Are you looking to transfer colleges and wondering what pitfalls to avoid? We’ll go over some of the biggest mistakes transfer applicants make in this blog.
1. Applicants lead with their weaknesses
The first big mistake transfer applicants make is that they lead with their weaknesses in their essays. There is almost always an essay question in a transfer application asking you why you want to transfer. There are likely parts of your story that college might not want to hear. Colleges expect you to put your best foot forward. Because of this, if you are transferring in part because you didn’t get into the school you wanted the first time around, you shouldn’t lead your essay with that.
While it is true that sometimes talking about failures and overcoming challenges can make for a great story, talking about academic failure can be scary ground to tread in. You don’t want to overemphasize the negative on your transfer application. In other words, you shouldn’t say you failed to get into college the first time. Instead, lead with who you are and how you want to expand your opportunities. You should absolutely be honest, but you don’t have to lead with your faults. Similarly, you wouldn’t walk into a job interview and start talking about how you got fired for your last job. Instead of sharing everything, share the parts that show you in a positive light. If you feel you have to disclose something negative, try to spin it and end on a positive note.
2. Applicants focus on ranking over fit
Whenever you’re applying to school as a transfer, you’re playing a different game than you were as a freshman. It’s possible you ended up at a school with a lower ranking than you wanted. First of all, don’t tell schools you’re applying to that you want to go there because they’re ranked higher. Transferring shouldn’t just be about ranking. It should also be about fit. In your transfer application, you should make sure to talk about the fit of the school for you. If there is no fit, ask yourself if you need to transfer.
An example of a natural fit is people transferring from a community college to pursue a 4-year degree because community colleges can’t offer that. However, if you are transferring from one 4-year institution to another, you should focus on fit. For example, if a student intended to transfer from Michigan’s engineering program to Cornell’s engineering program talking about rank doesn’t work. Instead, you may talk about how Michigan’s campus is too big, and you want the nurturing feel of a smaller campus. Or maybe, even though Michigan’s program is ranked better, there’s a very specific, niche engineering program at Cornell you want to pursue. Finally, maybe there’s a researcher you want to work with at Cornell. These fit reasons help much more than talking about school rankings.
College admissions offices are often asking, “If we admit this student, will it change the trajectory of his/her life.” If the answer is no, they might admit someone else to change their life instead. Fit can mean academics, but it can also mean something personal. For example, maybe you are a part of the LGBTQ+ community and your current school isn’t accepting or diverse.
3. Applicants don’t do enough research
While undergraduate admissions tend to be more standardized from school to school, transfer admissions are a different game. For example, some transfer deadlines are in December while others are in February or March. Make sure you have all the dates and policies for each school you intend to apply to. One school might ask for a high school transfer while another doesn’t need to see it.
Additionally, you should make sure you’re giving yourself a decent chance of actually getting in as a transfer. COVID-19 will likely make transferring more difficult due to an increase of people who took gap years. Don’t only apply to a small number of schools with 1% transfer admit rates. While some schools, such as the UCs and USC, reserve space for transfers, many others only accept transfers if other students drop out or leave. Schools such as Stanford and Princeton don’t have a lot of people dropping out, which means there isn’t a lot of space for transfers.
If you’re a non-traditional student, someone who has taken a gap in their education, and you’re interested in competitive schools, consider looking into programs that specialize in non-traditional students. Columbia University, for example, has a school of General Studies that caters to non-traditional students. Yale University also has a non-traditional students program called the Eli Whitney Students Program.
Finally, while doing your research, make sure to check how many semesters or credits schools require for transfer students. Some schools only require one semester, while others need a certain number of credits completed to accept you. There’s also a possibility for spring admissions for transfers. If you want to look up a school’s transfer admissions rate, most schools publish Common Data Sets you can look up to give yourself a good idea.