GPA Emergency: Advice for Transfers with Less-Than-Perfect Academic Records


Last Updated: Oct 10, 2016

You’re confident you have what it takes to succeed at whatever college or university you apply to. But if your academic record is inconsistent or otherwise less than perfect, that school might need a little convincing at admission time.

For example, maybe you earned top grades and test scores in high school but your college career just hasn’t matched up. Or perhaps your situation is opposite: your high school record was nothing to brag about, but you’ve really shined in college. How do you convince the institution you want to transfer to that you’re a strong candidate?

Application package

Start by providing a complete, thoughtfully prepared application package.

When it comes to academic records, every admission office will be looking at the same basic information. In every case, you’ll need to send your college transcripts, an essay, and at least one letter of recommendation.

You might also need to provide your high school transcript and standardized test scores (ACT or SAT), depending on how many credits you’ve accrued since high school. In most cases, your high school records will be required only if you have completed fewer than 24 or 48 credits, or the equivalent to one or two years of college.

What if a college doesn’t require your high school record but you feel that it might improve your chances of admission? You can consider sending it anyway, along with a brief explanation of why you feel it’s relevant to your consideration as a transfer applicant. Never send a less-than-stellar high school record unless it’s required. If you’re not sure, refer to the college’s admission requirements.

College transcript

The same rule does not apply to your college transcript. Regardless of how well or how poorly you’ve performed at your current school, you must send official transcripts for all courses you’ve completed at all schools you’ve attended since high school, even if credits from a previous institution appear as transfer credits on your current school’s transcript. Neglecting to send complete transcripts—even for courses you don’t want to transfer to your new school—is considered falsifying your academic record and will jeopardize your chance of being admitted.

The admission decision will be largely based on your college transcripts, because they represent your most recent academic work. If your college record to date is less impressive than you’d like because of personal challenges or other extenuating circumstances, be sure to explain this in your application (perhaps in your essay). Admissions counselors are usually willing to consider such situations when evaluating candidates, especially if you can show that you’ve grown to become a more mature, focused individual and a stronger candidate.

If your overall transcripts are mediocre but your grades have improved in the current semester, ask your professors for a mid-term grade report, and include it in your application. The colleges you’re applying to might also want to see your final grades before making a decision. Consider this an opportunity to show that you can be academically successful, and work hard to the finish.

Tips for Transfers

  • Send all required materials with your application, and include additional information only if you feel confident it will support your case for admission.
  • To ensure accuracy, carefully review all transcripts prior to sending them.
  • Describe any circumstances that might have adversely affected your transcripts, but don’t make excuses. Instead, explain what you learned and how you’ve grown.
  • If you have concerns about your academic record that can’t be addressed in your application, discuss them with a transfer counselor at the college or university you’re interested in attending.

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