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There are a number of difficulties with transferring colleges, and if you're currently in high school, you should probably do your best to be admitted to the college of your choice as a freshman rather than planning on a potential transfer.
If you're dissatisfied at your present college for reasons that are specific to it rather than generic features of colleges, you should give thought to the possibility of transferring, even if it's probably not a good option.
Whether to transfer
Transferring from a 2-year college to a 4-year college in order to complete a degree is generally a good idea. There are a number of factors that make transferring colleges from a 4-year college to a 4-year college unattractive:
- Difficulty of transferring credits: Credits often don't transfer to fulfill general education requirements and major requirements, which means that completing college can take an additional year or even two . This is much less of an issue for transfers from an in-state public college to an in-state public college.
- Difficulty making friends: Some students find it harder to make friends as a transfer admit than as a freshman admit because of people forming cliques early on in college.
- Financial cost: It's been said that it can be harder to get financial aid as a transfer student , .
Despite these, depending on your situation, transferring may be a good idea anyway:
- If you find that you have few opportunities in your areas of interest (for example, if you want to go into academia in a given field and the college that you're at has a very weak department that offers little coursework or mentorship), and have the option of going to a college with a much stronger department, then it can be worth it to transfer for your professional development, even if it takes an additional year or two to finish your degree.
- If you're socially isolated because your peer group consists of people who are unlike you, transferring could give you access to a peer group with more like-minded people, thereby improving your social life.
Be aware that elite universities generally have very low transfer acceptance rates, even relative to their acceptance rates in general. This doesn't necessarily reflect much greater selectivity: there may be fewer qualified transfer applicants than regular applicants, but the situation is unclear. In any case, a great majority of students who want to transfer to an elite university (with the exception of Cornell) will not be able to, and so unless you're an exceptionally strong applicant, your chances of being accepted at a given elite university are slim. For out-of-state applicants to highly ranked public universities, the situation may be similar: for example, UCLA accepts fewer than 6% of out-of-state transfer applicants. Cornell specifically has a 20% transfer acceptance rate, and so transferring there may be much more feasible.
If you're thinking about the possibility of transferring, and after weighing these considerations, you're unsure about whether or not you should transfer, we recommend applying so as to give yourself the option.
Preparing to transfer
- Undergraduate grades are the most important factor in transfer admissions: they carry even more weight than high school grades do for first-year applicants. So if you want to transfer to a more selective institution, you should give very high priority to getting as high grades as possible.
- You need recommendations from instructors, and getting good ones may be more difficult because of larger college class sizes. So you should plan ahead and get to know a couple of your favorite professors (for example, by going to office hours) so as to secure good recommendations.
- Large public universities generally have rigid requirements that transfer applicants must satisfy, and are particular about the courses that they'll accept for credit, so if you would like to transfer to one, you should make sure to research these things in detail in relation to it, and plan your coursework accordingly.