The Golden Rule of College Transfers

Aim high in your college transfer ambitions, and you never know where the future may take you.

One of the most frustrating but unavoidable truths about college is that you really don’t know what it’s like until you’re there. Sure, you can (and obviously should) get a good sense beforehand. But no college rankings list, campus tour, or College Confidential thread will give away exactly how you’re going to feel your first semester.

If you’re having a tough time fitting in on campus, if you feel like you can get something more out of college, if something just feels…offyou’ve probably thought seriously about transferring.

And if this is you, there is one cardinal rule: aim high.

You don't want to fall into the "I want to go to school anywhere but here" pitfall. If you’re miserable, maybe bored, unfulfilled, or homesick at your current college, well, it’s probably because you're not being challenged enough in the areas you want to be challenged in.

College is a big investment, and to maximize your undergraduate experience, you want to push yourself. You want to be in an environment where all the research, debates, and knowledge you’re soaking up from professors makes your brain feel like it’s going to overheat. So take the time to apply to best schools you can.

Find the schools that fit you, of course. (Maybe even start your college search from scratch.) But take comfort in the fact that you actually know what “fit” means this time around. And then push yourself.

Lest we forget, you have your work seriously cut out for you. If you thought the first round of college applications was hard, try this on for size:

  1. Lower acceptance rate. Forget the double digits; top schools can have as low as a 3% transfer acceptance rate. (Looking at you, Yale…)
  2. Maintain your high academic record. There is little wiggle room for academic backslide. To be attractive to your target schools, you need to show that you’re excelling academically and then some. This means you need to also show you can make the most of your time with on-campus extracurriculars, clubs, or jobs.
  3. Have a better sense of what you want/need out of college. This is a deceptively nuanced matter. Your target schools don’t want to hear “oh, I just want to go to a higher-ranked school that’s in a small liberal arts environment!” That’s way too easy. Your move needs to be backed by a concerted effort to explore your interests—that you took challenging courses, assumed research projects, and developed relationships with professors.

Daunting? Oh yes. But remember: you’re already in college. You’ve battled past the admission gods to earn a spot in your current school. You made it, so if you’re going to take on that time-consuming and stressful project of applying all over again, it better be to reach for the stars—not just settle for another college that could likely present you with the same disadvantages you’re dealing with.

Are you ready to transfer? Take our quiz! Remember—be brutally honest with yourself.

How is your GPA?

A) It’s great! 4.0 in challenging, high-level courses.
B) Pretty good, like a 3.5. I kind of got a bad grade on the first exam in Chem 101, but I’m working harder in that class now.
C) Ummm, I’m taking three classes, all pass/fail…

What is your relationship like with your professors?

A) I’m doing research for my advisor, and I visit office hours of all my profs at least every other week.
B) I’m in one small seminar where I get to participate in class a lot, but I don’t know my lecture profs that well.
C) Those lectures are huge—they don’t care if you’re there or not. Besides, professors only want to talk to their grad students, right?

What's your extracurricular involvement like?

A) I ran for President of my dorm and won! I’m also checking out the soccer intramural club to stay in shape and keep doing something I loved in high school, and I have a work-study job in the cafeteria.
B) I’m a part of a creative writing workshop that meets once every other week, and I’m contributing to the on-campus magazine.
C) I’ve just been focused on getting good grades, so I didn’t want to take time away from classes and homework.

Now, the hard truth:

Mostly/all As: Start preparing your transfer applications! You’re going to make a great impression.

Mostly Bs/Cs: You probably want to wait another year to transfer. Yep, I said it. If you want to make your transfer count, you’ll need to beef up your involvement on campus, improve your grades, and develop your professor relationships. It’s hard, but it’s better than putting in all that work into your transfer applications just to be dismissed, when you have the power to make your application stand out. P.S. Start talking to your transfer counselors now…

Transferring is hard and can feel lonely. But just remember: you deserve to go to a college where you’ll feel awesome, so take the time, effort, and blood, sweat, and tears to target schools where you’ll be challenged every step of the way.

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About Jon Frank

Jon Frank

Jon Frank cofounded Admissionado in 2007 with one goal in mind: to inspire the next generation of students to “go to the best schools they can get into.” Under Jon’s leadership, Admissionado grew from a two-man operation to a global company of over 80 employees who have worked on well over 25,000 college and graduate school applications. Each year, Admissionado helps send hundreds of students to schools such as Harvard, Stanford, Brown, and others. 

Jon was drawn to the process of “building stuff,” long before building Admissionado from scratch. After graduating from Brown University in 1999 with honors, he began his career in real estate, leading the purchase and development of over 2,000 units of new construction across the United States. After graduating from Harvard Business School with his MBA, Jon began to focus on building things that mattered more to him in the education world.

Today Jon lives in Chicago. In his spare time, he can be found jet-setting around the world to give speeches (in Asia, especially), indulging in Chicago’s rich selection of ethnic restaurants, or keeping up with politics alongside his trusty cat, Buster Douglas.


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