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How to Transfer into Your Dream School

So college isn’t what you dreamed it would be. You like some parts of it – like your quirky calc professor and the great friends you made in your dorm. But living in a city, although you expected you would love it, just isn’t for you. And, you’re enjoying your economics and calculus classes so much that you decided you want to major in economics instead of biology like you had originally planned, but your school’s economics department doesn’t offer the classes or the research opportunities you would want to take advantage of.

You know that there’s a school in New Hampshire with a great economics program and a killer outdoors club whose students spend their weekends skiing and hiking. You think you’d like to spend the rest of college there, or somewhere like it.

Or, maybe you just know you don’t want to continue college at your current school, but you don’t know what to do.

So, how do you transfer? 

Begin by deciding whether transferring is the correct choice for you. Take some time to think critically about why you want to transfer, and if you can make some changes that might make you happy where you are. Remember that the first year of college is an adjustment for everyone, no matter how happy your friends from home may seem (in their Instagram posts). It might take time, rather than a transfer, for you to get comfortable and happy in your college experience.

Before you call it quits, change your mindset. Give it your all; apply yourself in your classes, get involved in extracurricular activities, put yourself out there and make some friends, and take advantage of the opportunities afforded to you. Try to make the best of your situation!

This is not to say that you shouldn’t transfer. Rather, it’s a way for you to be sure that you do want to transfer! Transferring is a long, competitive process, just like applying to college as a senior in high school.

Adopting a positive mindset and giving yourself the chance you deserve will help you to be sure in your decision to stay or to leave. Make a list of 10 things you need in a college experience. If your school is giving you 6/7 or more, then it may be a good place for you. No school is perfect… but if your school isn’t giving you the top three things you need, transferring might be the right choice. You have until March-May to apply for a fall transfer for most schools, so take your time. Wait until Christmas break.

If you do want to transfer, here’s a guide to help you along in the right direction!

College List 2.0: The Transfer List

The first step to transferring is creating a list of schools you want to apply to transfer to. It’s your college list… 2.0

Begin by identifying the factors about your school you like, dislike or that are missing altogether. Identifying these factors will help you determine what to look for while creating your transfer list.

Designing this list will likely be a bit easier than creating your initial college list was when you were a senior in high school. You now have the advantage of having attended college and this experience allows you to have a better idea of what you like and dislike. You should consider a number of factors while building your college list. Ideally, you’ll identify one or two specific factors that you don’t have access to at your current institution and want your new school to have.

Take the student described in our introduction as an example. This student knows that they are looking for a school in a rural or suburban area with a strong economics department and research opportunities. One way for them to build their college list would be to research the schools in the country with strong economics programs and apply to the schools in an environment that suits them.

You should follow this method to build your own college list. Determine what your “need to have” qualities are, and build your list accordingly.

Just like when you made your first college list, take your academic profile into consideration, and assess how well it matches the profile of students at the school to which you are applying. Keep in mind that many schools have low transfer acceptance rates. A low transfer acceptance rate shouldn’t keep you from applying to a school, but it should be a factor that you take into consideration.

Your list should include reach, and match schools based on your academic profile. If you know for sure that you don’t want to stay at your current institution, find a few match schools you would 100 percent be happy to attend if accepted. This will ensure that you have another option other than returning to your current school.

However, there is an instance in which safety and match schools might not make it onto your list. It may be the case that you are happy enough at your school and only want to transfer if you are accepted into an academically better school than the one you currently attend. In that case, your list of schools can be reach-heavy or reach-exclusive. In some cases, transferring from community colleges or state schools into top schools is easier than more of a horizontal transfer (i.e from one IVY to the other).

You’ll want to check if there are certain conditions you need to meet in order to transfer. Some schools require you to have completed a full academic year at your current school first, while others require only one semester, and still others only allow junior transfers.

Another important factor to consider is whether the schools you are applying to are offering financial aid or are need-blind. A school’s financial aid budget changes each and every year, so it might be worth applying to a school you were originally accepted to but couldn’t afford. They may be able to offer you more money this application cycle.

You’ll also want to make sure that the new qualities you are looking for in a school outweigh whatever you may not like. No school will be the absolute perfect fit – but make sure that there are no deal breakers on your list. You might find a school with one of the top economics departments in the country, but maybe you’re not willing to move to the opposite coast. That’s okay!

Application Components

Once you have determined the schools to which you are eligible to apply to, put together all of the components of the transfer application your respective schools ask for. This list typically includes but is not limited to:

  • The Common or Coalition Application
  • Your official high school transcript
  • ACT or SAT scores
  • College or university transcripts
  • One or two letters of recommendation from a college professor (get to know your teachers!)
  • Application fee
  • College Report

A note on letters of recommendation: you should ask your college professors who will be able to speak to your hard work in the academic setting. Don’t be afraid to approach your professors to ask them for letters of recommendation for your transfer applications. Approach the conversation with your recommender very honestly. Explain that while you have learned a great deal in their class, the school just isn’t the perfect fit for you, and explain why.

Remember, as with letters of recommendation for any program, ask for your letters of recommendation well in advance of the deadline. Not only is it respectful, but it will allow your recommenders ample time to write the best letter of recommendation they can write on your behalf.

Of course, remember to take the time to thank your recommenders for the time they took to write your letters once they have submitted them. Take a few minutes to write a handwritten note demonstrating your appreciation for their time and willingness to help you. Once you’ve been accepted to and have committed to your new school, drop them a line and let them know that you’ll be attending this new school next semester. They’ll want to know and have the chance to congratulate you!

Grades and Transcripts

Some transfer admissions will take both your high school and college grades into consideration, as well as your standardized test scores. Depending on how many college credits you have successfully completed, others may only consider your college grades. Though there’s not much you can do about your high school grades, it’s important that you keep your grades up in each of your college classes. Transfering is not a reason to stop working hard in your classes.<

You should also consider retaking your standardized tests. Improving your standardized test scores has the potential to make a significant difference in your application. This might seem like a drag, but remember that you’ve grown a lot since you were a junior in high school. You’ve probably picked up a few study skills from your time in college, and so studying for the SAT or ACT will be different than it was two years ago. Not only are you older, better at studying, and more mature, but your college schedule likely affords you a lot more free time than your high school schedule did. Take advantage of your newfound skills and time, and study!

Campus Involvement

Not only will joining clubs and participating in campus activities help you to make the most of your current school, but it will demonstrate that you are a dynamic and contributing member of your school community. You’ll need to write about opportunities you look forward to getting involved in at the schools you are applying to. It will be difficult to prove that you will actually be a committed and involved member of your new school if you aren’t demonstrating such involvement at your current school.

How to write a transfer essay

Just like when you applied to college the first time, your personal statement is the most important part of your application. Unlike the personal statement you wrote when you first applied to college, a decent portion of your personal statement for your transfer application will be devoted to explaining why you are seeking to transfer. As with any personal statement, this essay should be as specific as possible.

It is crucial that you do not bash your current institution in your transfer essay. Instead, remain positive. Spend some time describing positive aspects and experiences you have been grateful for during your time at your school. Perhaps you have enjoyed an extracurricular activity you have gotten involved with on campus, or you have enjoyed learning more and pushing yourself harder than you ever had to before in your classes. You’ll want to demonstrate that you tried to make the best of your time at your school, and that it still wasn’t all that you wanted it to be.

Your transfer essay should seek to explain who you are, why you want to transfer out of your current school, and why you want to transfer to the specific school to which you are applying.

You might begin by writing a little about who you are with the reason you chose to go to your current institution. Something like; “My love of oceanography and biology drew me to the University of Tampa, where I planned to study marine biology.” Take some time to explain why you’re passionate about what you’re passionate about.

Then, move into why you want to transfer.

If you don’t fit in at your current school, you need to demonstrate why you would fit in at the new school. As mentioned before, you should write about why you like and why you dislike your current school. You can also write that you plan to pursue activities similar to those you are currently involved in once you get to your new school. Your dislikes should flow naturally into why you’re applying to your new school. You’ll want to be as specific as possible here. Do your research carefully, and figure out what it is you want to study and get involved in at your new school. Think: specific classes, research opportunities, clubs, and study abroad programs.

In many ways, writing this essay should be easier than writing your original college essay was. You’re equipped with your college experience, likes and dislikes, and newfound goals. Good luck!

Your college years should be fun, productive, and formative. If any of those components are missing, then you should consider transferring. But keep in mind this is not something you can do half-heartedly. Overall, the transfer process is a long one, and is typically even more competitive than the regular round of applying. However, if you spend time carefully crafting your college list, engaging with your current college, and writing a compelling personal statement, then you just might end up making a move that greatly improves your college experience.