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10 Tips for Transfer Admissions

My last session of the day on Friday was with a familiar student. I worked with him during his senior year after he got deferred from an Early Decision program. Two years passed and we reconnected again as he has plans to apply as a transfer student to many of the same colleges he applied to two years earlier. What could really change in two years? He's the same kid, right? Same kid, but more evolved—for sure. 

After getting admitted to a number of top colleges as a high school senior, this student ended up taking a gap year before beginning his freshman year of college. When I jumped on a Zoom call with him late on Friday afternoon, I was expecting the reserved young man I knew. But things were clearly different this time around.

His parents weren't on the call this time. And from the moment our session began, I thought I was talking to one of the world renowned thought leaders of Oprah's "Master Class" series. This kid wasn't a kid anymore. He was a man who had gained a deep appreciation for education, the field of philosophy, and himself during that year abroad and possibly even at that current college he wants to transfer out of. I was floored, and I believe those colleges he plans to apply to will be floored too. Not that he needed a lot of direction, but this is what I told him:

1. Comparisons will be made.

If you apply as a transfer student to a college that you applied to as a high school senior, the admissions staff will review the old application and the new application side-by-side.

2. Evolution is key.

Whether you're applying to the same colleges as a transfer student for the second time or not, you need to exhibit natural evolution from who you were as a high school student to who you are now. Some students get this from simply starting college and others experience this with time. The transfer admissions committee is looking for exceptionally mature students, and a student's transfer applications need to show this through experiences (on the activities list) and essays.

3. Your college grades matter.

Transfer applicants with stellar grades at their current college will be much more competitive in the transfer pool. While the student's old high school transcript is required and possibly their old SAT or ACT scores, it's what the student has done academically in college that matters much more.

4. Don't throw your current college under the bus!

Most competitive colleges will require the transfer applicant to write an essay discussing why they want to transfer. It takes a lot of nuance and perspective to be able to write this essay without being negative. It's important to be transparent about what's not making you feel fulfilled at your current college, but you've got to deliver it delicately and focus a lot more on the college you want to attend.

5. Befriend your professors.

Almost all colleges will require letters of recommendation from a professor at your current college. Even if you're a freshman in large introductory classes, you're going to need to get a letter or two. Make sure to reach out to the professor you want to ask for a letter of recommendation in advance. Let them know what you're enjoying about their class, ask for advice (summer plans, research ideas, or the transfer process), and make sure they know your name. This will help if you end up asking them for a letter down the road.

"If you want to apply to colleges as a transfer student, you'll want to make sure your current professors are on your side." TWEET THIS 

6. Show off your writing ability.

No matter what type of writer you were in high school, college tends to strengthen your writing skills. Your essays should not only be carefully proofed for typos or errors, but they should be a much more elevated version of the types of essays you submitted to colleges as a high school senior.

7. If you are interested in switching majors/programs in the transfer process, show evidence that you're ready for the different path you hope to take.

The student I mentioned at the start of this blog post took a class outside his undergraduate program first semester of college that matches up with the major he wants to have at his new college. He plans to ask the professor who taught him this class for a letter of recommendation too. And by the way, he got an A in the class which is the best evidence of all!

8. Do your research.

Most colleges require transfer applicants to discuss why they're interested in the institution and program. Repeating common themes from the websites or brochures is not enough. Dig deeper by exploring the hidden gems of the college's website and campus. And make sure you get this across in the essay.

9. Be realistic.

The number of acceptances a college gives out in the transfer process depends on their attrition rate the year before. In other words, if more students transfer out or drop out, there's more room for transfer students. Check out the Common Data Set for each college you are interested in to get a better sense of how competitive it will be. There will be information on how many transfer applications they received, how many were admitted, and how many enrolled from the year prior. For example, Harvard's Common Data Set for 2017-2018 reveals that out of the 1,553 transfer applications they received in 2016, only 16 were admitted, and 12 enrolled.

10. Have a back-up plan.

If you don't get admitted as a transfer student to the college(s) you want or don't get the financial aid to make it work, be sure to have an alternative plan. Sometimes switching majors, dorms, or even studying abroad for a semester or year can give you a fresh perspective on your current college.

After I finished my session with the student on Friday, I had a quick follow up call with his mom. She started the conversation by saying that she didn't think she needed to be involved this time around. Like me, she recognized that her son had truly evolved into an independent thinker, responsible adult, and a deeply passionate learner. I shared with her our plan to have him write his transfer essays in the remaining weeks left of his Winter Break before returning for second semester. And on Saturday night when most 20-year-olds are out hanging with friends, he sent me two beautifully crafted essays to his first choice college. I quickly replied back to him that maybe I needed to spend a year abroad and a semester at a college that didn't seem like a fit to be able to write like he can. :)
Transfer students tend to be incredibly self-aware. They know what they want, and they go after it. If this sounds like you, transfer applications for the fall semester are usually due around March 1st. You know what you need to do. Now, go after it. I'm cheering you on.