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NCAA Transfer Rules

Transferring schools isn’t something you should do on a whim. But if you’re unhappy at your current school, transferring may lead to a better experience.  

Below, we’ll go over the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) transfer rules and why some student-athletes might transfer.  

Why do college athletes transfer programs?

Some student-athletes transfer because they’re not happy with their program. They might not like their current major and realize their school doesn’t offer what they want to study. 
Or maybe they want to transfer because the sport or coach isn’t a good fit. They’ve pushed themselves hard in training and practice only to realize that they don’t love it like they thought they would.  

If this sounds like you, that’s OK. College is challenging without the added aspect of playing on a competitive sports team.  

But before rushing to transfer, ask yourself a few questions: What don’t you like about your current experience? Is it the classes? The tough practices? The coach? 
Once you have the answers to those questions, see if you can get an appointment with your college’s mental health or counseling services. They’ll be able to help you sort through your answers, so you’ll know for sure if transferring is for you.  

NCAA transfer rules: Everything you need to know

After you have weighed the options and decided to transfer, it’s time to dig into the NCAA transfer rules. 

Timing and the NCAA Transfer Portal

The best time to start the transfer process is when you realize you’d like to transfer. However, you should begin the process only when you’re 100% sure.  

After you initiate the transfer process, your current scholarship should remain intact. Your scholarship for the following academic term, however, is not guaranteed. If you end up rescinding the transfer and decide to stay at your current school, your scholarship could be in jeopardy. Once your current school knows you intend to transfer, they can rescind any scholarship offers for the next semester, quarter, or trimester. They may even give it to another student-athlete. This won’t matter if you transfer. 

If you’re sure you’re transferring, you’ll need to access the NCAA Transfer Portal. The NCAA Transfer Portal was first launched in the fall of 2018 and quickly became the one-stop spot for students and coaches. You’ll need to provide written notice to your college’s designated admin to access it. Without written notice, NCAA coaches aren’t allowed to contact you.  

Your college’s admin will sit with you to take personal information, like your phone number. If you want to be proactive in your school search and reach out to coaches yourself, you can request that coaches don’t contact you. This is perfect if you already have a program in mind. Of course, you can also allow coaches to contact you if don’t have your heart set on a specific program. This options is great for student-athletes who don’t have a program in mind and want to see what’s out there. The transfer portal has been an excellent resource for coaches who need players.  

As of August 2022, a D1 athlete can enter the NCAA Transfer Portal only during specified time windows. They are as follows:  

NCAA transfer portal window by sport


Generally, if you were a walk-on at your previous college, you’re eligible to be a walk-on at your new college. You are eligible regardless of whether your last college recruited you or whether it offers scholarships in your sport. You are also eligible if you fit the traditional definition of walk-on status. This means your previous college offered scholarships in your sport but didn’t offer one to you.   


Redshirting is when a full-time student sits out of competitive gameplay for a year but practices with the team and is still eligible for athletic scholarships.  

As of April 2021, D1 athletes transferring schools for the first time no longer have to redshirt for a year at their new college before competing. But you must meet certain qualifications to play immediately for the new school. And you will have to sit out a season for any subsequent transfers — unless you obtain a waiver from the NCAA. 

Student-athletes may still benefit from a redshirt season, as it allows them to adjust to their new school and coach. 

It’s important to note that you’re eligible to compete in gameplay for four years. You have five years to complete your four years of play. In D1 schools, this five-year clock commences when you become a full-time student, even if you don’t play sports there. It only stops in rare cases. In D2 schools and D3 schools, it also starts once you enroll as a full-time student for the first time, but it’s paused anytime you are no longer a full-time student. 

Transferring between divisions

There are many things to remember if you’re transferring between divisions. If you’re transferring from a D3 school to a D2 or D1 school, you must register with the NCAA Eligibility Center

You don’t need to contact the NCAA Eligibility Center if transferring to another D3 school. All you need to do is fill out the NCAA Self-Release form.  

What about National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) students wanting to transfer to an NCAA school? You won’t need to register with the NCAA Transfer Portal. However, you’ll need to be approved by the NCAA Eligibility Center if your new school is D2 or D1. You’ll also need a permission-to-contact letter from your athletic department or compliance office. Without it, NCAA coaches won’t be allowed to contact you. Lastly, while getting a release from your current NAIA school isn’t required, it’s often encouraged. NCAA schools won’t speak to you until it’s done.  

If you’re going the other route and transferring into the NAIA from the NCAA, you’ll need to register with the NAIA Eligibility Center. It’s also a good idea to check out NAIA transfer rules to ensure you meet them.  

How many times can you transfer colleges?

NCAA colleges allow transferring more than once. But some transfers could incur penalties. Especially if you’re transferring to a four-year college for a second time.  

Let’s suppose you want to transfer to your third four-year school. Let’s also suppose that the previous two four-year colleges you attended offered your sport. In this hypothetical, the transfer is allowed but with a penalty of sitting out a year. That means you will not play and possibly not practice with the team for an entire year.  

Now let’s look at another hypothetical. You’ve transferred from a four-year school to a junior college that’s only two years. Now you want to transfer back to a four-year school to finally complete your degree. In this scenario, you can transfer without penalty. Even though it will be your second time playing for a four-year school, it will be your first time transferring to one. If your grades and athletics are up to snuff, you can practice and play.  

Minimum GPA 

A GPA of 2.0 is needed at most colleges to be able to play a sport. It’s best to hit that mark at your current school and then aim for it at your future school, too. However, four-year schools typically have higher GPA requirements for students transferring from a two-year school. Be sure you know what they are.  

Junior college transfer rules

The rules for transferring between two-year colleges are simple. You don’t need a release for other junior college coaches to contact you.  

Of course, transferring from a junior college to a four-year school is more complicated. You’ll need to meet the NCAA eligibility requirements and register with the NCAA Eligibility Center. This is on top of meeting the GPA requirements the school has.  

NCAA graduate transfer rules

You can participate in sports as a graduate. Here are some of the requirements to do that: 

  1. You must graduate from your current college/university. 
  2. Have at least one year of eligibility on your five-year clock. 
  3. You must be going to a graduate school that has your sport.  


Transfer rules can be complicated. Some sports follow general transfer rules, while others don’t. While you can research the NCAA transfer rules for your sport to know what to expect, we recommend getting assistance with this process. At NCSA, our expert staff can help answer questions you might have about the transfer process and provide further clarity on the NCAA transfer rules. 


NCSA is experienced with NCAA transfer eligibility rules, as well as all steps of the recruiting process. If you’re looking to get recruited, NCSA can help. We are well-versed in management and can show you everything you need to know. Check out our college recruiting guide for more information on how the process works.