After the first year of college, some students come to the realization that they are simply not in the right place. Sometimes, this realization is the result of location—you thought that you would be energized by city life but instead found it claustrophobic and overwhelming. Alternatively, you may have discovered that you are interested in a different major or field of study than you initially planned to pursue and you now find yourself at a college that has limited offerings within your discipline.
If you feel confident that your current school is not the right fit, transferring might be the right decision for you. However, it is a significant undertaking, and carefully considering your options before you start the process is imperative. Take some time to think critically about why you want to transfer and whether you can make some changes that might make you happy where you are instead. 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.
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.
You have until March-May to apply for a fall transfer for most schools, so take your time. Wait until Christmas break and evaluate your options. During that time, adopt a positive mindset and give yourself the chance you deserve to be sure in your decision to stay or to leave. Make a list of 10 things you need in a college experience. If you are finding 6-7 or more of these things at your school, then it may be a good place for you—no school is perfect.
On the other hand, if your school isn’t giving you the top three things you need, transferring might be the best choice. If you decide 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. As you compile your list, consider the following action steps:
Identify your needs and wants.
Begin by identifying the factors about your school that you like or 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 when you created your initial college list as a senior in high school. You now have the advantage of having attended college, and this experience will allow you to have a better idea of what you like and dislike. You should consider a number of factors while building your college list. In particular, identify one or two specific factors that you don’t have access to at your current institution and want your new school to have.
If, for instance, you know that you are looking for a school in a rural or suburban area with a strong economics department, one way to build your 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 you.
You should follow this method to build your own college list. Determine what your “need to have” qualities are, and build your list accordingly.
Consider your academic abilities.
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. For more information on schools with high transfer admissions rates, check out our list of The Easiest Colleges to Transfer Into.
If you are certain that you don’t want to stay at your current institution, your list should include reach and match schools based on your academic profile. Find a few match schools you would be 100% happy to attend if accepted. This will ensure that you have another option other than returning to your current school, even if you are not accepted to the top schools on your list.
However, it may be the case that you are happy enough at your school and only want to transfer if you are accepted into a school with a more rigorous academic program 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 a horizontal transfer (i.e., from one Ivy League school to another).
Research schools’ requirements for transferring.
Check to see if there are certain conditions you need to meet in order to transfer. Some schools require students to have completed a full academic year at their current school before transferring, while others require only one semester, and still others only allow junior transfers. Also keep in mind that specific majors have individualized course requirements that you will need to fulfill at your current school—and different schools may even require different courses for the same major. For instance, while Cornell University’s economics program requires specific economics classes before transferring, another school might require prior coursework in calculus and statistics. In order to be sure that you are completing the necessary requirements, you will need to consult each school’s major page.
Factor in the finances.
Another important factor to consider is whether the schools you are applying to offer 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. If that’s the case, no amount of academic prestige will make that program a good fit for your needs.
Once you have determined the schools to which you are eligible to apply, compile all of the transfer application materials your respective schools ask for. This list typically includes but is not limited to:
Letters of Recommendation
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 and effort they spent writing 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, write them another note to 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!
Don’t be afraid to approach your professors to ask them for letters of recommendation for your transfer applications. When choosing your recommenders, you should ask the college professors who will be able to speak to your hard work in an academic setting without being concerned about what they will think about your choice to continue your education at a different institution. 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. They will almost certainly understand your decision and want the best for you as you pursue your academic goals.
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. Transferring 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 as a result, 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!
Similar to your initial college application, your personal statement is the most important part of your transfer application. However, unlike the personal statement you wrote when you first applied to college, a large 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.
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. For instance: “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.
It is crucial that you do not speak negatively about your current institution in your transfer essay. Instead, orient your essay around how you have learned and grown during your time at the institution and how the lessons you learned about yourself as a result of your time there have led to your decision to transfer. 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. Your essay should demonstrate that you put in the effort to make the best of your time at the school, and yet it still wasn’t all that you wanted it to be.
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 about specific classes, research opportunities, clubs, and study abroad programs.
In many ways, writing this essay should be easier than writing your original college essay. You’re equipped with your college experience, likes and dislikes, and newfound goals—so approach the essay with confidence and a genuine excitement about the institution you hope to transfer to.
College Report & Mid-Term Report
The College Report provides information about your standing at your current institution to the school where you intend to transfer. You will need to work with an advisor to complete the form, and some of the information may require reaching out to an academic dean or registrar as well. The academic official working with you to complete the form should send the form directly to your transfer school(s). The Mid-Term Report, on the other hand, supplies information about your current course load and your standing in each course.
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 applying as an incoming first-year college student. 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.
COLLEGE TRANSFERS FAQ
Is it hard to transfer to a different college?
While the difficulty of transferring depends on each student’s unique circumstances, transferring may be easier for students because they have already applied to college and are familiar with the process. Many of the elements of transferring such as building a college list, requesting recommendations, and writing a personal statement, are similar to applying to college as a fresha=man. However, there are differences as well, so it is important for students to do their research, make a plan, and start early.
Is it easier to get accepted as a transfer student?
It can be easier to be accepted to certain competitive colleges and universities as a transfer student rather than a freshman. For a list of top schools’ transfer acceptance rates, check out Command’s complete guide!
Do high school grades matter when transferring colleges?
Yes. High school grades as well as the grades students have earned in any of their college classes will be taken into consideration during the transfer admission process.
What should you say in a college transfer essay?
A college transfer essay is a personal essay with particular emphasis on the reason that the student has chosen to transfer. While the essay should remain positive rather than critiquing the student’s current school, it should provide specific reasons for the student’s desire to transfer, whether academic or nonacademic. Applicants should also provide detailed reasons that the school they hope to transfer into is a better fit for their needs and goals.