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Transfer Admissions: How Transfer Applications are Evaluated

Making the decision to transfer colleges is not easy. For undergraduates considering a transfer to another university, the thought of going through the admissions process again is daunting, especially with an entirely different procedure to navigate. The transfer admissions process is highly competitive, especially if a student is looking to transfer to a college that is already extremely selective, and how applications are evaluated is very different.

If a student wants to transfer colleges, now is the time to begin preparing. It’s not enough to apply, students also need to be sure they’re making the most of their time at their current institution. While transfer application deadlines are typically later in the spring – around March 1 – just like with the first-year admissions process, the earlier students get started, the better. This gives students time to prepare not just for the actual application, but also to understand what colleges are looking for in transfer applicants, how applications are evaluated, and how the process differs from when students applied as freshmen.

What Colleges are Looking for in Transfer Applicants
For the most part, colleges are looking to fill spots vacated by students who either also transferred to another institution, are taking a break, or otherwise won’t be enrolled the following year. Transfer admission rates are typically lower than the first-year admission rates, especially at highly selective institutions, so applying as a transfer applicant isn’t something to take lightly. In order to gain admission, your application needs to be thorough, compelling, and thoughtful.

Just like with first-year admissions, colleges want students who will be a good-fit for the school, contribute to campus community, and graduate on time. Similar to when building a freshman class, institutional needs are also taken into consideration. If there’s a need for more engineering majors, those transfer applicants might be a priority. It all depends on the school’s needs, the available space, and how the applicant fits into the campus culture. This is why it’s important for transfer applicants to know what they want to study at the colleges they’re applying to. It’s easier for a college to place a transfer student who already knows what he or she intends to major in.

How Transfer Application Essays are Read
One of the biggest differences between the first-year and transfer admissions process is the application itself – especially the essay. Rather than providing information on high school courses and grades, colleges will want to know what classes applicants are taking at their current institution, how they are performing, and will want recommendations from current professors.

The transfer essay is usually significantly different than the essay an applicant would use on their freshman application.

For example, these are the essay prompts for first-year applicants to Brown University:

  • Why are you drawn to the area(s) of study you indicated earlier in this application? If you are “undecided” or not sure which Brown concentrations match your interests, consider describing more generally the academic topics or modes of thought that engage you currently. (150 word limit)
  • Why Brown? (100 word limit)
  • Tell us where you have lived – and for how long – since you were born; whether you’ve always lived in the same place, or perhaps in a variety of places. (100 word limit)
  • We all exist within communities or groups of various sizes, origins, and purposes; pick one and tell us why it is important to you, and how it has shaped you. (100 word limit)

Here are the essay prompts for transfer applicants applying to Brown University:

  • Please tell us more about your interest in transferring. Why does Brown appeal to you as a college option? Who or what has influenced your decision to apply? (250 word limit)
  • Describe what academic field(s) you wish to pursue at Brown, how you came upon that interest, and any post-graduation career plans you may have considered. (500 word limit)
  • We are confident that the information you have submitted will give us a full picture of who you are. However, if there is something we have not asked that you feel is crucial to our understanding of your candidacy to Brown, you may address that here. (250 word limit)
  • Why are you drawn to the area(s) of study you indicated in an earlier section of this application?

As you can see, the essay prompts in the transfer application are much more specific and ask applicants to give more context as to why they want to transfer and why Brown is a good fit for them. The essays are also longer, giving applicants more space to explain their reasons for transferring and their goals. Instead of writing an essay that ‘reveals something new’ or is a reflection of a significant life event, transfer applicants should use that space to address exactly why that student is transferring and why he or she thinks this institution is a better fit. While colleges do want to get to know transfer applicants, it’s also important for them to know why a student wants to leave their current school. This can go a long way to helping determine whether or not this student is a good fit for the institution and whether there’s room for him or her on campus.

What Else Colleges Consider
Colleges will also carefully examine applicants’ course loads and grades for more insight into the applicant and whether he or she can seamlessly integrate into the campus community and school’s curriculum. When planning spring semester courses, check to see what courses first-year students take at the college you want to attend and choose classes with credits that can transfer over to the new school. It’s hard to gain admission and catch up with peers as a transfer student, if you’re starting behind everyone else in that class, so try to stay on par with that university’s standards.

Students planning to transfer should also make an effort to stay engaged in current campus and extracurricular activities. It’s easy to become disengaged from the current campus community once a student decides to transfer, but this can seriously hurt his or her application. Colleges want to admit motivated students who are making an impact, and a student putting in the minimum effort until he or she can transfer elsewhere isn’t a compelling applicant.

It’s important to remember that, while most emphasis is placed on what transfer applicants are doing at their current college or university, some admissions offices might ask for high school transcripts, test scores, or other materials that are typically reserved for freshman applicants. While these are not weighed as heavily as the other elements, it’s still important to consider how these factors will impact your application when choosing where to apply as a transfer student.

It’s also necessary to keep in mind that gaining admission as a transfer student to an institution you applied to previously and were rejected from is extremely difficult. For the most part, admissions officers want to give other applicants a chance at the college over someone who has applied before. Unless there is a significant difference between your first-year application and your transfer application that makes you a more compelling applicant, it’s better to apply as a transfer student to a school you haven’t yet applied to.

After deciding to transfer colleges, students should get started on the process immediately. Do research on the institutions you wish to transfer into, stay engaged in your current classes and activities, and seek help from on-campus counselors to get everything in order. If you need additional help, IvyWise’s team of expert counselors can help streamline the transfer admissions process by providing insight into which colleges you should consider, reviewing your application, and helping you make decisions about how to make the most of your time at your current college. Contact us today for more information on our transfer admission services!


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