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How to Build the ‘Perfect’ Transfer College List

Just Admit It! What is the transfer admissions process like?

In S2 E1 of our podcast, IvyWise experts Amy and Juaquin explain how the transfer admissions process works and share tips on how students can build their balanced college lists and perfect their application materials. Tune in here!

By Juaquin, IvyWise College Admissions Counselor

If you’re considering transferring schools, you are NOT alone! We all know someone who has transferred to a different college, and even famous people like former President Barack Obama are very public about their decision to transfer schools.

The National Student Clearinghouse data shows that just over a third of first-year college students transfer to different institutions during their post-secondary education. While the numbers dropped slightly from 2019 to 2020, we expect the numbers to bounce back after COVID-19, as many current freshmen students might be experiencing second thoughts about the college to which they matriculated during the tumultuous fall 2021 semester.

With that being said, transfer admission rates to a selective school are typically lower than those for first-year applicants because their transfer admission slots become available only if/when a student leaves the college. Selective colleges have a very high retention rate of students, so they usually don’t have many openings for transfer applicants.

According to the National Association of College Admission Counselors’ 2019 State of College Admission report, the average acceptance rate for transfer admission students in 2018 was 61%, compared to 66% for first-year applicants. This is because transfer students are applying for admission to classes that are already established and often have very few seats available, compared to when there are hundreds to thousands of spots open during the regular freshman application process.

Understand Your Reasons for Transferring

Before you even start to create a transfer college list, you need to be clear about your reasons for transferring. Evaluate what has changed about your interests, preferences, and goals since applying as a first-year student to identify colleges for your list based on fit rather than prestige and name brand.

I always advise my students to create a pros and cons list of reasons they want to transfer. Common reasons for wanting to transfer include:

  • Your current institution does not offer the course(s) you are interested in
  • Your current institution does not allow a double-major
  • Your current institution does not have the extracurricular resources to support your college and/or career aspirations

These are all solid reasons for transferring schools. A student who has an extenuating circumstance that impacts their ability to maximize their potential at their current school also has a good reason to transfer.

If you are considering transferring colleges, ask yourself if there are any opportunities, like clubs, organizations, majors, or classes, you might have missed to be certain that your current school is not a good fit for your needs and goals.

How to Create a Transfer College List 

Once you’ve identified your reasons for transferring, I encourage you to create a list of your top three parameters that will guide the creation of your transfer college admission list. Your parameters should ensure your new list of schools does not repeat the same characteristics that were not a fit for you at your current institution. There should also be consistency in your new list of schools to apply to as a transfer student. Many students prioritize academics, location, and activities when narrowing down their top three parameters. The more clear you are in your reasons for transferring schools, the more intentional your transfer list of colleges will be. As you start to create your balanced transfer college list, remember to always keep in mind your reasons for transferring and what you are looking for in the new school.

It is also important to remember that every college has its own admission requirements and application timeline for transfer students. This is why it is crucial to thoroughly research your colleges of interest. I encourage my students to create a spreadsheet to help keep track of their transfer college research. You should include columns for deadlines, testing requirements, pre-requisites, course credits, academic offerings, extracurricular activities, and any other topics that are of importance to you. You should know about their general or core courses, as needing to take introductory courses could impact your experience and delay your graduation. This research will also prove to be useful when you write your college-specific supplemental essays.

Remember to Prioritize ‘Fit’ 

After conducting thorough research, you should have a balanced list of likely (transfer admit rate over 60%), target (transfer admit rate of 30%-60%), and reach (transfer admit rate of less than 30%) schools to which to apply. I recommend that transfer applicants apply to 5-7 schools, which is fewer than the freshman applicant’s college list because the transfer list should be much more focused and intentional.

Also, if you applied to a school for freshman admission and were denied, I typically do not recommend you re-apply to transfer there unless there are significant improvements in your application. Colleges keep applications from previous years, and their records will indicate that you were denied once before, and the same decision is likely in the transfer review process as well.

Remember, fit is key when applying as a transfer student. So, students should be able to specify why their current school is no longer a good fit and what makes a school on their transfer list the perfect alternative. Transfer admission deans will want to see that you know how you’ll utilize the resources at the new school to maximize your potential and achieve your college aspirations.

There are a lot of pieces to consider when applying as a transfer student, but with thorough research, planning, and a list of great-fit schools, you will find a college where you will be successful and happy. And, because you’ve already applied for freshman admission, you have some practice under your belt!

This time around, be diligent about researching schools, building a balanced transfer college list, making good grades in your current classes, and staying involved in clubs and activities at your current institution. If you’re interested in transferring colleges and looking for guidance, get in touch with our team of college admissions counselors.

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