How Do Colleges Evaluate Transfer Students?
If you are thinking about transferring to another school, odds are that the decision to transfer has been stressful enough on its own. Perhaps you’ve been steadily building your grades and experiences in hopes of getting into a more competitive college. Maybe you’ve had a change in finances, or maybe you need to relocate geographically. Or you could be done with a two-year program and ready to transfer to a four-year. Whatever the reason, the decision alone is enough to worry about without the additional stress of an unfamiliar admissions process. You may have been a pro at the admissions process the first time around, but now everything is new again. You are probably wondering what exactly it is that the admissions committee is looking for this time around.
Colleges evaluate transfer students in a much different way than they evaluate applicants for freshman admission. As you fill out your application, it’s important to understand just what areas are most important and which aspects will not receive quite as much attention as they did before from admissions committees.
Below, find four keys to cracking the mystery of the transfer application.
1. Your Performance At Your Current College
Your performance at your current college will take center stage on your application. Most importantly, this means that the admissions committee will be looking at your grades. They will want to see evidence that you can handle the rigor expected at the college level, and if you’re trying to transfer into a more competitive school, they’ll be looking to make sure that you’re already at the top of your class. After all, how can they expect you to succeed at a more rigorous school if you aren’t performing well at your current one?
The admissions committee will also be considering your grades in the context of your current school. If you are a trying to transfer from a community college to Boston University, you will need to have grades that showcase your ability to handle harder coursework. If you are transferring from Dartmouth to Boston University, though, the admissions committee will not expect such a high GPA, as they will understand the rigor of your current classes.
This isn’t just limited to grades, though. Admissions committees will also evaluate your course selections to identify dedication within your major or intended course of study. They will want to see that you are selecting courses that challenge you and that lead in a clear direction towards your goals.
In addition, they will want to see your extracurriculars, which give them a better idea of your commitment outside the classroom and your ability to manage time well. If you continue the same extracurriculars that you pursued in high school, you will also show an added dedication over time, which is especially important if they’re relevant to your prospective major.
2. Your Performance in High School
Your performance in high school really becomes secondary on the transfer application. Though it still carries weight, especially if you are transferring after freshman year, the general rule of thumb is that the further you are from your high school years, the less weight they bear on your application. Your most recent performances are the most relevant, which is why admissions committees are more interested in your performance at your current college. High school grades matter less and less the longer you’ve been in college.
Along these lines, standardized test scores also lose their impact as they fade into your past. Your scores might be considered as an incoming sophomore transfer, (and in fact you may choose to retake them if your original scores were low), but if you’re looking to transfer after your junior year, it’s not likely that standardized tests will get much thought from the admissions committee.
The same can be said for high school extracurriculars. Admissions committees do like to see threads of commitment carried over time, so they will appreciate seeing that your high school volunteer program inspired you to start a similar chapter at your college, but any activities that you dropped after high school will carry very little weight on your transfer application. In fact, if you dropped all extracurriculars after high school, there will likely be questions raised as to why you no longer pursue activities in which you once participated with such dedication. The admissions committee might assume that you could not juggle your coursework with your extracurriculars, or that you only participated in high school to get into college.
3. The Essay
Believe it or not, at many competitive schools, transfer admissions are even more competitive than regular admissions. For example, at Stanford the regular acceptance rate for 2016 was a scant 4.7%. For transfer students, though, it was a minuscule 2.25%, less than half of their already competitive regular acceptance rate. For this reason, the essay matters.
Odds are that many, if not most, transfer applicants are academically qualified to attend the school to which they’re applying. This means that to truly set yourself apart, you’ll need to shine whenever given the chance. The essay portion of the application provides you with that opportunity.
Competitive colleges want students who are truly invested and interested in their school, and you need to use the essay to prove this. You will need to be able to describe real, concrete reasons as to why the school you want to transfer to would best enable you to be successful. This not the place to wax poetic. Instead, talk about your very specific short and longterm goals and how the college you’re applying to transfer to would be best suited for you as you work towards them.
For example, say you thought you wanted to pursue a premed track in high school so you originally chose a school with a strong premed program. By your sophomore year of college, though, you realized that your passions in the medical field actually lie more specifically in the field of biomedical engineering. Now you want to transfer to a school with a stronger engineering department.
On your essay you should describe what led you to choose the premed path, and how you realized that you wanted to pursue biomedical engineering instead. Talk about the precise moments when you discovered your passion for biomedical engineering, then link this passion with concrete ways in which the transfer school can help you to realize your dream. Do your research so that you can speak about specific, unique features of their program. You could even reach out to a professor at the transfer school to discuss whether it would be a good fit for you, and then include elements of that conversation in your essay. Remember, the more specific you can be in proving that this school is the one for you, the more convincing your essay will be.
Finally, be careful not to appear overly critical of your current school. Speaking to deficiencies of your college will come off as bashing it, and if you speak poorly about your current school, admissions committees may wonder whether you will someday speak poorly about their school too. Instead, keep the focus on the positive aspects of the new university and why you believe that it is exactly the right place for you.
4. Letters of Recommendation
Just like the essay section, letters of recommendation also become very important in setting you apart as an applicant. Remember, the admissions committee will be receiving far more qualified applicants than they can accept, so you are looking for ways to differentiate yourself. Letters of recommendation are another opportunity to do just that.
Good letters of recommendation in college are often harder to come by than they were in high school. Class sizes are generally much larger and it’s that much easier to get lost in the crowd. You will need to consider your options well in advance and hopefully have laid the necessary groundwork by getting to know your professors before you even thought about transferring.
To receive a top-notch recommendation, you need to have built a strong relationship with your professor. This means that you should participate actively in class and attend office hours. Keep your professor in the loop about your plans and aspirations, and seek advice about how to make them realities. Be sure to attend out of class events such as optional field trips, career fairs or departmental open houses. Ideally, your professor should know you personally and be able to speak not only to your academic performance but also to who you are as a person.
In order to make sure that your letter of recommendation highlights exactly what you need it to, meet with your professor ahead of time to discuss it. Communicate clearly why you are considering a transfer and which of your goals can be better met at another university. Make sure that the professor understands which areas of strength you hope will be recognized and mention some concrete examples of them. You will want to approach the subject gracefully so that your professor does not feel like he or she is being fed lines, but rather being provided insight into why you feel you are a qualified transfer applicant.
Again, when discussing your plans with your current professor, be sure to focus on the positives of the new college rather than dwelling on the ways in which your current college cannot meet them. If your professor feels that you are blaming your current school for falling short, he or she may take it personally and be less apt to write the glowing recommendation that you’re hoping for.
To summarize, transferring to a new college can be extremely stressful. Just when you thought the admissions process was behind you, you may find yourself facing it again with less support than you had the first time around, when you were still in high school. To make matters worse, the transfer acceptance rate is often even more competitive than regular admissions.
Having a firm grasp of how you will be evaluated as a transfer applicant can help to focus your efforts.
While your high school performance is overall less important the longer you’ve been in college, your performance in college will now serve as the necessary evidence that you’re qualified to perform college level work and dedicated to being a productive member of a college community. Once you’ve established that you meet the basic requirements for acceptance, your essay and letters of recommendation will take center stage. Make sure to focus on concrete, specific examples of how the new school is the best fit for you. Describe your goals in detail and outline the college’s unique ability to make them your realities.
If you are considering transferring to another college, be sure to check out the CollegeVine Guide to Transferring: What You Need to Know About the Transfer Admissions Process.
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