance to support student-athletes in navigating post-secondary opportunities athletically and academically. Schedule a time to meet virtually with our experts.

By Courtney Rickard, Honest Game Senior Manager – College Success
As a former Senior Associate Athletic Director at the NCAA Division I level and with more than 20 years of experience in collegiate athletics, Courtney has advised thousands of student-athletes through the college recruiting and eligibility process for college sports. Interested in virtual counseling with Courtney? Sign up here.