There’s both ins and outs to transferring colleges

With colleges beginning their second semester, now is the time that some students will consider whether to transfer.

The Common Application Transfer essay is an open-ended prompt that can help the student reflect on the reasons for wanting to transfer: Provide a statement discussing your educational path. How does continuing your education at a new institution help you achieve your future goals?

Nationally, more than a third of college students transfer before earning a degree. Top reasons to transfer include finances, location and culture. The University of Vermont reports that 15 percent of their entire student body are transfer students. Transferring to the University of Vermont requires a minimum of two semesters of full-time undergraduate courses and a 3.4 minimum GPA.

The transfer application process typically begins in January with admissions notifications around April. Most colleges accept the Common Application whose transfer components include the college transcript, honors and activities, teacher recommendations, community involvement and essays. Some colleges may ask for standardized test scores and AP results. Once admitted, students will need to confirm the amount of college credits accepted at the new school and verify their college year standing.

Each college typically has supplemental transfer questions and essays with various 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 self, it is important to consider the qualities that draw them to the new college. Ideas to write about include their interests in academic majors, abroad programs, internship opportunities and social clubs to join.

Transfer application deadlines vary for each college. Check the websites for specific dates and requirements. For example, when requesting transcripts, some colleges charge a fee to send transcripts.

Reaching out to current college professors is important to request an engaging reference letter. 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 personalizing a short note:

Dear Professor, I hope you had a great winter break. I am considering transferring colleges for the fall of 2024. Since your class is one of my favorites, I am hoping that you will write me a recommendation. Your class projects (elaborate) and academic topics (highlight) have sparked my interest in my future major. I will keep in touch with updates. Thanks again! Happy Student.

In developing a transfer list, it is helpful to compare a range of priorities. In 2023, the U.S. News and Wall Street Journal rankings both revised their criteria to include a greater emphasis on college outcomes. For example, U. S. News accounts 10 percent of its rating toward graduation rate performance. Comparatively, Wall Street Journal computes 70 percent toward professional results gathered from government data and independent student surveys.

In considering colleges, if a student currently attends a small college with limited classes and social choices, they could explore a bigger environment. Conversely, if a student does not feel supported at a big university, they could consider a smaller campus for more meaningful connections with peers and professors. The goal is to focus on academic and personal growth.

Transferring colleges is a competitive process with typically lower rates of acceptance than for incoming freshmen. For example, Princeton University reports a 1-percent acceptance rate of 13 students accepted from 1,360 transfer applicants. However, New York University reports nearly triple the transfer admissions rate, but focuses on students from underrepresented backgrounds and community college. College admissions typically have campus and online information sessions to answer questions.

If a student decides not to transfer colleges, they can consider how to change their current college experience for the better. For example, a student can discuss with their adviser to transfer into a different academic division such as leaving engineering to study liberal arts. Also, students can choose a new major, add a minor, join professional clubs and participate in new activities to expand their academic interests and friend groups.

The college journey has many twists and turns along the way. Considering transferring schools is a way to compare the pros and cons of alternatives, including optimizing the existing college. Taking a step back can create a giant leap forward.

(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.)