At International College Counselors, we know how important it is for students to like—and be a good fit for—the school they attend. No matter where students find themselves in their college journeys, our advisors are here to help navigate the search and application process to ensure students end up at an institution where they can truly thrive. Nearly a quarter of American college students who start at one four-year institution will transfer to a different one to finish their degree. So, if you’re thinking of transferring colleges, you’re far from alone.
One of our advisors, Jon Megerian, sat on the transfer committee at Brandeis University, where he evaluated and rendered admissions decisions. With his firm grounding in the process and the evaluative criteria, so far this year the transfer students he has worked with have received offers from Boston University, Brown University, the Dyson School of Business at Cornell, Emory University, Northwestern University, Tufts University, Vassar, Vanderbilt University, Wesleyan University, and The College of William and Mary.
Here, he shares advice for students considering a college transfer.
Be strategic about when you apply.
The greater the proximity to high school, the more weight colleges will place on your high school grades and curriculum. So, if your high school grades and courses are strong, you might have good results applying to transfer in the spring of your freshman year. If your grades and classes are not as strong, consider waiting until your sophomore year to put some distance between you and your old transcript.
College grades and classes matter.
The best transfer applicants do very well in their current academic environment and take challenging classes relevant to their intended major. Prioritize your academic performance, especially if you are attempting to transfer to a more competitive college. Demonstrating you can thrive in challenging environments that demand independence and motivation is vital.
Extracurriculars matter less when transferring colleges, but they still matter.
Colleges place less weight on extracurricular activities in the transfer process, but they still play a role. If you’re planning to transfer, attempt to involve yourself in interesting passion projects, community service, or research relevant to your major. Indeed, demonstrating a robust engagement with an intended field of academic concentration is a more important criterion in transfer admissions than in first year admissions.
The applications are challenging, so start early.
Transfer applications are much longer than first year applications. Many schools use the Common App for transfers, but it’s important to note that the application is and appears completely different from the first-year application. These applications require a lot of writing and bureaucratic work. For example, the character limit for the extracurricular section is significantly longer and there are various forms, reports, and transcripts that you need to coordinate with third parties. Each school may also have long supplemental applications that require unique, lengthy pieces of writing. Additionally, a considerable number of schools that use the Common App for first-year admissions do not use them in transfers admissions. Columbia, for example, requires transfer students to use the Coalition App, and Wake Forest requires you to use their own application.
Writing good essays is essential.
Transfer essays vary from school to school but typically cluster around a core group of questions. They will often want to know why you are dissatisfied with your present academic experience, why you think transferring in generalwill rectify these problems, and why their school in particularwill allow you to thrive. The latter requires detailed research into each school, while the former two require students to identify educational goals that seem sophisticated and mature.
Build a robust list.
Transfer admission exists to fill what colleges call “melt”: spaces that open up in their undergraduate roster due to dropping out, transferring, switching sub-colleges, studying abroad, under-enrollment, or new financial and/or demographic prerogatives. Selectivity is less easy to predict than it is in regular admissions, so applying widely is critical to maximizing your options. That said, it’s possible to identify some schools as, broadly speaking, “transfer friendly” or “transfer averse.” ICC’s transfer specialists draw on collections of data and statistics to identify good fits and build smart lists.