Do’s and don’ts of transferring colleges

The college admissions buzzword is finding the “fit” between the student’s interests and the college’s environment.

Students select a college after evaluating the choices from their list of admitted colleges. While at college, what if this living and learning “fit” is not ideal? The next step is to consider transferring colleges.

Nationally, more than one-third of students transfer before earning a degree. Top reasons to transfer include finances, the pandemic and school fit. Forbes published in 2021 that highly selective colleges received the largest increase in transfer applications. The University of Vermont reports that 15 percent of their entire student body are transfer students.

The Common Application is the standard form when a high school student applies to college. This is the same process when applying to transfer colleges; however, the student’s application lists their college activities, classes and recommendations. The transfer application does not include the high school transcript or activities.

For example, the University of Vermont requires a minimum of two semesters of full-time undergraduate courses and a 3.4 minimum GPA. The Common Application for transfer students includes honors and activities, college transcript, teacher recommendations, additional references and essays. Some colleges have a supplemental application with specific information and additional essays.

The transfer essay questions vary in topics and word counts. Many essay prompts ask for a personal statement, academic interests, reason to transfer, and desire to attend the new college.

Since a college student’s mindset is typically different than their high school mindset, it is important to consider the qualities that draw them to the new colleges. Ideas to write about include their interests in academic majors, abroad programs, internship opportunities and social clubs to join.

Reaching out to current college professors is important to request an engaging reference letter. With winter break approaching, now is the time to contact professors to write a recommendation. Be sure to include the deadline to submit their letter. The student will need to nominate the teacher in the recommendation section of the Common Application.

In contacting a professor for a recommendation letter, here is an example of a short note:

Dear Professor, I hope you had a great semester. I am considering transferring colleges for the fall of 2023. Since your class is one of my favorites, I am hoping that you would write me a recommendation. Your class projects (elaborate) and academic topics have sparked my interest in my future major. I will keep in touch with updates. Thanks again! Sincerely, Happy Student.

Transfer application deadlines vary for each college. Check the websites for specific dates and application requirements. For example, some colleges charge a fee in sending transcripts to each transfer college. Some colleges might request standardized test scores and AP results to be sent directly to the college.

In developing a transfer list, it is helpful to cast a wide net of options since a student’s priorities can change by the end of the second semester. Some students initially do not want to include local colleges on their list, but later decide that the cost, social environment and geographic familiarity are benefits.

If a student is currently at a big university, they could consider a smaller campus for more personal connections with peers and professors. Conversely, if a student feels that a small college has limited classes and social choices, they could explore a bigger environment. The goal is to find a new environment that covers academic and personal priorities.

Transfer students should research costs, living situations and career support to make a smooth adjustment to the new college. Transferring is a change with the intent to find a campus community that is supportive of the student’s concerns and goals. College admissions offices typically have campus and online information sessions that can answer specific questions.

With many colleges loosening pandemic restrictions, visiting the college and local town can provide a feel for the campus pulse. Some colleges allow prospective students to attend a class or visit the cafeteria to experience the social interactions.

Learning is an ongoing process with twists and turns along the way. Considering transferring colleges is a way to compare alternatives, including remaining at the current college. By exploring new opportunities, the knowledge gained can be potentially life changing.

Your college experience can be the springboard to personal and professional success. Transferring college can create a fresh path forward. Nothing ventured, nothing gained!

(Margo Bartsch founded College Essay Coach, a full-service college admission business, and has been an adjunct professor in business at Champlain College and at Middlebury College.)