Once you’ve decided that transferring is the right decision for you, you need to ensure that you are the most competitive applicant you can be. Don’t slack off just because you’re not planning on attending the same school next year! How you do in your courses now and your involvement with activities around campus has a direct influence on your transfer application. Not only that, but the more involved you are and the better you do in your classes, the better chance you have of getting good teacher recommendations. Stay focused!


When should I begin my transfer application?

It’s essential that you start the transfer process as soon as possible to ensure that everything goes smoothly; this college application timeline will help keep you on track. Reach out to the offices of admission and financial aid at your prospective school and work with your current advisor, dean, and financial aid office to learn about transfer procedures.

How do I become a competitive transfer applicant?

You may have heard that transferring is next to impossible and that few transfer students get offers of admission. This can be true, particularly for Ivy League schools (Harvard admitted 15 of 1,448 transfer applicants in 2012). However, in the 2012–2013 school year, 62.6% of transfer applicants gained admittance to schools countrywide. Only slightly more first-time applicants, 64.7%, were admitted. These two statistics aren’t all that different. They’re saying that you have a slightly smaller chance of getting into an institution as a transfer student than as a freshman. Granted, these statistics change depending on the school since some schools are more transfer-friendly than others. Large, public universities and community colleges are your best shot for a transfer acceptance. Still, you need to be a competitive applicant regardless of where you plan on applying. Consider the following tips.

  • Finish general education requirements. Take courses that fulfill general education requirements at both institutions. You can’t go wrong with a schedule full of math, English, biology, and communications. To learn about specific general education requirements, research a few institutions to which you’d like to transfer. Talk to an academic advisor at both institutions to ensure that you’re enrolled in transferable classes.
  • Earn high grades. Having a high GPA may impact the number of credits that transfer to your second institution. Since you’re unlikely to want to retake the same English and math courses that you’re already enrolled in, do your best to achieve high scores in your classes. If something is challenging, talk to the professor, find a tutor, or join a study group. Not only will your application look better to an admissions committee, but you may meet new people whose company you enjoy. Check also to see if your potential schools have a minimum GPA requirement for transfer students.
  • Befriend your professors. Establish relationships with your professors since you will likely have to submit at least one recommendation when you apply to transfer schools. You don’t have to talk about your plans to transfer yet, but spend some time in office hours chatting about your coursework and academic interests. Show interest and pay attention in class. A teacher is much more likely to write you a positive recommendation if he or she knows that you are a good student.
  • Take advantage of your school. Colleges offer all sorts of resources that you, as a student, can use for free. If you are feeling down about your situation, talk to a counselor at your school’s mental health center. Talking about your thoughts and feelings can provide stress relief, and counselors are trained to be nonjudgmental listeners. If you’re a person who likes to work off your stress at the gym, make a schedule and stick to it. You’ll do better in your classes if you’re not busy worrying about everything else.
  • Enjoy the extracurricular activities and opportunities that are offered. If you’re considering transferring, you may not be interested in getting involved with activities on your current campus, but colleges want to see that you made the most of your time in school. Participate in clubs or community service projects that you find interesting in your off time. Not only will you stay busy, but it will look good on your transfer application as well. You may even make a few friends in the process.
  • Find a job. If there’s a field of study that you’re particularly interested in, especially if switching academic programs is your main motivation for wanting to transfer schools, find a job or internship that allows you to get experience in that field. You can try out a position that could be related to your future, make contacts in your field, and maybe earn a little money on the side. You’ll also be showing the admissions committee that you have what it takes. A motivated student is a competitive student.

Remember, your main job while in school isn’t necessarily to be a competitive applicant, but you need to succeed where you are if you are going to have a shot at changing schools. It may be difficult to stay motivated in an environment that doesn’t fit your needs, but slacking off in your classes is going to make transferring even more difficult. Take advantage of the friends you’ve made, counseling services offered by your current institution, and extracurricular activities to stay busy on the weekends.

Will my credits transfer with me?

Obviously, you want as many credits as you’ve already taken to transfer over to the new institution. Even more important than just having the credits, you want to make sure that you get credit for equivalent classes so that you don’t have to retake general education requirements or prerequisites for your chosen major. Your best point of contact for credit transfer and academic advising will be an academic advisor or admissions counselor at your prospective institution. If you cannot get in touch with the office yourself, talk to your current academic advisor. He or she can reach out and start a dialogue across institutions to ensure your academic success.

If you are transferring from a community college to a four-year institution, there may be minimum transfer requirements if you hope to obtain junior status at your four-year school. Check on admissions websites or with an admissions counselor to determine what general education classes are required. Typically, you will need to take a combination of English, math, and science as well as some elective humanities coursework. You should also be aware that you may not be able to transfer all of your previously earned credits to your new school. Most schools cap the number of transfer credits they accept and require that you earn a certain number of credits at their institution in order to graduate. While you may have hoped to start somewhere as a senior, it’s unlikely that you will be able to start as anything closer to graduating than a first-semester junior.

If you have taken classes that are not offered at your prospective institution or classes that change rapidly as new technologies emerge (computer science, for example), you may not be able to transfer those credits over. Check with an admissions counselor to learn if you’ll lose any credits this way.

Who do I ask for letters of recommendation?

Even though you are considering leaving your current institution, you need to stay involved with your classes and any extracurricular activities that you joined. Develop relationships with your favorite professors, visit during office hours, and ask for help when you need it. It’s great to be honest with your professors about why you are considering a transfer, and if you’re going to ask for a recommendation, they deserve to know your reasoning. There is nothing you can say that they haven’t heard before, and there’s nothing shameful about realizing that you are at the wrong institution.

Make an appointment to speak to your professor(s) one-on-one, outside of class time. Provide any and all materials that they might need to complete their letters (prestamped envelopes or the link to the submission websites, a copy of your résumé and personal essay, the deadline, and your contact information). Answer any questions that they might have about your reasoning. It is best to ask your teacher(s) to write recommendations as soon as possible, well in advance of the application deadline. They will be more likely to write thoughtful letters if they aren’t rushed for time. Be sure to send thank-you notes after they submit their letters.

What else do I need to complete my application(s)?

Contact the institution that you are interested in attending to determine its transfer application requirements. Fill out and submit any required forms in the manner desired by the school (online, in person, or via post office). Your institution may have its own application or use an application platform. Application platforms are intended to simplify the application process by being accepted by multiple schools and handling all aspects of your application in one place. Your application will not be reviewed until it is complete, so keep a checklist and ensure that you’ve submitted all of your materials by the deadline.

Depending on how far you are into your college career when you decide to transfer, the school to which you’re applying may have different requirements. For example, if you are transferring after only a semester or year of college, your potential school is likely to want both your college and high school transcripts and your SAT or ACT scores. You can send your standardized test scores to each school through your College Board account (SAT score reports cost $11.25) or ACT Student account (each additional score report will cost $12.00). The further away you get from high school graduation, however, the less likely your school is to want high school transcripts and SAT or ACT scores. College entrance exam scores never expire, but there may be a limit on how long scores can be used for admissions purposes. It is unlikely that you will have to retake the SAT or ACT for the purposes of transferring unless you have been out of school for a significant amount of time.

If you’re applying to a four-year college, you will most likely be asked to write a personal essay. While some schools will expect you to respond to the essay prompts that prospective freshmen are also answering, others may ask you to talk specifically about your decision to transfer. When you are drafting your response, you want to be honest but not brutally so. Explain why you think that this school is going to be the right fit for you, how it provides the opportunities you are looking for, and what you will contribute to campus. Under no circumstances should you be disrespectful of your current institution. You don’t want to come off as bitter, angry, or resentful. If you have parts of your record that need to be explained, do so in a calm and sincere tone. Don’t blame anyone else for past mistakes. Admissions counselors will appreciate honesty and reflection when they read your essay.

Will I need to complete an interview?

You might; it depends on the college. If the admissions officers at your prospective institution want an interview, they will reach out to you to set one up. However, you don’t have to wait for them to make the first move. If you interview well and think that putting a face to your name would benefit your application, go ahead and call the admissions office and ask if you can get something on the calendar. Even if you are only able to talk to an alumnus who doesn’t have input on whether or not you are accepted, you are still showing the college that you are interested and making a serious effort to sell yourself to them. During your interview, be professional, honest, and positive.

What do I need to do after I receive an acceptance letter?

The first thing you need to do when you receive an offer of admission is to carefully read over it and any accompanying materials. You may receive a packet detailing your financial aid package or information about credit transfers. Understand exactly how much you’ll have to pay out of pocket and how long it will take you to finish your degree. Don’t hesitate to call an admissions officer if you have any questions.

Once everything looks good, you’ll need to accept your admissions offer and pay a deposit to secure your place in the class at your new institution; your new school will give you a deadline. Then, you’ll need to tell your current institution that you’ve accepted a place at a new school for the upcoming year (or semester). Once you’ve taken care of the important things, you can move onto more fun tasks, like signing up for transfer orientation, choosing classes with the help of an academic advisor, and finding a place to live.

Finish the year strong at your current institution; your grades will be sent to your new school and you don’t want to lose out on any transfer credits at the last minute. Then, take a breath and enjoy the summer!

What if I don’t receive any offers of admission?

Unfortunately, this happens, especially if you’ve applied to highly selective schools that aren’t transfer-friendly. You have two choices. The first is to continue going to school where you are, put your heart into it, and hope that things get better. The other option is to take a year off from college to work and put in more applications. The decision to postpone your education cannot be underemphasized. It has the potential to have serious consequences on your future if you don’t reapply for school. Depending on your reasons for requesting a transfer, your best bet may be to tough it out for another year (consider joining new clubs, taking classes that better align with your interests, or studying abroad) and reapply to more transfer-friendly schools in the next round.

Past last updated: 04/2017