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The Elements of a Great Transfer Application

So you’re thinking about transferring to another college. Maybe your current school isn’t what you were expecting. Maybe you went to your current school expecting to transfer. Maybe your expectations changed since starting college, and now another school will better suit your needs. In any case, if you want to transfer schools, you’ll need to put together a transfer application. In this article, we’ll walk through the 5 main components of a great college transfer application, roughly in order of importance.

College Transcripts

For admissions committees, the best indicator of how you will perform at your new college is how you’ve performed at your current college. This means that your college transcripts — which tell the admissions committee which classes you took, when you took them, and what grades you received — are the most important element of your college transfer application.

Just like in your original undergraduate application, your GPA confirms that you were successful in your classes, while your course load confirms that you had to work for that success. Additionally, a rigorous course schedule demonstrates a commitment to challenging yourself academically (something colleges like to see).

Depending on how long you’ve been in college, admissions committees will also look for trends in your performance. Have you taken more challenging classes and scored better in them leading up to your decision to transfer colleges? Great! Admissions committees can expect continued improvement at your new college. Has your decision to transfer colleges been preceded by a decline in course difficulty and GPA? Not so great … admissions committees are likely to be concerned that the negative trend will continue after your college transfer.

If you are currently enrolled in college classes, you’ll also need mid-term reports from your professors. In these mid-term reports, your current professors will use your performance thus far in their classes to anticipate your eventual grades. These expected grades will also be considered by admissions committees, so be sure to keep your grades up throughout the college transfer process!

Transfer Application Essays

Essays are where the admissions committee gets to hear directly from you about why you want to transfer schools. One of the worst possible results of the transfer process is when a student leaves their old college … only to find that the new college isn’t a fit for them either. Colleges want their students to stay at their school through graduation and thrive academically on their campus, so admissions committees do their best to ensure that the transfer students they accept are a good fit for the environment at their school. The two essays in a typical college transfer application — the personal statement and the supplement — are the place for you to “make your case”.

The personal statement prompt is relatively straightforward: “Please provide a statement that addresses your reasons for transferring and the objectives you hope to achieve. (250-650 words)” In order to have a strong transfer application, you need to have a good answer. A good answer will tell the story of your decision to transfer colleges, illustrating:

1. that you have specific academic goals that are not being met by your current institution

2. why the school to which you are applying is a perfect match for those goals

Note that your reasons for transferring do not need to be 100% academic in nature. For example, a poor culture fit is a solid reason to transfer schools. However, you should make the connection between the reasons for your transfer and your ability to succeed academically.

The supplemental transfer essay prompt varies from school to school, but in most cases it expands on the personal statement to dig into your reasons for selecting the particular institution you’re applying to. Reasons like “Your school has a higher US News ranking than my school,” are not compelling to admissions committees. Again, no matter how good your grades, you will not be admitted to a school as a transfer student unless you can clearly illustrate how you personally will benefit from something your new school offers that your current school does not. Be specific and honest in your reasoning, and the admissions committee members will be more likely to advocate for you.

SAT/ACT Scores and High School Transcripts

While most institutions will ask for your SAT/ACT scores and high school transcripts, their relevance to your transfer application will depend on how long you have attended college since your high school graduation.

For instance, if you’ve been in college for several years, your test scores and grades from high school aren’t as important — SAT/ACT scores and high school transcripts are meant to demonstrate how a student will perform in college, but your extensive college transcripts are direct evidence of how you already have performed! On the other hand, if you’re transferring as a freshman and don’t have as much evidence of success from college, admissions committees will look at your high school test scores and grades as a supplement. Basically, the longer you’ve been in college, the less heavily weighted your SAT/ACT scores and high school transcripts will be compared to your college transcripts.

As a transfer student, there’s nothing you can do about your high school transcripts, but depending on your situation, you may need or want to retake the SAT/ACT. If you last took the SAT/ACT more than 5 years ago, your score is no longer valid, and you will need to retake. If your score is still valid, your decision whether or not to retake should be based on the competitiveness of your application at the school of your choice.

First, look into average SAT/ACT scores for admitted students — how does your score compare? Then look at your transfer GPA — how would it look to an admissions committee? If your SAT/ACT score is above average for admitted students and your transfer GPA is high, retaking may not increase your chances of admissions enough to be worthwhile. If your SAT/ACT score is low for admitted students, you may want to retake, especially if your transfer GPA is lower, if you have fewer college courses under your belt, if the school you’re applying to is particularly competitive.

If you do choose to retake the SAT/ACT, you have an advantage that you didn’t have the last time you took the test — college experience. You are almost certainly a stronger reader and writer than you were a year or two, likely with better test taking skills from difficult course exams. That said, most of the math on the SAT/ACT is at the junior high/early high school level, so even if you’re a math major, you’ll likely need some review on arithmetic, algebra, and geometry concepts you haven’t seen in a while. Veritas Prep offers a variety of SAT and ACT prep options that can help you refresh your SAT/ACT knowledge and further improve your score to give you the best chance of success with your transfer application.

Professor Recommendations

Professor recommendations add more color to your transfer application. Your transcripts tell admissions committees what grades you got, but how did you get them? Are you the student who arrives early, sits in the front row, takes notes, asks questions after class, goes to office hours, and participates in discussion sections? Or are you actually the student who only shows up half the time, wanders in 10 minutes late, sits in the back, and facebook chats with pals? Is the person you wrote about in your personal statement and supplement the same person your professors saw in class?

Your professor recommendation letters (of which usually two are required) provide a less biased look at who you are as a student, so it’s important to choose professors who know you, have seen your best work, and can communicate that to the committee. Note that you cannot reuse teacher recommendation letters from high school, and letters from professors are preferred to letters from teaching assistants. So if you don’t know who to ask for your letters and you’re currently enrolled in classes, start engaging more and interacting with your professors! This will give them something to write about you in their recommendation letters.

Campus and Community Engagement

Campus and community engagement is the equivalent of the “extracurriculars” from your original college application. What have you been doing with yourself over the last year or so when you haven’t been studying? Sports? Clubs? Community outreach? Lab research? Writing for a college publication?

These activities are important for transfer applications not because of what they tell admissions committees about how you use your spare time, but because of what they demonstrate about you as a person. If you’re passionate about your pursuits, you are likely doing them consistently, leading others, and using your interests to make a difference on your campus and community. Congrats! That’s what admissions committees want to see.

While academics are the highest priority for admissions committees, they also want to know what value transfer students will bring to their school outside of the classroom, so use your transfer essays to call attention to the things you do in between your stints in the lecture hall and the library.

Other Requirements

Of course, there are likely to be other elements to your college transfer application — specific schools may have specific requirements, specific majors may have specific requirements, international students may need additional paperwork, and so on. Read and research carefully to ensure you have everything you need for a complete transfer application.

If you’re concerned about portraying yourself in the best light in your transfer application, consider working with a college admissions consultant, like the ones at Veritas Prep. Our Veritas Prep college admissions consultants have all worked in the admissions office of an Ivy League or other elite college, making them admissions experts. Your admissions consultant will guide you every step of the way and help you assemble the absolute best college transfer application possible.