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Transfer Admissions Tips from a Former Admissions Officer (and Transfer Student!)

Transfer student stands in line outside her college counselor's office

By Mike, IvyWise College Admissions Counselor

As a former transfer student (confession: I actually transferred TWICE!) and admissions officer who previously coordinated the transfer admissions program at Stanford University, I understand the unique challenges and considerations that students face with their decision to apply to transfer to a different college or university. Tag along as I share some personal and professional advice to help you navigate the transfer admissions process.

Why Do You Want to Transfer Colleges? Be Honest!

Colleges will look closely at the reasons behind why a student chooses to leave their current institution. In my case, I offered a compelling reason for transferring: as a community college student, I needed to transfer to a new college to achieve my academic goals.

Professionally, I have seen a wide range of reasons why students aim to transfer, like a second chance at the college that didn’t accept them for first-year admission, an opportunity to “upgrade” in college prestige, or the opportunity to pursue a major not offered at their current school. No matter your reason, the transfer college will weigh each of them differently and how they do so will have a meaningful impact on your admissions decision. So it’s important to understand why you want to transfer and how to explain it to admissions officers. In fact, many colleges will include an essay prompt in their transfer application asking applicants to articulate their reasons for transferring.

I encourage all the transfer students I work with to be honest and intentional during the process. Doing so allows you to understand what you really need from a college, thoroughly consider whether your current institution can help you achieve your academic goals, and develop realistic expectations for your transfer admissions odds.

How Transfer Admissions Is Different than First-Year Admissions

Once a student has a clearer sense of their reasons for transferring and their overall transfer goals, I encourage them to do thorough research on each of the colleges they are considering. You need to carefully consider the transfer application requirements of each college on your list, not just to gauge your fit within the college, but also to understand what you will need when it is time to apply. After all, there are several distinguishing factors between the transfer admissions process and the first-year admission process. It is crucial that you understand these differences before beginning your transfer application:

The Transfer Applicant Pool Looks Very Different 

Where first-year admissions consists mostly of high school seniors or those who took a gap year after graduation, the transfer applicant pool includes everyone from community college students to older students who may have families or who entered the workforce after high school, and even veteran students who have completed military service. This diversity of the transfer applicant pool often makes standing out even harder than in the first-year applicant pool.

Transfer Admissions Rates Vary by College

Some colleges will admit thousands of transfer students — USC, for example, admits 2,000+ each year — whereas others have minuscule incoming transfer cohorts of less than 20 students per year — hello, Harvard and Yale. So, depending on the college, the transfer admission rate might be 10% or 0.8%. These numbers often influence the conversation with students on where they apply.

Colleges May Have Credit Requirements for Transfer Students

For example, the University of California system requires students to complete at least 60 semester units, which typically means students must be in their second year of college to be eligible for transfer admission. The first time I applied for transfer admission, I learned after applying that I had received bad advice about major prerequisites. Consequently, my first application was disqualified.

Transfer Deadlines Vary

While most transfer application deadlines are in March, some schools have transfer application deadlines as early as November 30th (like the University of California system) or as late as June 1st (like Fordham University). Make sure you know when your application is due!

The Transfer Application May Require More Materials

Many colleges will require students to submit high school and college transcripts, list high school and college extracurriculars, and provide one-to-two recommendation letters from a professor who has taught them in college. Schools may evaluate these materials differently depending on the student’s year in college, major, or even reasons for transferring. For example, when I applied for transfer admission, the admissions officers weighed my high school transcript differently than if I had been a first-year applicant because I had 60+ college credits under my belt and my college GPA was much better than my high school GPA.

Make the Most of Your Current School

It’s crucial to make the most of the time from when you decide you would like to transfer to the moment you receive your transfer admission decision in late spring – not only for your transfer application but also for you, personally. I encourage my students to be proactive in maximizing their time at their current college. You can find or build a new community by joining clubs or participating in campus events. You can take courses you enjoy – colleges offer a greater depth and breadth of courses than high school, so college is your academic oyster! You can also get to know your professors better – they can give great career advice and may be able to connect you with internship or research opportunities. Just because you are planning to transfer colleges, it doesn’t mean you can’t make the most of the opportunities at your current college!

A positive and proactive approach to your current year typically translates to better grades, more involvement and leadership on campus, and better recommendation letters from your college professors – you know, all the things colleges will evaluate in your transfer application! More importantly, I find students who take this approach are more excited for the year and fulfilled by the end of it. Sometimes they end up falling in love with their college and choose to stay, while other times they still decide to transfer. Either way, it’s a win-win situation!

Transfer Admissions Counseling

Transferring to a different university is a big decision and requires a lot of thought and research. By remaining honest with yourself about your reasons for transferring, understanding the unique aspects of the transfer admissions process, and making the most of your current college, you will be well on your way to finding the right path forward in your higher education journey.

At IvyWise, we work within all aspects of college applications, including navigating the transfer admissions process. If you’re just beginning to explore the idea of switching schools and are looking for more guidance, our team of expert college counselors can guide you through every step and help you make the most of your academic journey. Don’t forget to check whether you qualify for our pro bono transfers program, IvyWise Scholars! For more information on our college counseling services, contact us today.

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