Not Happy with Your College? Try Transferring!

by Neil Chyten

Every year, students who are not satisfied with the colleges they are attending contact us and ask how they can transfer to a better college. This now happens so often that it has become a major part of our business. As with undergraduate admission to elite colleges, transfer admission is a very specialized business requiring every bit as much expertise as Ivy League admission— perhaps even more! First, it should be understood that not all colleges welcome or even accept transfer admissions. Middlebury is an example of a college that does not accept transfers. Princeton recently reinstated its transfer acceptance policy, but like Harvard, Dartmouth, Yale, and Stanford, it accepts only a handful of transfer students each year.

With acceptance rates at the top 25 colleges at all-time lows, it is highly possible that you did not get into the college of your dreams. That does not mean you should give up your dreams. There are alternative methods of getting into these top colleges. Of course, one of these methods is to work hard and do extremely well as an undergraduate, and then to attend a top graduate school. If you cannot wait for four years, then you can consider transferring. At some colleges, such as Harvard and Yale, the transfer rates are even lower than their initial acceptance rates. In fact, Harvard’s transfer acceptance rate is less than 1%. Generally, they accept somewhere around 12 students out of 1500 transfer applications. For other colleges, however, transfer acceptance rates are equal to, or higher than, freshman acceptance rates.

Let’s be clear, this does not mean you can slack off for your first year or two at your current college and then expect to transfer to a top college. It doesn’t work that way. With transfer students, your college grades are far more important than your high school transcript or even standardized test scores. With more dependence on your college GPA, the more competitive that number will become. Furthermore, you will still have to get recommendations from teachers and these will also go a long way toward your acceptance or rejection as a transfer student. Finally, your essays will hold more importance than they do for undergraduate acceptance. You are going to need to explain to colleges why transferring from your current college will benefit both you and the college to which you are hoping to transfer.

As it is for freshman admission, most colleges use the common application for transfer admission. You will have to set up a new transfer common application account to use this portal. If you plan to transfer in the fall of the following year, your applications for most colleges will be due in March. One notable and significant exception is the University of California schools whose transfer applications are due by November 30, nearly 9 months before the next fall semester begins.

Following is a list of colleges whose transfer acceptance rates are higher than their freshman admission acceptance rates:

  • Northwestern University: 15%
  • Vanderbilt University: 30%
  • Cornell University: 18%
  • UCLA: 26%
  • Wash U in St. Louis: 20%
  • Emory University: 25%
  • Georgetown University” 16%
  • UC Berkeley: 23%
  • USC: 24%
  • UVA: 40%
  • University of Michigan: 38%
  • Georgia Tech: 38%
  • Boston University: 52%

Another reason why transformation is so valuable because you now have much more understanding of what needs to be a college student. Therefore, decisions about which college to attend should be much more informed. If you are unhappy at your current college, there is no reason that you should feel obligated to continue. For many students, transferring is a real and viable option. Your college years are far too important to have anything less than an amazingly advantageous and productive time. After all, you enter college as a teenager and exit as a young adult. Choosing the environment where this transformation happens is one of the most important decisions you will ever make. 

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