How to Transfer from College: 10 Tips for Success

There are many excellent reasons to transfer from one college to another. You might want to transfer after reconsidering what you want out of college. Or you might want to transfer because you’ve decided to change majors and don’t feel you’ll be adequately educated at your present college. Perhaps you’ve realized that your current college doesn’t have the faculty or curriculum to support your intellectual needs or ambitions.

Transferring into highly selective colleges can be difficult, but with the right strategy, you can optimize your chances

Whatever your reason, you’re not alone. Contrary to what you might think, plenty of students transfer from one college to another every year. In fact, most studies show that nearly a third of all college student transfer before graduating from college.

As with the first time you applied to college, when you transfer, you will be required to submit an application that generally includes your college transcript, two to three letters of recommendation, and written responses to two, three, or even four prompts. Whether applying as a first-time student or as a transfer student, your primary goal is the same: to show how you stand out from your peers. But there is one big difference between applying as a first-year student and applying as a transfer.

When you apply as a first-year student, you want to use your Common App essay or Coalition App essay (your main long essay) to impress the admissions officers with your vibrancy, your intellectual curiosity, and your likeability, among other things. But when applying as a transfer student, you need to make a compelling case for your admission by clearly explaining the reasons you want to transfer. Think of it is a statement of purpose.

Because the competition for transfer spots is intense–Harvard’s transfer acceptance rate is about .97%, UPenn’s generally hovers around 8%, Princeton’s is generally around .91%–if you are serious about moving on, it’s crucial that you write the most compelling essays you can as these are the only documents that show how you are different from your competitors.

10 Best Tips for Transferring Success

1. Plan your college course load with transferring in mind. When transferring, your high school transcript and standardized test scores (ACT/SAT) are not nearly as important as your college transcript. So, when choosing your first and second semester college courses, consider choosing those you will succeed in, not necessarily those you are most interested in. Avoid courses that might prove too challenging. Good grades in basic courses will show that you can handle college-level work. Mediocre or bad grades in advanced course will only show that you’re not equal to the task, or worse, that you thought you could succeed at an advanced class without the necessary prerequisites.

2. Ask for letters of recommendation from professors who not only recognize your talent but who like you. Also, it’s far better to get letters from full-time professors than teaching assistants, research assistants, and adjunct faculty.

3. Remember that the strategy you used to write your essays as a first-year applicant will not work when applying as a transfer student. When applying as first-years, college applicants can generally write about any experience, relationship, or goal that helps reveal who they are outside of school. In contrast, you need to think of your transfer essays as statements of purpose. In other words, your statements should clearly and specifically explain the reasons you want to transfer. Is there a particular program at the college you would like to attend that draws your interest? Did you develop new interests during your first year at college that clarified what you want from college? Does the college you want to attend have a different institutional mission or focus that now draws you?

In other words, you want to show admissions officers that you’ve done some soul-searching since first applying and that the results of this soul-searching lead you straight to the college to which you are applying.

4. As with the “Why us?” supplements you had to write when first applying, when writing your transfer application, you want to be specific about what appeals to you at your prospective new college, and about the reasons you want to attend a new college. These might include research opportunities, special programs, and curricular offerings.

5. Take responsibility for your record. If your transcript shows a poor grade, don’t blame anyone but yourself. In addition, explain how you will improve your performance at your new school.

Our daughter didn’t get in to any of her reach schools the first time she applied, and we were worried that the same thing would happen when she wanted to transfer. But Susan showed us where we went wrong the first time, and the second time around, our daughter finally got into her dream school. We can’t say enough good things about our work with her.

Diya and Aditya, South Brunswick, NJ parents of NYU-Stern sophomore

6. Although you will need to make some comparisons, don’t bad mouth your current college. You can write that your present college is a bad match given your goals and ambitions, but you can’t say that their program sucks. It’s that simple.

7. Even if it’s true, do not say that you want to transfer because you want to be closer to home or that you miss your high school paramour or that you find your present college too easy or too hard. That’s not going to impress anyone.

8. If you are applying to more than one school, keep your deadlines straight. Although most deadlines fall in March and April, transfer deadlines vary from college to college.

9. Proofread. Seriously. That doesn’t mean running your essays through Grammarly.

10. Look into financial aid. While transfer students are eligible for scholarship funds, typically the amount of money a college puts aside for transfer students is less than for non-transfers. On the other hand, some colleges earmark money specifically for transfer students.

Have questions about transferring? Want help with your essays? Call me! I’m always ready to help you.

Dr. Osborn works with students from all over the world to help them reach their independent, college, and graduate school goals. Through a personal, one-on-one approach, Dr. Osborn creates an individualized plan for each student based on the student’s strengths, passions, and career aspirations. Her holistic approach helps students perform well in school and secure admission to top colleges.  

About The Author

Susan Osborn, Ph.D., has spent 30 years in higher education, in admissions at Vassar College, in the English department and Writing Program at Rutgers University, in the lab at The New Jersey Center for Research on Writing, and as a private tutor. Dr. Osborn is also an award-winning writer and scholar and she brings both her education smarts and her writing smarts to every student relationship.