In the world of admissions, “to everything – turn, turn, turn; there is a season – turn, turn, turn.” Right now, many colleges are in the midst of the transfer season when applications from students who are enrolled at other colleges start to be submitted prior to the most prevalent deadline of March 1st. Here are a few pieces of advice if you think maybe the college you’re at isn’t a great fit:
Be prepared. Just as most colleges allowed your freshman application to be submitted through the Common App, most will also let you use the Common App for your transfer application. Nonetheless, there’s much more of a variance among colleges when it comes to application deadlines and specific requirements for transfers. Although the preponderance of application deadlines for fall enrollment are in March and April, some come as early as February 1st and others extend into May, June and even the immediately preceding summer. If you’re thinking of a transfer for spring enrollment, you’ll have to check to see if a particular college allows it – many don’t, and for those that do there will also be different deadlines (usually in the preceding fall).
In terms of what to submit, it’s important to recognize that it’s not just about making sure what essays, recommendations, transcripts, standardized testing and other reports particular schools require. You may also have to contend with minimum GPA requirements and stipulations about minimum and maximum credits already earned. Additionally, unlike when you were in high school applying as freshman and the submission of transcripts, other school reports and recommendations was overseen by your guidance or college counselor, you yourself are now entirely in charge of tracking down and ensuring all materials get submitted on time.
Be positive. The central part of your transfer campaign is explaining why you’re looking to leave your current school and why the school to which you are applying is a better fit. Within your explanations, it is important not to badmouth or complain too much about your current school – doing so will mean you’re presenting as a negative person and call into question your social skills. Instead, emphasize what you will find at your new school that you’re current one doesn’t have. For example, a recent candidate who successfully transferred from a larger urban university to a NESCAC school wrote eloquently about how although she had some amazing professors at her current school, she would thrive even more in a closer-knit community that valued continuing discussions among faculty and students outside of the classroom and lecture hall.
Be patient. If the goal is to have as many options as possible including a shot at the most selective schools, the more transfer candidates show themselves as accomplished at the college level, the greater their number of transfer options. In other words, good grades in college count a lot. This may mean deferring an application until after freshman year if some GPA remediation is needed. Most of the successful candidates we’ve seen to the selective schools have applied during their sophomore year after establishing a high GPA and a clear academic path. Colleges prefer transfer candidates who are able to convey in an articulate way what they plan to study and get involved with, and who connect their plans to past experiences and future goals. Having that clearer sense of direction and self-awareness can take more than just one semester of college.
This is not to say that that transfer candidates who have struggled at their initial college are precluded from transferring anywhere else after only one semester. There are colleges that do not have minimum GPA or credits earned requirements for transfers, both junior/community colleges and four-year schools. However, it is important for transfer candidates who have previously struggled with college to understand why they struggled, and to articulate those reasons as well as the different approaches and strategies they will deploy at their next college.