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How to transfer to an Ivy League School

4 Signs You Should Consider Transferring Colleges

There are a number of reasons why students may want to transfer to a different school after their first year. Maybe they decided to change their major but their current school doesn’t offer it. Or perhaps the hustle and bustle of an urban campus turned out to be more stressful than a student originally thought. Whatever the reason, whether it’s campus life, academics, or just the overall atmosphere of the school, it’s important to take some time to reflect on why you may want to transfer schools.

According to a recent NACAC study, approximately one-third of students transfer to another college in four years. Below are some things to think about if you are considering making the switch.

You Have Your Sights Set On Specific Opportunities

To make the most of college, students need to actively pursue learning opportunities available to them on campus. Some may gravitate towards research projects while others will seek out internships, but it’s important for every student to find pursuits that relate to their long-term goals. If you have a specific opportunity or interest and are struggling to find relevant endeavors at your university, it may be time to start exploring institutions that are more aligned with your goals. While transferring may ultimately be the best call, students who feel their campus is lacking something may wish to channel their entrepreneurial side and launch new opportunities of their own.

You’re Unhappy With the Current Campus Atmosphere

Maybe you focused on large research universities during your college search but have come to realize you would feel more at home at a small liberal arts institution. Or perhaps you yearned for city living but have come to find the environment overwhelming and counter-productive. Ideally, students will pinpoint what kind of environment suits them best during college tours in high school, but it is possible that your needs or desires will change. If you are truly unhappy with your current campus environment and cannot brainstorm ways to work around these challenges, it may be time to start considering different types of schools.

You Dread Going to Class

Even all-star students may have a class that they struggle with from time to time. While it is totally normal to dread a lecture occasionally if you’re miserable in every course that could be a major red flag. Take time to reflect on what’s causing this sense of dread; it could be that you picked classes that don’t align with your interests, or perhaps there is something bigger at play. Students in this scenario may wish to start exploring other academic options, but it can also be beneficial to meet with an academic advisor to explore different majors and concentrations within your current campus.

You Feel Like Your Values Don’t Align

Diversity is one of the greatest assets on many college campuses. Students have the opportunity to learn from peers with very different values and those who hail from a multitude of backgrounds. However, if you consistently feel alienated on campus, it may be time to reconsider your school choice. Students should embrace the different lifestyles and viewpoints around them, but it is also important to feel connected to the community at large. If you find yourself in this scenario, consider exploring schools with values and mission statements that more closely align with your own. Simultaneously, try making the most of your current situation by looking for on-campus clubs or student groups that relate to causes that resonate with you.

If you’ve reflected on your own university experience and decided to transfer is in your best interest, give yourself time to explore your options and navigate the process.

Is Transferring to an Ivy League College Easy?

Transferring to another school can often be more difficult than applying as a freshman. The NACAC report shows the overall acceptance rate for transfer students at all schools in the country was 64% compared to 69% for freshman applications. This debunks the myth that it is easier to be accepted as a transfer student.

Many schools’ enrollment models do not leave much room for new students to enter in, and many desirable schools have such high retention rates that very few spots open up for new students to enter at all. This makes it tougher for transfer students to gain admission at schools like Harvard. Universities tend to read the inter-school transfer applicants (or students transferring schools within the same university) before reading the transfers from another school. Some schools, like Princeton, do not accept transfer students at all.

If you’re thinking of transferring, one of the most important things you can do is stay positive! Transferring is not a mark of defeat, so don’t put too much pressure on yourself the second time around. Be diligent in your search and do your homework on the schools you want to apply to as a transfer student. There’s a great-fit school out there for everyone and you’re sure to find it!

To secure your place at your dream school, invest in working with a transfer admission consultant.

Can I Transfer to an Ivy League School From a Community College?

Yes, it is possible to get into Ivy League schools as a transfer from community colleges. In the past two years, 228 students were successful in transferring to Cornell University (2019 and 2020 stats).

5 Tips on How to Successfully Transfer to an Ivy League School

To get into an Ivy League school, you need to have outstanding grades, a stellar college admissions essay, and glowing recommendations. However, the Ivies are more interested in how you do at your current school than what you did previously in high school (including SAT scores).

Do Careful Research on Schools That You Are Considering Transferring To

Many schools do not offer to house transfer students and you don’t want to find that information late in the application process. In addition, try to talk to a transfer coordinator to get an idea of which courses will transfer over for credit at your new school and whether or not they have a transfer orientation program when you arrive at your new campus.

Grades Matter the Most

College admissions officers will weigh your academic performance most heavily when reviewing your application, including your performance in the college courses you have completed. As a result, it’s important to stay present in your classes, even if you’re eager to switch schools. Keep showing up for lectures, complete your assignments, and put your best face forward. Not only will this help you stay academically sharp for future coursework, but it will also show your current college professors that you’re a dedicated student. Since you will need to ask these professors for letters of recommendation, it’s important to make a strong impression. 

Stay Engaged in Your Classes and Community at Your Current Institution

Keep up your grades and your involvement outside of class. Transfer student readers want to know that you’ll be a strong student in the classroom and a productive member of the campus community. Also, the Common Application for transfer students requires a recommendation letter from a professor.

Generally speaking, your grades from your current college/university courses will play a major role in your transfer admissions file. You may also need an official high school transcript and test scores, even if they aren’t considered as strongly, to include with your application.

Extracurricular activities aren’t just important in high school. Whether it’s a sports team or a volunteer role, make sure you’re active on campus. College admissions officers will want to see what you’re doing to get involved and make an impact. Participating in extracurricular activities can also be an excellent way to add to your resume, develop professional experience, and build your skill set to prepare for the transition from college to career or graduate school. 

Answer Why You Want to Leave Your Current School in Your Application And/or Interview

Work on finding a positive way to express why the school you are currently attending turned out to not be the right fit for you, as opposed to just expressing everything that is wrong at your current school. Many times you want to transfer because your interests have changed and your current school does not offer the major you would like to pursue.

Consider Logistics

In addition to pinpointing your best-fit options, make sure you understand what it will take to graduate on time. Every school has its own transfer admissions policies and options available to transfer students, so it’s important to understand what you can expect at various colleges. For example, some schools like NYU do not guarantee on-campus housing for transfer students. Other colleges may not accept all of the credits from the school you are currently enrolled in, meaning you may need to retake certain courses to meet graduation requirements.

What Is the Transfer Admissions Process Like?

If you’re considering transferring colleges, preparing in advance and doing your research can help set you up for success. Keep reading to learn more about our tips for transfer applicants.

Step #1: Determine What Went Wrong

Every student may feel frustrated with their college experience from time to time, so how can you know if transferring schools is really the best option for you? Start by making a pros and cons list that outlines what you could gain by transferring to another school on one side, as well as noting the reasons to stay at your current institution on the other. Before you commit to researching, applying, and navigating the transfer admissions process, it’s essential that you feel completely confident in your decision to transfer in the first place.

Step #2: Get Organized

If you’ve decided that transferring colleges is likely the best option for you, the next step is thorough research. One of the best ways to stay on top of deadlines is by starting a spreadsheet that details each of your best-fit schools, their corresponding deadlines and application requirements, and additional logistical information such as whether or not AP courses are accepted as college credit. Every college has its own rules and guidelines surrounding transfer admissions, which is why it’s so important for students to read the fine print and focus on the details when making their decisions.

Step #3: Prepare for Personal Statements

Much like first-year applications, many colleges will ask students to write a personal statement as part of their application. However, the questions transfer students will be asked might look very different from first-year prompts. Generally, the personal statement questions will be specific, focused, and maybe even a little bit quirky. Instead of simply asking “Why do you want to transfer?”, some students will be faced with questions like “What was a course you have really enjoyed in college so far and why?” and even “If you could design your own seminar, what would it look like?”

Step #4: Don’t Forget About Recommendation Letters

While it’s not a requirement at every college, some universities will ask students for letters of recommendation as part of their transfer admissions process. Generally, if schools require letters of recommendation, they will likely be looking for 1-2 letters from professors. It’s often advantageous to select professors who have taught you most recently because they will have the most current perspective on what your work is like as a student and they will likely be able to recall specific details or anecdotes with greater ease. Strive to build a relationship with these professors by attending (virtual) office hours, participating in classroom discussions, and giving them a chance to get to know you on a personal level.

Step #5: Consider Negotiating Financial Aid if Needed

Once you’ve received your transfer acceptance results, don’t be afraid to inquire about your financial aid offer as needed. Generally, transfer admissions students actually cost universities much less money than first-year applicants, so you may be able to negotiate your financial package to make the transfer admissions process more feasible for you.

For even more insights on how to transfer to an Ivy League school, check out our podcast episode:

FAQ: What to Do if You Want to Transfer

The IvyWise Principal Admission Counselor, Devin, who works frequently with transfer applicants answers some transfer admission FAQs to help students gain a better understanding of the process and what they need to do to prepare.

Q: When Writing the Personal Statement, Should Transfer Applicants Talk About a Meaningful Experience as One Would When Applying as a High School Senior?

Devin: For the most part, transfer admissions committees are more interested in knowing why a student is deciding to transfer. If you are transferring from one four-year university to another, you should have a good reason for wanting to switch schools, which could certainly include a meaningful experience. If that meaningful experience relates directly to the reason why you want to attend a different university, the applicant should include that in his or her personal statement.

For some applicants, there are clear reasons for transferring that include unfortunate events, such as financial troubles or being a victim of assault, for example. In these instances, a student’s reason for transferring is clear, and the meaningful experience, in this case, should be explained carefully.

Q: Since It’s True That Some Schools Really Accept a Small Percentage of Transfers, What Should Transfer Students Know About Applying to Selective Institutions?

Devin: If a student is applying to transfer to a highly selective institution, he or she should know that admit rates are generally lower for transfer students than for first-time, first-year applicants. At the most competitive schools, admissions committees are looking to fill seats that are vacated by students at the end of every freshman year. The trouble with highly selective schools is that these students are so well prepared and dedicated to remain enrolled that there are rarely any students who leave the school at the end of their first year. This means that there are usually fewer than 20 openings for transfers to enroll.

If a student applied as a first-year student and was not admitted, that student would have an even more difficult time gaining admission as a transfer to the same institution. There has to be a considerable difference between that student’s first-year application and transfer application in order to be attractive to transfer admissions committees. Most admissions officers would prefer to give other candidates a chance at enrolling over the student who has applied more than once. In these cases, it is better to apply to a school for which you have never been a candidate.

Q: How Likely Are Transfer Students to Receive Merit Scholarships at Institutions That Offer Such Funding? How Can They Increase Their Chances of Receiving One?

Devin: Receiving a merit-based scholarship really depends from school to school. When a student is planning their transfer to another school, they should check with the admissions offices to find out more information about scholarships. It is reasonable to expect that the better your grades are, the more likely it will be that you will receive a scholarship.

Q: If Students Want to Transfer to a Business Program, Should They Take as Many Business-Related Classes as Possible?

Devin: I refrain from encouraging any student to take as many courses as possible within one academic discipline in order to be admitted to a different school. This strategy might lead a candidate to be a ‘one-note pony’ by accident. A better approach is to research the typical first-year course load at the school to which you intend to transfer and check for distributional requirements that you would have to meet. If all engineering majors have to complete a semester of foreign language, add a foreign language course to your schedule.

In addition, if you are required to complete prerequisite courses in your first two years at your target school, be sure to add these to your schedule so that you will be able to take the courses in your major after your transfer. For business majors, this would include courses in calculus I & II as well as micro and macroeconomics.

Be mindful that your objective in college is to learn new things, so don’t make every course you take ‘fit’ your major if you don’t have to. Any free electives should be used to explore more interesting topics that you have never studied before. 

Admissions committees love to see unexpected selections like gender studies or art history on the transcript of a candidate applying to engineering or business. At the end of your undergraduate career, you should be able to demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of the things taught in your academic major, however, the things you learn in an unrelated course will stand alone and make you a more knowledgeable person in general.

Q: When Should Students Aim to Get Started On Their Transfer Applications, Given That They’re Due Later in the Year?

Devin: Transfer applications require more documentation than most first-time, first-year applications; the earlier you start, the better. Most admissions offices will ask for a Registrar’s Report, Dean’s Report, Professor’s Report, and Midterm Report as well as documents from your high school.

Be mindful that it takes time for all of these offices to locate and send your credentials so that they arrive at their destinations before the deadline. I would hazard to guess that if you haven’t contacted all of the parties that will send your paperwork at least a month before the deadline, you are ‘behind the 8 ball’ already.

To illustrate this point, consider which professors will provide a letter of recommendation for you. You have to go give this person enough time to write the letter. Depending on how busy this professor is it could take weeks for this person to draft something on your behalf.

Be sure to check the admissions webpage for each school to which you intend to apply. Create a spreadsheet of the required documents, deadlines, and contact details for each institution. Call every office of admission and ask to speak to a transfer admissions officer so that you can go over all of the requirements with that person. Be sure to ask about the usual pitfalls that applicants encounter when applying to that school.

Now that you know what it takes to transfer to another institution, begin this journey by learning how to build the perfect transfer college list.

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