Transferring colleges can be a very difficult decision to make, but you need to find the college that is the right fit for you even if it means transferring. Whether you're trying to transfer from a 2-year school to a 4-year school or from one 4-year university to another, this article is to help you on your journey to transfer!
There are many valid reasons to transfer, and before you apply to transfer, you need to figure out what your reason is. The school you're applying to transfer to will want to know why you are choosing to leave:
- Did you not fit in with the other students? If so, did you try to fit in? Did you join any clubs, teams or Greek life? Did you attend events?
- Do they not have your desired program of study? Did you decide to switch majors and your school does not have your new major? Did you apply undecided and realize you have a passion for a specific major your school does not have?
- Did you graduate from a 2-year program with an associate’s degree and now want to pursue a bachelor’s?
These are all very valid reasons to transfer. If you are looking to find a college to transfer to, I recommend using the College Board College Search Portal to help you find the right college for you. This portal allows you to search by school size, location, major, diversity, if transfer credits are accepted, and by many more options. If you felt like your school is too small, search by school size to find a larger university, or if you want to be a fine arts major, search by major and find a school with a fine arts program. Whatever you are looking for, before starting your search, make sure you qualify to transfer.
Do I Qualify to Transfer Schools?
Most universities require that you have completed at least 8 courses at another university to qualify as a transfer student; otherwise, you must apply as a freshman.
So long as you have those credits, most schools will let you apply to transfer as either a sophomore or junior (some schools let applicants apply to transfer in either the spring or fall; others only let applicants transfer in the fall) to find out a school’s exact policy, search “[College Name] transfer policy” in Google.
Note: high-school students, who dual enroll at a local community college during high school, still apply as freshmen, not as transfer students.
How Hard Is It to Transfer?
It depends on the school. If you want to know a school’s specific transfer rate, search “[College Name] Transfer Acceptance Rate.”
At some schools, it is more difficult to be admitted as a transfer than as a freshman; while at others, it may be easier to be admitted as a transfer. Some schools only admit transfers if students admitted as freshman choose to dropout or take time off, leaving very few spots for transfer applicants. Other schools plan to take transfer students, holding spots for these students.
Some schools may take more transfers because these applicants are stronger, having proved their academic prowess at a 4-year or 2-year college institution. Other schools have lower qualifications for transfer students in order to fill up their classes (and make the most money). Transfer students are not factored into the school's freshman admit profile (or their overall admission rate); both of which are published and are typically used as assessments of the school's prestige and academic rigor.
Also, transfer applications are often need-aware such as at Brown University, meaning that a transfer applicant’s ability to pay for tuition, room and board is factored making an admission decision. Whatever the school's reason, the difference in freshman admission and transfer admission is striking.
Check out the transfer admission rates for Harvard and Notre Dame: Harvard University takes about 15 transfers per year out of about 1500 applicants (1% admit rate for transfers vs. 5.9% for freshman) while Notre Dame takes about 190 out of 500 applicants (37% admit rate for transfers vs. 21.2% for freshman). You can check out transfer statistics on several schools from the 2012 fall class here.
What Is the Transfer Application Like?
Some schools may vary slightly from this format, but in general, the transfer application is very similar to the normal college application. The transfer application includes
- Common Application including Personal Statement and Supplement
- Transcripts, High School and College
- Mid-Year Report *****different from the normal college application
- SAT or ACT Score (most schools)
- Letters of Recommendation
- Major Specific Requirements: Portfolio, Resume, or Additional Writing Sample (only for certain majors at certain schools)
To check a school’s specific requirements, search “[College Name] Transfer Application.” I will delve into more on each of these components below.
Personal Statement and Supplement
These are two of the MOST crucial parts of your transfer application. As I said before, you need to tell your story of deciding to transfer, and this is your opportunity. If you do not tell it in your personal statement and/or supplement, the admissions officer will not know why you should be invited to attend their school. Be open and honest about why you are deciding to transfer and why you NEED to transfer. Try to explain why their school is truly your perfect fit.
If you don’t believe me, here's a quote from the Yale University Admissions Office:
“Transfer candidates should also have particularly compelling and well-defined academic reasons for wishing to attend Yale. Wanting to leave one’s current school is not a sufficient argument for admission to Yale. Transfer candidates should explain in their application essays how studying at Yale would give them an educational opportunity particular to their interests that could be experienced nowhere else. The Admissions Committee also gives serious consideration to a transfer applicant’s motivation, curiosity, energy, leadership ability, and distinctive talents. The personal essays and evaluations from college faculty members, deans, and secondary school counselors provide a great deal of insight into these qualities. We hope to find students who have made significant contributions to their college and local community.”
How do you explain how their school is your perfect fit? Well, here is a sample mini-transfer personal statement:
“My reason for wanting to transfer arises from a desire to search for those people I really fit in with. I have had a fine experience at my college so far; I enjoy my classes and have made many friends, but something is missing. I yearn for that intellectual challenge surrounded by students who inspire me to be great. I have tried to make this school right for me and search for potential lifelong friends. I have joined the Cooking club, club softball team, and the Oscar Wilde fan club. My experience at my school has convinced me more than ever that your school is my perfect fit, not because I long for the prestige of your institution, but because I long to be with the people who will truly challenge and inspire me everyday.”
In addition to the personal statement, most schools require a supplementary essay (usually much shorter than the personal statement), and in the supplement, you have to address a school specific question. Typically, the supplement asks, "Why Our School?"
You really need to have a great answer for that question. These two essays (the personal statement and supplement) are very similar, but there is an important distinction between the two. The personal statement needs to show who you are through a story and explain why you, as you are, want to transfer or did not belong at your former school (as I did above in the example). On the other hand, the supplement needs to explain for what academic reason do you want to transfer.
Here is the personal statement prompt for all UC Schools such as UC Berkeley and UCLA, "Tell us about a personal quality, talent, accomplishment, contribution or experience that is important to you. What about this quality or accomplishment makes you proud and how does it relate to the person you are?" Again, the focus is on you and your uniqueness, why you as you are, don't fit in at your school. What personal reason do you have for transferring? Were you at a school that was too small for you? Too big? Did you not fit in with the students at that school? Did you visit a friend at Notre Dame and realize you fit in there?
Here is the transfer supplement prompt for all UC Schools such as UC Berkeley and UCLA, "What is your intended major? Discuss how your interest in the subject developed and describe any experience you have had in the field — such as volunteer work, internships and employment, participation in student organizations and activities — and what you have gained from your involvement." The focus here is more on the institute you are applying to. Why do you want to go to that school and study that major? What academic reason do you have for transferring? Did you realize your passion for fashion journalism and NYU has a top journalism program in a city where you could intern at fashion magazines?
Try to answer both prompts as specifically as you can. Do not be general or vague.
BAD for supplement essay: I want to attend Yale because your school is better than my school.
GOOD for supplement essay: I want to transfer to NYU because I have discovered my passion for fashion journalism through my fashion blog that has 100,000 subscribers. My school has no journalism program, and NYU’s is the best program for fashion journalism in the country. I know NYU would help me achieve my dream of becoming editor of a fashion magazine.
In addition to the personal statement and supplement, you'll need to provide a transcript from your high school (just as you did for college applications) and a transcript from your college. If you're applying from a 2-year school with a completed Associate’s degree, your transcript from college must show all of your grades and that your Associate’s was received. If you are applying after completing 1 semester at a 4-year university, you cannot send in your transcript until you receive your first semester grades, so that the school can take those grades into consideration.
Hopefully, your transcript looks slightly more official.
Note: Don't give up on your classes at your current school when you decide to transfer. These grades are EXTREMELY important. If you get B’s at your school and are applying to a more competitive and academically challenging school, the admissions officer may question how you will do at their school. You also cannot give up on your classes once you submit your application.
The Mid-Year Report is a grade report you send to the schools you are applying to in the middle of the spring semester (typically April 1). From the UPenn Admission Office, “you will need to print out the form, available through the Common Application, and ask each of your professors to provide a mid-term grade (the grade they would give you if they were to give you a grade at that point in the class) and a signature.”
In the report, all of your CURRENT spring semester professors fill out a paper predicting your FUTURE grade in the class and have to sign off on it. You read that right. You have to ask your spring semester teachers to give you a grade prediction and to sign off on it. This can be extremely intimidating, but again is another important part of your application.
Again, this is why you CANNOT slack off in your classes at your current school. You need to get the best grades possible to better your chances to transfer. Try to form close relationships with your spring semester teachers. They will be much more willing to slightly inflate your grade (A- to A) on this prediction report if you are an active participant in class and if they like you. Trust me; these professors will be willing to slightly inflate your grade on this sheet to help you transfer if they like you, as this is not guaranteeing what they write will be your actual grade.
Again, you cannot give up on your classes at your current school when you decide to transfer. If you got A’s first semester and B’s on your mid-year report, the admissions office might question how you will fair at their school. They do also consider SAT or ACT Scores.
SAT or ACT Score
Some schools may not require you to send these scores, but most universities do require transfers from other 4-year colleges to send their SAT or ACT scores. If you are applying from a 2-year school with a completed Associate’s degree, some schools require you to submit your SAT or ACT score while many others don’t.
You should find the university’s policy on SAT/ACT scores for transfers when you search for the school’s application requirements. Again, to find a school’s specific requirements, search “[College Name] Transfer Application.”
For students applying from 4-year universities, your SAT/ACT score will definitely play a role into whether or not you are accepted, but it is not weighted as heavily as in freshman admissions. When you applied as a freshman, the admissions officers didn’t know how you would do at a 4-year university, so they used your score as a measure of that. However, now they have your college grades and can see how you are performing at a 4-year university. If you have straight A’s in all of your biomedical engineering classes at University of Florida but got a 30 on your ACT, the A’s seem very impressive and make the 30 less meaningful.
Should You Retake the SAT/ACT If You're Applying to Transfer?
You can, but I would only recommend it in certain situations. Your SAT/ACT score is only valid for 5 years, so if your score is older than 5 years, you will be required to retake it. To decide if you should retake the SAT or ACT, find out the 25th/75th percentile scores for admitted students. The 25th/75th percentile scores means that 25% of the students attending have a score at or below that number (this is below average). 75th percentile means that 75% of students have a score at or below that number. In essence, the 25th/75th percentile covers the middle 50% of all students admitted to the school.
If you score at the 75th percentile for any school and have great grades from your current college, you have a great chance at getting in. If you're at the 25th percentile, you'll need to have a strong application to boost your odds of getting in.
To find the 25th/75th percentile scores for current students at the school you are applying to, search “[College Name]” freshman admission profile” or “[College Name]” ACT” or “[College Name]” SAT.”
Let’s say, you are applying to transfer to an Ivy (most 25th/75th percentile scores between 34-36 ACT or 750-800 on all sections of the SAT). As I said, your grades are more meaningful than your test score on your transfer application, but that being said if your grades are not perfect (A’s and B’s) with a test score below 31 on ACT or below 2100 on SAT, I would consider re-taking the test to try to improve your score and improve your chances of being admitted.
If your college grades are all A’s and your score is within the school’s 25th/75th percentile score, you do not need to retake the SAT or ACT.
Letters of Recommendation
Most schools require that you submit at least 2 letters of recommendation from COLLEGE professors or teaching assistants.
Some schools prefer the letters to come only from professors and NOT teaching assistants such as UPenn, who said, “The Admissions Selection Committee prefers to review recommendations from professors. We encourage you to meet with your professors and ask for recommendations. However, we understand that some classes may be too large for a professor to write a detailed, personalized recommendation for you. If you ask a teaching assistant to write your recommendation, the class professor MUST sign off on the written recommendation.”
Hopefully, your recommender is a little more expressive.
You will find a school’s policy on letters of recommendation when you search for the transfer application requirements. You are NOT supposed to reuse your letters of recommendation from your high school teachers. You need new letters from college professors or teaching assistants.
Make sure you are forming relationships with your professors and teaching assistants. You need them to like you enough to be willing to write you a letter of recommendation. Go to their office hours! Participate in class! Study! You need their help. If they don’t have a relationship with you, your letter will most likely turn out pretty mediocre. For more guidance on your letter of recommendation, check out our other article Who Should I Ask to Write My College Recommendation Letter?
Major Specific Requirements
If you are applying to a specific major or program (such as film, acting, dance, art, music), you may also be required to submit an additional application component such as a portfolio or do an audition. Find out by searching for the specific program you are applying to, search “[College Name] [program] Transfer Application” such as USC Film Transfer Application.
Make sure to also check the deadline for your program. Oftentimes, arts programs (theatre, film, dance, music) will have earlier deadlines than the general university transfer deadline.
For help with your major specific application requirements (if you're applying to film school), check out our other article, How to Get Into Film School by a USC Alum. Now that we have covered all components of the application, let’s talk deadlines:
Schools have transfer application deadlines ranging from December 1 to March 1 for Fall admits, or November for Spring admits. When you search for the school’s specific requirements (search “[College Name] Transfer Application”), you will find the deadline.
Again, make sure to also search for the specific program you are applying to, search “[College Name] [program] Transfer Application.” Oftentimes, arts programs (theatre, film, dance) will have earlier deadlines than the general university transfer deadline.
Make sure to create a schedule for yourself working back from the timeline.
I recommend completing the first drafts of your personal statement and supplement at least one month before the application deadline, so you have time to review and rewrite.
Ask teachers to write letters of recommendation at least 2 months in advance of when the application is due. Send transcripts and scores as soon as possible.
Check the transfer requirements to see when the last available ACT or SAT testing date is. According to Yale, “Scores from the February ACT or the March SAT test date should reach [the admissions office] in time for consideration,” but this may vary from school to school, so check the schools you are applying to.
Once you submit your application, your journey is not over.
Decision Letters and Making the Decision to Transfer or Stay
You will receive your decision letters typically in Mid-May for Fall Admission. You typically have only a few weeks to make a final decision. Before making the decision to transfer, consider this
- Will transferring make you happier?
- By transferring, will you be more likely to achieve success in your chosen field?
- If you need financial aid, will you receive financial aid?
- Will you be able to complete your degree on time? How many of your units will transfer? How many of your units will count towards your degree? Will you need to spend extra time and money to complete your degree?
- Most schools only let you transfer up to 2 years of credit, so if you applied to transfer in your junior year, you would most likely be restarting as a junior at the next school. Are you okay with that?
I also recommend creating a pros and cons list for your current school and the transfer school. I know it may sound old-hat, but it works! Once accepted, you want to make sure transferring is the best decision for you.
Remember that when you transfer, it may take time to make friends at your new school. Try to get involved and go to school sponsored events to help meet people and make your transition easier.
Another PrepScholar writer transferred schools, and she said at times it can feel like being a stepchild or like being someone who married into the family. However, she and the other transfer students bonded; her closest college friends ended up being the other transfer students. She is so happy she transferred. Transferring can be a great experience! Just don’t be shy and get out and meet people!
Points to Remember
- Think about why you want to transfer and convey that to the admissions office through your personal statement and supplement.
- Work very hard in your current classes (participate and go to office hours), so that you have good grades on your transcript, and you have professors who are willing to write you letters of recommendation.
- Consider whether or not you want to retake the SAT or ACT (if you need to send your scores for your transfer application)
- Check application deadlines and set up a schedule to complete your application on time.
- When your decision letters come, really think about whether transferring is the best choice.
Concerned your GPA is not good enough to transfer? Learn what is a good GPA or bad GPA for college.
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As an SAT/ACT tutor, Dora has guided many students to test prep success. She loves watching students succeed and is committed to helping you get there. Dora received a full-tuition merit based scholarship to University of Southern California. She graduated magna cum laude and scored in the 99th percentile on the ACT. She is also passionate about acting, writing, and photography.