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A Guide to Transferring: What You Need to Know About the Transfer Admissions Process

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Transferring schools is a process that students undertake for a number of reasons; students whose majors are discontinued, whose financial aid falls short, who are making the transition from a 2-year or community college to a 4-year, or who are otherwise dissatisfied with the academic or social environment of their current school all may choose to transfer. In fact, more than a third of all students transfer at some point in 6 years. Yet for how common transferring is, there is relatively little literature available on the process compared to applying for admission as a first-year student. We at CollegeVine have decided to break down some of the most important aspects of transferring process, as well as the ways in which this process is distinct from applying for first-year admission.


Why Transfer?


For students who have just finished applying for first-year admission a year or two prior, the notion of applying to college again so soon can seem unappealing, to say the least. Unfortunately, in many cases, it’s necessary. The largest group of students who transfer colleges is probably community or 2-year college students, who complete their general education requirements at a community college and apply for admission at a 4-year college to finish their degree.


Many other students transfer for financial reasons – whether it’s due to an increase in tuition, an insufficient financial aid award, the loss of a scholarship, or an unforeseen shift in financial circumstances, a change in a student’s ability to finance their education at a certain school may require them to transfer to a more affordable option.


Academic factors are also a common motivator for transfer students. Schools sometimes stop offering certain majors, forcing any students who wish to continue that path of study to transfer to a school that still offers their major. Many students who feel the academic environment at their school does not align with their personal goals, or that they have little in common academically, ideologically, or otherwise with their classmates, may choose to transfer to a school which they feel will provide an environment more conducive to achieving their professional, personal, and academic goals.


How Do I Transfer?


The process of applying as a transfer student is largely the same as applying for first-year admission. Students are required to submit all their same information as they would for first-year admission (transcripts, extracurriculars, essays, recommendations, etc) as well as grades and recommendations from college professors. It’s important to note that many of the materials you’ll need to apply will need to be sent directly by your high school or teachers at your high school, so getting in contact with them as soon as possible is necessary. You should check the application instructions for any schools you’re applying to and be very careful to send in all materials by the required dates.


Just as in first-year admissions, the key to success as a transfer applicant is organization and effective time management. It’s crucial to start your applications early, especially because with a college-level workload, you’ll have even less free time to work on applications than you did in high school. Ask recommenders well in advance, as professors and teachers are busy; you don’t want to find yourself unable to submit your applications the day before they’re due because your recommender still hasn’t completed your letter. Selecting professors to serve as recommenders can be difficult if you have mostly large lecture-style classes that don’t offer many opportunities for student-teacher interactions. If this is the case, visit your professors during office hours, especially those in whose classes you are doing well, and spend some time getting to know each other. It’s important in any such meetings to be careful to articulate your academic goals and personal character. A strong recommendation can go a long way in a transfer application, just as in a first-year one.


If you plan on transferring, one area you should be sure to research thoroughly is if all or any of your credits will transfer. General education and major-specific requirements vary from school to school, and if you don’t ensure that your credits from previous classes have transferred, you may be in a difficult position come your senior year. This is especially true for community college students; many universities have agreements with community colleges that students who take a certain course load are automatically guaranteed admission, but this does not necessarily mean all credits will transfer.


For any students who aim to “transfer up” – that is, apply to transfer to a more competitive school than they currently attend – you may have to retake your ACTs or SATs in order to have a score within the range typically accepted by that school (unless your test scores from high school already fall into this range). The process of registering and studying for these tests, along with setting aside time to take them, is oftentimes lengthy and arduous. Tests are as time-consuming and their results as important for a transfer applicant as they are for a first-year, so be sure not to discount their impact.


How is Transferring Different from Applying as a First Year?


For all of their similarities, there are some key differences in the processes of applying as a first-year applicant and as a transfer applicant. A major one is competition, a difference which is especially pronounced at top universities. Stanford, for example, had a first-year admission rate of 5.1% in 2015. For transfer applicants, this rate drops down to about 2%. Most top colleges have transfer student acceptance rates in the single digits as well, and transfer acceptance rates are usually (although notably, not always) lower than first-year admissions rates.


Another difference is in the application itself. Because typically transfer applicants have completed at least one semester of college, students are no longer evaluated solely on their performance in high school, but must demonstrate aptitude and an ability to succeed in a college-level environment as well. This is true not only for academics but extracurriculars and recommendations as well, so be sure to thoroughly develop these aspects of your application if you’re planning to transfer. There are also significant differences in the essays. For example, the Common Application features only one essay prompt for transfer applicants: “Please provide a statement that addresses your reasons for transferring and the objectives you hope to achieve.” This prompt is more straightforward in what it requires from students than the prompts for first-year applicants, which usually encourage more creative storytelling. Many transfer applications require students to write both an essay on why they’ve chosen to transfer as well as an essay that more closely resembles a typical college application essay.


Another major difference is timing. While nearly every application for first year admission is due by mid-January, most transfer applications aren’t due till February or March. This also means you’ll be getting your decisions back later, and won’t be making your final decision likely until the end of the year. This timing can cause complications for some students in regards to things like summer internships or activities and travel plans, so be sure to familiarize yourself with all deadlines and start dates to avoid any inconvenient scheduling.


While the process of transferring colleges is time-consuming and labor-intensive, especially when combined with a college workload, transferring can allow many students to reach personal goals and transform their college experience for the better. With research, ambition, and the same painstaking effort that you put into your first-year applications, you can make your goal of transferring a reality.


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Anamaria Lopez
Managing Editor

Short Bio
Anamaria is an Economics major at Columbia University who's passionate about sharing her knowledge of admissions with students facing the applications process. When she's not writing for the CollegeVine blog, she's studying Russian literature and testing the limits of how much coffee one single person can consume in a day.