Transferring Colleges: Why to Consider It and How to Do It

You hear it from everyone: college is supposed to be the best four years of your life. But what happens when you feel like the college you’re attending isn’t the right fit? No need to stay; you can transfer! If you’re considering switching schools, HC’s here to help with the ins and outs of the process.

Why Transfer?
You might be considering switching colleges for a variety of reasons, ranging from academic to social concerns. HC writer Alyssa Grossman explains why she decided to transfer: “Many of the students were from the Westchester area and went home on weekends, creating a pretty uneventful social scene.” Alyssa ended up transferring from SUNY Purchase to Syracuse University. She knew right off the bat that her original college just wasn’t right; she notes, “I just knew within the first month that it wasn't what I was looking for in a college... And even though I learned a ton from the classes, I knew I needed something more.” Another common reason to transfer is for a particular major. Let’s face it, not many of us knew exactly what we wanted to study when we were applying to college…we were only 18 years old. It isn’t uncommon to finally decide on something you’d like to study a few semesters into college, only to realize your school doesn’t offer it. Another HC writer, Taylor Trudon, decided to transfer to UConn from Providence College in order to pursue journalism, a track Providence College did not offer. Or, you might consider transferring to get one more crack at your dream school. But be forewarned: it’s not necessarily easier the second time around. College Counselor Michelle Podbelsek, a private college counselor, suggests that “if you are trying to get in top-level, ultra-competitive colleges, Ivies, Duke, Stanford, etc., as a transfer student, it is just as difficult as it is to apply from high school as a first-time freshman.” Although after 1 or 2 years at college you might improve your GPA or be able write a killer personal statement, acceptance rates are often lower for transfer applicants. For example, Stanford University’s acceptance rate drops from 7.9% for freshman to 1.9% for transfers. Of course, if it really is your dream school, go for it! But if you get in, make sure it’s worth leaving the college life you’ve already established.

I Want to Transfer—But How?
Colleges and universities all have different policies for transfer apps. Some institutions, like Harvard University, do not accept any transfer applications, while others such as Northwestern University accept transfer applications each quarter and other schools only accept applications for prospective juniors. To figure out the transfer policies at the particular school(s) you are considering, visit its admission website. Deadlines for spring semester transfer tend to be in November while fall transfer applications are usually due in March. For the most part, applying to transfer institutions will be very similar to the application process you experienced senior year of high school. Expect to pay a fee, write personal statements, and submit your transcript. Some schools require SAT/ACT scores and many still ask for a letter of recommendation, this time from a college professor. Keep in mind that there’s a possibility not all of your credits will transfer to your new college. Again, it varies, but be prepared to overload or take an extra semester at your new school. Career-wise, there’s no need to list that you transferred institutions on your resume, unless you want to! Simply update your resume to list your current college. No questions asked!

What Makes A Strong Applicant

Many factors go into transfer admission decisions but the most important is grades. The Yale Admissions website states, “The single most important document in the application is the college transcript. Successful transfer applicants present evidence of exceptionally strong college performance in demanding courses.” The website continues on to explain, “The Committee also gives serious consideration to such qualities as motivation, curiosity, energy, leadership ability, and distinctive talents. The personal essays, as well as evaluations from college faculty members, deans, and secondary school counselors provide a great deal of insight into these qualities.” Essentially, all activities and statements matter but be sure to maintain a high GPA! Podbelsek’s opinion reinforces Yale’s admissions statement: “What makes a strong transfer candidate would be mostly what makes a good candidate in general: someone who has been able to reflect on their experiences and interests to know themselves a bit and be able to demonstrate their unique perspective, personality and strengths in the application. Someone who has been active in their campus and possibly even shown leadership and good grades!”

After the Fact, Happy or Not?
Is transferring worth the work? It depends on the person. Taylor reflects on her decision: “Overall, I am happy with my decision to transfer schools. I was very hesitant at first, because I was concerned with the transition being difficult. I went from a small, parochial school in the city to a large, rural university. I was worried about becoming just a "number" at UConn, but quickly found that once you find your niche as well as a solid group of friends, size doesn't pose as an issue.” Alyssa offers a similar opinion. “Now I'm in my junior year at Syracuse and I couldn't be happier,” she says, “Syracuse feels more like home each day and I definitely have no regrets. For anyone who is afraid to transfer schools, I suggest taking the risk. You only have four (or sometimes five) years to get the undergrad experience. You owe it to yourself to make it a memorable one.” But not everyone is happy after transferring. Mark Hepburn started at Carnegie Mellon, transferred, and then transferred back again! “I thought transferring to a state school would help meet my original expectations for college: a chance to be on my own, big time sports and great parties, all while managing to get a solid education,” says Mark. “After one month at a new university, I quickly realized that the most important parts of college are the relationships you build and the education you earn. When I left CMU, I sacrificed tight friendships built during freshmen year and the opportunity to earn an exceptional degree.” Ultimately, Mark was able to return to CMU but the opportunity to return is uncommon, so make sure to weigh the pros and cons before making a decision. Wherever you end up, HC wishes you the best of luck!

Sources: Stanford Admissions Website
Yale Admissions Website
Taylor Trudon, UConn transfer student
Alyssa Grossman, Syracuse transfer student
Michelle Podbelsek, Private College Counselor Mark Hepburn, Carnegie Mellon student
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