It’s very difficult to “trade up,” through transfer admissions into a more selective college than you entered the first time. But its possible, if you do your homework.
I recently had an online conversation with a professional acquaintance who had what I might call the “ultimate transfer admissions experience.” He began his college education at Illinois State University, transferred to St. Louis University for his sophomore year, then into the University of Notre Dame for his junior and senior years. He has a bachelor’s degree from Notre Dame, just like anyone else who spent a full four years on their campus. But he took a longer road to get there, earning a 3.9 GPA at the prior two stops in his college education.
Today Notre Dame is not the easiest of schools to get in the first time around, or the second through transfer admissions. The acceptance rate for the freshmen in the Class of 2022 was only 18 percent. These students were admitted off their high school accomplishments. Nearly 900 students applied to transfer in for this fall, but less than 200 were accepted. They were admitted off their college accomplishments.
Freshmen who get into Notre Dame tend to return for their sophomore year. At most 40 students would leave. The university’s four-year graduation rates exceeded 91 percent for the classes that entered in 2010, 2011 and 2012. The six-year graduation rates were 95 percent for the classes that arrived 2010 and 2011. It was 97 percent for the class that came in 2012. With graduation and retention rates such as these, the university would have room for between 80 and 100 transfer students. If you don’t like these odds, you will like the odds of moving on to an Ivy even less.
Some of the more selective state schools—UC-Berkeley, UCLA, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and the University of Virginia, to name a few, take transfer students. However, these schools have agreements with community colleges in their states. Top-performing applicants who have earned their Associates degrees will be at an advantage in transfer admissions. Community college might actually be a better option if you live in one of these states. But I can also imagine that many high-achieving high school students prefer the option of starting at a four-year school, and possibly staying there.
Penn State has 35 Commonwealth campuses where a student may begin their education before transferring to the main campus in State College. Ohio State and the University of Pittsburgh, among others, have regional campuses, too. This is realistic for state residents, especially commuters, but not for everyone who is interested in those universities.
One reason that Notre Dame is such a challenge in transfer admissions is that virtually everyone who is accepted decides to come. You might not be able to get into Notre Dame with your 4.0 from Illinois State or St. Louis University, but there will be another school that will take you. Other schools such as Case Western and NYU have low acceptance rates for transfers, but fewer than half of the applicants they accept decide to come. The same is true for some excellent state universities such as Indiana University-Bloomington and Rutgers-New Brunswick, which accept over half of the applications they receive for transfer admissions, though some majors may be tougher to get into than others.
The more selective private and public colleges consider various factors in freshman admissions besides grades and test scores. This is called “holistic review.” They are likely to do the same in transfer admissions. Depending on the school and how many transfer credits you have, they may also ask for a high school transcript and standardized test scores. The weaker your high school record, the less likely your chance of admission to these schools as a transfer student. The stronger your college record, the better your chances become, especially if you can back it up in the essays.
The key is to be willing to do the work—and have realistic options as well as reaches. Admissions officers have every right to expect more diligence from a college student than they would from a high school senior.
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