Transferring: Opportunities and Challenges

Transferring from one 4-year university to another requires planning.  

It’s important to research transfer requirements and your admissions chances before sending out transfer applications.

A good place to start researching is at a college’s Common Data Set (CDS), which can be found by Googling ‘school name Common Data Set’. Transfer information is in section D. Some schools, however, don’t release their CDSs (University of Chicago and USC immediately come to mind). In such cases you can go to College Board’s Big Future website ( On each school’s profile site you’ll find a ‘for transfer students’ button. Click on it to get the transfer application deadline, minimum number of college credits needed to transfer, required GPA, the set of transfer requirements, the number of students who tried to transfer last year, and the number who were accepted and enrolled.

A quick glance of the transfer information for Harvard, Carleton College (MN), and UC San Diego gives a taste of the transfer world. Harvard, recently, had 1486 transfer applicants; 15 were accepted, for about a 1% admissions rate. Carleton had 267 applicants with 8 admits for a 3-4% admissions rate, while UCSD had 15,269 applicants of whom 6,869 were admitted for a 45% admissions rate. In short, at the highly selective private colleges, which have low student attrition rates, vying for transfer spots is extremely competitive. For the state schools, many of which are quite accommodating to transfer students, the competition is less stiff. (All the top ten schools for transfer students are public.)  

The next transfer challenge is assuring the credits you’ve already earned will transfer. The school you’re transferring from should be accredited by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), which is the primary accreditation agency in the US. But there is more to it than that. There are differences among schools and their general education requirements, core requirements, and departmental and major requirements. It’s important to understand all these factors before transferring or you might get a rude awakening when after you transfer you’ve become a sophomore instead of a junior. It’s best to contact the college directly to get all this sorted out. The University of Chicago, for example, offers a pre-admission transcript evaluation: that would be wise to take advantage of.  

Another transfer challenge is securing recommendations. Many students believe that the faculty at their current college will feel slighted that a student wants to transfer. Most professors, however, understand the need for fit among their students. Few if any will penalize your recommendation because you’ve changed your mind and are electing to enter another college. Just remember to treat any of your recommenders politely and graciously. If they’ve elected to assist your transfer efforts with a recommendation send them a thank you note and keep them apprised of your efforts.

Unfortunately, as a transfer student, you are usually last in line for financial aid, or what remains of it. Colleges like to reserve their best packages in competing for first year students. Many schools, though, such as the University of Arizona, have transfer advisors who are aware of financial scholarships and tools available to its extensive transfer student base. 

These advisors can also ease the social adjustments surrounding transferring. One suggestion is to live on campus. Campus housing is a good way to meet other students. Better, get involved directly in the campus activities of your new college. Work in a club, a sport, a newspaper, or a theater group…whatever you’re interested in; pursue it at your new campus. Activities are the best means of integrating into a new campus.

If you’re preparing to transfer, know what you’re up against. If an Ivy League school is on your list realize transferring to it will probably be as difficult as applying to medical school. Also, know the requirements and get apprised of how your current transcript will be received at potential transfer schools. Moreover, recognize there are social and financial costs involved with your transfer. Be prepared to search for scholarships, and to create your own social network. Transferring isn’t easy, but planning makes it easier.