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NAIA Transfer Rules: What to Consider When Transferring to a Different College

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Large numbers of college students are transferring schools each year. In fact, a report by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center found that 51.2 percent of college students changed schools at least once. While the transfer process is tricky enough, it’s even more difficult for student-athletes.

Depending on where athletes are transferring to and from, the process can take months or even longer, and there are a lot of factors to consider. We’ve outlined the major steps athletes need to take based on where they are transferring to and from. However, especially at the NCAA Division 1 and Division 2 levels, there are many specific rules based on the athlete’s individual circumstances and background. Families must go through the school’s compliance office and athletic department to know what these specific rules are. The steps we include below are a great way to start the process and get the right people involved. If you have any questions about the transfer process, please reach out to our team of experts by emailing [email protected].

Transferring from an NAIA school to an NCAA school

Athletes transferring from an NAIA school to an NCAA Division 1 or Division 2 school will find that they have the strictest transfer rules. Because the transfer rules can be so complex, athletes need to work through their school’s compliance office to make sure they check off all the required boxes. We’ve included the basic series of steps athletes must follow to transfer, but there are certain nuances that will require consulting with the compliance officers at their new school.

Step 1: Athletes need to make sure that they qualify as a transfer student. According to the NCAA, athletes qualify as transfer students if they meet at least one of the following:

Step 2: Athletes need to decide which division level they are going to transfer to and get their initial eligibility status. Their initial-eligibility status determines which transfer rules apply to the athlete, as well as how many seasons of competition the athlete qualifies for. The Division 1 and Division 2 academic criteria are the same as the academic eligibility requirements for incoming freshmen, which you can find in our NCAA Eligibility Center. Depending on how well the athlete meets the requirements for their desired division level, they will be given one of the following statuses:

Step 3: Athletes transferring to a D1 or D2 school must register with the NCAA Eligibility Center if they haven’t done so in the past. If an athlete hasn’t registered with the Eligibility Center in the past, they will automatically be given an initial-eligibility status of nonqualifier until they complete all the necessary steps to prove their NCAA academic eligibility. Athletes transferring to a D3 school do not need to register with the Eligibility Center, as D3 schools set their own academic requirements.

Step 4: The athlete must get a permission-to-contact letter from their athletic department or compliance office. The permission-to-contact letter is exactly what it sounds like: A letter from the athlete’s current athletic department or compliance office allowing the athlete to start the recruiting process with another coach. The Catch-22 here is that once an athlete requests their permission-to-contact letter, their current coach knows the athlete is on the market to transfer to a new school, but the athlete typically needs that letter in order to start talking to other coaches about transferring. This letter is different from the request to release form—athletes should be sure to clarify with their current program that they wish to remain on the team while they communicate with the new school.

Step 5: The athlete should determine if they qualify for any exceptions. Generally speaking, most student-athletes are required to sit out one year at their new school (which equates to two semesters of 12 credit hours). This is called an academic year in residence, and it’s designed to allow students to become comfortable at their new school before they start competing in their sport. However, some athletes do qualify to skip the academic year in residence and start competing immediately based on their academics, sport desired conference, division level, National Letter of Intent status and more. Find out if your athlete qualifies for an exception by reviewing the NCAA’s Guide for Four-Year Transfers.

The rules for transferring to an NCAA school depend on many different factors: how long the athlete has been at the four-year college, what their grades were, how many credit hours they completed, what conference they are transferring to and much more. The athlete really needs to rely on their compliance office to double and triple check that they meet all the different transfer rules associated with competing at an NCAA school.

Families should also bear in mind that the NCAA eligibility requirements might be lower than the admissions requirements for that school. Transfer students typically must meet both the NCAA minimums and the school’s admissions minimums. Again, families should check with the school’s compliance office and admissions office to make sure that their athlete fulfills all the necessary criteria.

Transferring from a four-year school to an NAIA school

The NAIA transfer rules are basically the same for athletes coming from a four-year NCAA school or from a four-year NAIA school. The main difference to note is that NCAA student-athletes will need to register with the NAIA Eligibility Center, while current NAIA athletes should already have an NAIA Eligibility Center account.

The first step in transferring to an NAIA school is to determine if the athlete qualifies as a transfer student. The NAIA transfer rules state that student-athletes qualify as transfer students if they:

Athletes who do qualify as transfer students must comply with the following NAIA transfer rules: the residency rules, the 24/36 hour rule, the progress rules and the minimum 2.0 cumulative GPA.

Residency rules are for athletes who have participated in collegiate sports at a four-year school. These rules mandate that the athlete must wait 16 weeks before participating in that sport at an NAIA school unless the athlete:

The 24/36 hour rule states that transfer students are required to have completed 24 semester hours (or 36 quarter hours) of college credit in their last two semesters (or three quarters) prior to transferring. In other words, athletes must complete at least 12 credits during each of their past two semesters at their previous four-year college (or the equivalent for schools on a quarters-based schedule) to be able to transfer to an NAIA school.

The progress rule refers to the fact that student-athletes are only able to compete in their sport for four total seasons. Transfer students who have already used one or more of their four seasons of competition in college sports need to show completion of the following before they can compete in their second, third or fourth season:

While the NAIA transfer rules are not as complex as transferring to an NCAA school, athletes still have many steps to go through before the transfer is complete. Regular communication with the compliance office and admissions office is the best way to keep everything on track and to make sure that the athlete didn’t miss a crucial step in the transfer process.

Transferring from a two-year junior college to an NAIA institution

Students transferring from a two-year junior college should follow the same NAIA transfer rules as athletes from a four-year institution. The main notable difference is in regard to the residency requirement. A student transferring from a two-year school has no residency requirement. However, if the athlete competed at a four-year college prior to attending the two-year school and didn’t competed at the two-year school, they must have a written release from the athletic department of the four-year institution.

NAIA transfer rules by conference

The NAIA rules set the national baseline for transferring; however, individual schools or conferences can have more stringent rules, depending on the policies of the conference the student is transferring into or the institution’s own transfer policies. It’s important to note that the compliance office should be up-to-date on all the NAIA transfer rules, including those by conference. As we mentioned earlier, families really should lean on the compliance office to help them understand and comply with all the different NAIA transfer rules.

What to consider before transferring colleges

Based on the NAIA transfer rules, it’s evident that transferring colleges isn’t an easy or straightforward process. It takes time, effort and a few uncomfortable conversations. This is why we always advise that athletes really consider their college choice before signing with a school. However, if an athlete really wants to transfer, here are a few things that they should consider: