transfer application

Navigating the Transfer Application Process

Are you a college student asking yourself, “Should I transfer colleges?” Or, perhaps you were not accepted to your top choice school and are now wondering, “How do college transfers work?” No matter where you are in your college journey, CollegeAdvisor is here to answer any questions you may have about the transfer application.

If you’re considering transferring, you’ll want to have all the information needed to put together a strong transfer application for schools. That’s why we’ve created this guide to help you understand the process of transferring colleges. To begin, we will review the transfer application process, including:

  • The transfer student meaning
  • Why a student might want to transfer colleges
  • How to choose transfer colleges for your list
  • Transfer application deadlines

We will also break down the college application requirements for transfer applications and provide tips for writing your college transfer essay. Lastly, we will prepare you for life as a transfer student, ensuring that if you choose to transfer colleges, you do so ready for the opportunities and challenges that the decision may bring.

Fundamental Knowledge About How to Transfer Colleges

Before you transfer colleges, you must first understand the basics of how to transfer colleges. So, let’s start with the transfer student meaning. A transfer student is most commonly defined as any student who:

  • has a high school degree
  • has completed only some college credits as part of a degree-seeking program
  • completed these credits at a regionally accredited American university after graduating from high school AND
  • has not yet completed a bachelor’s degree

As such, high school students who took dual credit classes are not considered transfer students. Additionally, international students who took college credits abroad may still be considered first-year students instead of transfer students. However, each school can have its own unique transfer student meaning. For this reason, it’s important to double-check with the school about how they define a transfer student.

As you can see, the college transfer process can be complex. Still, millions of students transfer each year to find their new educational home. Without the ability to transfer colleges, some students would not be able to pursue their dream major or flourish academically and socially. In addition, transferring colleges is a way for some students to save money or live closer to family and friends. 

To some extent, applying to transfer colleges is not that different from applying to college as an incoming freshman. In fact, many students will complete a Common App transfer using the same platform and login as they did when they were in high school.

However, the key difference is that when transferring colleges, you’ll need to discuss your college experience. Schools are looking to see your academic and extracurricular achievements not only in high school but in college as well. Most importantly, they want to know why you are looking to transfer colleges. Ultimately, transfer admissions teams want to make sure that their school will be a better fit before they admit you.

The Transfer Application Landscape

While most of the attention of college admissions goes towards freshman applications, nearly 2.1 million students transfer colleges each year. Some of these students are transferring from two-year programs at community colleges to four-year programs at universities. Other students may be transferring between four-year programs, either to gain admission to a more selective college or a specific program at another four-year school. 

Many students wondering “Should I transfer colleges?” want to know if the acceptance rates for transferring colleges are higher. In essence, is it easier to get into a more selective school, like an Ivy, as a transfer student? The answer is that it depends on the transfer college. There are many schools which have higher acceptance rates for transfer students. While accurate transfer rates calculators are hard to come by, we know that larger public institutions generally have the capacity to accept more transfer students. 

However, selective schools like Harvard and MIT are known to accept very few transfer students. Each year, Harvard only accepts approximately 12 transfer students. MIT accepts 15-20 out of around 400-500 applications. We don’t need to use a transfer rates calculator to learn that MIT’s transfer acceptance rate is around 4%, slightly lower than their freshman acceptance rate.  As such, you should put a great deal of thought into your MIT transfer application or your Harvard transfer application. Cornell University is one of the few selective schools known for having a higher acceptance rate for transfers, closer to 16%

Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s get into our transferring colleges advice. As we move forward, we will discuss how to decide where to submit your transfer application. Later, we’ll go more in-depth on how to craft a compelling transfer application.

Deciding to Transfer Colleges

transfer application

For students wondering “Should I transfer colleges?”, there are many motivations and factors to consider. Some students transfer for academic reasons, such as their intended major not being available at their initial school. Or, after starting in one program, they may decide they want to pursue more robust academic opportunities at another institution. Other students transfer colleges for personal reasons, like wanting to be closer to home or in a different climate. Additionally, transfer students are sometimes looking to pay less tuition at a new college.

Before starting your transfer application, consider the following questions:

Questions to Consider Before Transferring

  • Why am I transferring? 
  • How confident am I that my transfer college will be a better fit? 
  • Is there a way I can get what I need at my current school? 
  • What are the potential downsides of transferring colleges?
  • Do I have the energy and time to complete a transfer college application?
  • Am I prepared for the challenges of being a transfer student?

While transferring colleges may be a great decision for many transfer students, there are important challenges to consider. For example, transferring colleges means starting over in a new social environment. It may take some time to find new friends and community. Additionally, transfer students sometimes struggle to complete all their academic requirements within four years. We will discuss more of the academic challenges of transferring colleges later.

Therefore, the best transferring colleges advice we can offer is to carefully plan and consider the advantages and disadvantages of transferring before completing a transfer application for schools.

Researching and Choosing Transfer Schools

Once you have decided to transfer colleges, you might be wondering–how do college transfers work? In this section, we will begin to share information about how to transfer colleges. The first step in this process is to begin researching colleges.

Before you look at schools, determine the objectives for your search. Are you looking for a different campus culture with more social activity? Or, are you looking for a smaller, quieter campus? Perhaps you are hoping to find schools that have more resources for a specific major, like pre-veterinary studies. Or, maybe you want to be in a warmer climate or at a school with lower tuition. 

Once you have decided on your priorities for your transfer college, you can begin to research. Consider the following steps for your research process:

  • Look up lists of transfer friendly colleges that provide transferring colleges advice and advising. 
  • Use online resources like U.S. News or to find the best colleges for your major.
  • Consider using a transfer rates calculator to find out admissions rates for your intended transfer college.
  • Visit campuses and ask to speak directly with someone who can offer advice on transferring colleges.
  • Contact a reputable company like CollegeAdvisor to provide transferring colleges advice.

A Note on Articulation Agreements

Some students may be interested in finding colleges with articulation agreements. These are agreements made between colleges that allow students to transfer more smoothly and easily, to ensure that credits transfer between the schools. For instance, some community colleges have articulation agreements with universities. This helps students seamlessly matriculate into a four-year bachelor’s program after completing a two-year associate’s degree. An example is the City College of New York’s articulation agreements with a number of local community colleges. 

Other transfer friendly colleges, like Texas A&M’s Program for System Admission, allow students to complete their freshman year at another Texas campus before transferring to A&M. In this case, students must have specific majors and complete a set of requirements in their freshman year to guarantee their admission to Texas A&M. Looking into colleges with articulation agreements or other transfer-friendly practices can make your transfer application for schools infinitely easier.

Understanding Transfer Admissions

transfer application

So, you have chosen where to submit your transfer application. Now, you need to develop a plan to complete your transfer application for schools on your transfer list. Here are a few aspects of the transfer process you should consider:


Make a list of transfer application deadlines. Some schools only allow students to apply for fall admission, whereas other schools have multiple transfer application deadlines each year. Most transfer application deadlines are 6-9 months before the start of your intended transfer semester. Indeed, the UC transfer application is due by November 30 for the following fall, meaning you must start preparing your transfer application for schools in the UC system much earlier. Meanwhile, other transfer application deadlines can be as late as a few weeks before the start of a semester.

Transferring Credits

Speak with the transfer specialist at each school to learn more about which of your credits will be accepted if you transfer. Sometimes schools that do not offer an equivalent course to one you have taken previously will not give transfer credit. Alternatively, they might give a general elective credit, which will not count towards specific major requirements. In this case, your graduation can be delayed, and therefore the cost of your college degree may be higher. So, it is important to understand the eligibility of your credits before transferring colleges.

Transfer Rates

College transfer rates tend to be very different from first-year admissions rates. Some transfer friendly colleges, like those with articulation agreements, accept 100% of the students who meet their transfer requirements. Other schools, like MIT and Harvard, accept only a handful of transfer students each year. As such, your MIT transfer application or Harvard transfer application must make a clear and compelling case about why you are a perfect fit for their school. 

While finding an accurate transfer rates calculator online may be difficult, you can contact the school to ask how many transfer applications they receive and how many are admitted. You should also ask what the school is looking for in a strong transfer application. With that in mind, let’s dive into the mechanics of college transfers.

How do college transfers work?

transfer application

By now, you have seen how the college application process for transfer students is unique from the regular admissions process. Here, we will provide a simple overview of key parts of the transfer process.

Types of Transfers

Two main types of transfers occur regularly:

Community College → Four-Year University

Students who transfer from a community college to a four-year university are seeking to complete a bachelor’s degree. These students should consider whether the four-year university they’re applying to offers their intended major. Furthermore, it’s important to determine how many of their community college credits the school will accept towards a bachelor’s degree.

Between Four-Year Universities

Students making a transfer from one four-year program to another are generally recommended to transfer between their first and second years of college. This is because completing one year of college at your original school allows you to demonstrate the academic skills needed to strengthen your transfer application for schools. However, transferring beyond your second year may not allow you enough time to complete the requirements at your transfer college. As a result, you could end up having to spend more than four years total in college to complete your bachelor’s degree.

Transfer Admissions vs. First-Year Admissions

In many ways, transfer admissions are similar to first-year admissions. Namely, schools are looking for the same core traits: academic excellence, community involvement, extracurricular involvement, leadership, and personal growth. Additionally, the college application requirements for transfers include many of the same documents, such as transcripts and essays. More than 600 schools also use the Common App for transfer applications. With a Common App transfer, you will have the ease of using your existing account from first-year admissions. 

However, there are some important differences between transfer admission and first-year admissions:

How academic performance is evaluated

Generally, transfer colleges place much more emphasis on your academic performance in college rather than in high school. Additionally, some may not even review test scores. They believe that your performance in college is generally a better indicator due to the rigor of college classes. If you did not perform well in your college classes, speak about what impacted your performance on your transfer application for schools. Colleges want to see academic growth but understand that life can impact your grades.

Essay topics change

Many transfer college application requirements, such as the UC application, include an essay about why you decided to transfer. Make sure you do not submit the same essay you wrote in first-year admissions, as it is unlikely to answer this question. Even if you are completing a Common App transfer, you must make sure you update all your information. So, spend some time reflecting upon your choice to transfer and make a compelling case for why the transfer would be a great fit for you and the college.

Greater importance of major

While many first-year students apply to colleges as undecided majors, a successful transfer application generally demonstrates why a student is interested in their intended major. Indeed, some students may even be required to meet stricter requirements in their application to qualify for a major before they are admitted. Since you have had some time in college to explore, colleges are looking to see an intended major and a clear narrative for why you want to study this subject.

Different timelines

As we stated earlier, some schools have both spring and fall deadlines for transfer applications. As such, the deadlines can differ from first-year admissions deadlines. In a later section, we will provide transfer deadlines for some of the most popular transfer schools.

Now that you know how to transfer colleges, we recommend preparing early for the process

Preparing to Transfer Colleges

Here are some tips for successfully transferring colleges while minimizing stress:

Tips for Transferring Colleges

1. Research early

If you think you might want to transfer, start researching colleges right away. Some students even begin researching before they start their freshman year at their original institution if they think they want to transfer for their sophomore year. Case in point, your UC transfer application will be due November 30 of your freshman year if you wish to start at a UC school in your sophomore year. 

2. Give your full effort at your original institution

Just because you think you may transfer does not mean you should slack off in your classes at your original institution. As we shared above, transfer applications are made stronger by academic achievement in college courses. As such, make sure to take all your courses seriously and get help at the first sign of struggle. If you are hoping to put together a stellar Harvard transfer application or MIT transfer application, you will need to demonstrate strong academic achievement. 

3. Investigate transfer credits early

If you know you may want to transfer, then understanding which classes are more likely to transfer to other schools is important. For example, if you know that a calculus class is likely to transfer to any other college, then it would be smart to enroll in calculus. Taking a rare and specific elective course may mean those credits do not transfer directly to your transfer college.

Remember to seek out help in your transfer process. You can speak with students who transferred previously to hear about their experiences. And, try to meet with transfer advisors at both your original college and your intended transfer college. CollegeAdvisor can also help provide you with personalized college application guidance.

When to start your transfer application?

transfer application

As we shared above, the transfer application process differs slightly from the first-year admissions process. Importantly, the deadline for transfer application for schools can vary greatly from first-year applications. Here is a list of the top 20 schools with the most transfer students and their application deadlines for the fall semester.

Top 20 Schools with the Most Transfer Students 

SchoolLocationFall Deadline
1California State University, FresnoFresno, CANov 30
2Florida International UniversityMiami, FLJuly 10
3University of Central FloridaOrlando, FLJuly 1
4California State University–NorthridgeNorthridge, CAJan 31
5University of HoustonHouston, TXJune 24
6California State University–FullertonFullerton, CANov 30
7San Diego State UniversitySan Diego, CANov 30
8The University of Texas at ArlingtonArlington, TXJune 1
9California State University–Long BeachLong Beach, CANov 1
10Arizona State UniversityTempe, AZFeb 1
11University of North TexasDenton, TXAug 12*Apr 15 for priority scholarships
12University of California, Los AngelesLos Angeles, CANov 30
13California State University, SacramentoSacramento, CADec 15
14San Jose State UniversitySan Jose, CANov 30
15University of South FloridaTampa, FLJune 1
16University of California, San DiegoLa Jolla, CANov 30
17California State Polytechnic University–PomonaPomona, CANov 30
18University of Texas at San AntonioSan Antonio, TXJuly 1*Priority deadline Jan 15
19University of ArizonaTucson, AZJuly 1
20George Mason UniversityFairfax, VAMarch 1

As you can tell, transfer application deadlines vary immensely from school to school. For California public schools, you must apply nearly a year in advance of the fall term at the transfer college you want to enroll in. As previously stated, your UC transfer application is due by November 30 for admission the following fall.

Meanwhile, you can submit a transfer application for schools like the University of North Texas up until a few weeks before the fall semester starts. Researching this information earlier will empower you to avoid stressful rushing to complete your applications. And, it will give you plenty of time to strategize for putting together the most successful transfer application for schools.

Exploring Transfer Requirements

transfer application

When completing any transfer application for schools, there are certain college application requirements you’ll need to fulfill. In general, each application will have the same essential requirements. However, always check the admissions sites to have the most updated information on application deadlines and requirements. With that in mind, let’s look at the requirements that you’ll need for most schools when transferring. 

Letters of Recommendation

First, be sure to secure strong letters of recommendation. If you’re transferring colleges after a full year of school, the letters of recommendation for your transfer application should be different from those used on your initial college application. Your transfer application for schools should reflect your most recent achievements–that includes relationships with college professors rather than high school teachers. 


Similar to when you’re applying to college for the first time, extracurricular activities and work experience are important sections in your transfer application for schools. Remember, you shouldn’t just list these activities. Rather, put some thought into how to describe each experience to make your transfer application stand out. Use strong, active verbs to describe your involvement in activities as well as to highlight your leadership qualities (organized, collaborative, communicative). And don’t waste any words on filler text–your transfer application will be stronger for it! 

Supplemental Materials

Each transfer application will also require supplemental materials. Some schools may require a supplemental essay to transfer colleges, just like a first-time college application. Your transfer application will also require a fee. However, if you don’t have the funds, you can likely get a fee waiver.

Some transfer applications require students to submit standardized test scores, though many are now test-optional. For example, the Harvard transfer application doesn’t require test scores. However, the MIT transfer application does require SAT or ACT scores, just as it does for first-year applicants. 

Transfer Application Nuances

Every transfer application is different. For example, the Harvard transfer application is specifically looking for “a clearly defined academic need to transfer, a proven record of achievement at your current institution, and strong faculty recommendations.” You also need to have been a student at another institution for at least one full year, but no more than two. The Harvard transfer application is pretty standard and is similar to the NYU transfer application. 

Similar to applying as a first-time student, when you transfer colleges, you can apply to many schools through the Common App. However, some colleges don’t use the Common App transfer application and have their own. Students will submit the MIT transfer application via MIT’s platform. On the other hand, both Harvard and NYU accept the Common App transfer application.

Now, we’ve learned a bit about general college application requirements for transfer students. Next, let’s go into more detail about how to use the Common App to transfer colleges. 

Common App Transfer Requirements

If you’re considering transferring colleges and want to apply to multiple schools, you’re in luck—the Common App has got you covered! Just like with first-year applications, you can apply to transfer colleges using one standardized application. Whether you’re transferring from one four-year program to another or a community college to a four-year school, the Common App gives you access to over 600 colleges

For your transfer application, you’ll need your college transcripts, college credits you’ve earned, and letters of recommendation. On some schools’ transfer applications, a personal statement or supplementary essay is required. These essays will be more focused than some other college essays, asking you to explain why you want to transfer colleges. 

The transfer application hosted by the Common App also requires a fee, though you can contact the school you want to transfer to individually for a fee waiver. Just like with other college applications, some transfer applications require test scores, but most are test-optional. 

In addition to using the Common App to transfer colleges, you may encounter other transfer applications, like the UC application.

UC Transfer Requirements

transfer application

The University of California system is a collection of public universities in California. The UCs include some of the best public colleges in the U.S., like UC Berkeley and UCLA. The UC transfer application is separate from the Common App and has its own requirements

The UC application for transferring colleges is similar to the Common App: it will ask you about your academic history, which UC campuses and majors you want to pursue, and your activities and awards. Additionally, the UC transfer application has a “personal insight” section. In this section, you will answer written questions about yourself. Think of these as supplemental essays: they’re how the UCs will get to know you better. 

If you’re interested in completing the UC transfer application, you’re certainly not alone. Almost a third of students entering the UCs each year are transfers—most from community colleges. In fact, many students transfer from community colleges. Let’s look at what that process is like next!

Transferring from Community College

transfer application

Students choose community colleges for many reasons, and attending a community college is a great way for students to start their college journey. Since many community colleges only offer associate’s degrees, some students want to transfer colleges to earn a bachelor’s degree. 

Transferring to a four-year program from a community college is common, and there are often resources on your community college campus that can help you in the process. See if your school has a dedicated transfer center or advisors who can help transfer students find transfer friendly colleges. Using these resources will guide you in crafting your best transfer application. 

Unfortunately, not all schools will accept community college applicants. Some elite institutions only accept students who transfer from one four-year program to another. However, as we mentioned earlier, some community colleges have partnerships called articulation agreements. These agreements with transfer friendly colleges make it easier for students to transfer colleges. For example, NYU has partnerships with nearby community colleges.

If you want to transfer from a community college to a public or private university, then the process will be different from the one for transfer students in other four-year programs. Often, when you’re transferring from community college, you will have graduated and finished a degree after 2 years—your associate’s degree. This may seem confusing since even though you are technically a transfer student you have already concluded one degree before you transfer colleges. 

If you think you want to transfer colleges from a community college to a four-year program, start thinking about it as early as possible. You’ll need to make sure that your credits are transferable. Additionally, you’ll need to demonstrate that you made the most of your time before transferring colleges. This means showing work experience or extracurricular involvement in addition to your academic coursework. 

Preparing Your Transfer Application

transfer application

If you’re wondering how to transfer colleges, your best shot at success is to ace your transfer application. Remember, each school could have a different transfer application deadline. Make sure you double-check each school’s transfer application deadline so you have plenty of time to prepare your application materials. The transfer application deadlines are often later than regular first-year application deadlines.

The transfer application requirements are similar to the college application requirements. And, admissions advisors will be evaluating your application holistically. However, as a transfer student, you have the added responsibility of explaining why you want to transfer and demonstrating what you have done at your first college.  

Calibrating to Your Individual Transfer Circumstances

When asking yourself, “Should I transfer colleges?”, keep in mind that there are various facets that define what a transfer student is. Depending on the transfer student meaning that applies to your situation, you will need to tweak your application accordingly.

For example, you may have already applied to the college you’re trying to transfer to but were denied admission. If so, you’ll have to convince these colleges that you are now qualified and ready to be a member of their student body. You’ll need to stress how you have used the previous year (or two) to grow at your current institution in your application.

Reflect on the Why

Take the time to really reflect on your experiences at your current institution. What has served you and what hasn’t? What are you looking to gain by transferring? If you feel like the resources at this institution aren’t working for you, what have you achieved despite that? And what resources would you take advantage of at the school you’re applying to?

Remember, the answer to “Should I transfer colleges?” shouldn’t be based solely on prestige. Your transfer application for schools like Harvard or Yale can’t revolve around these schools’ elite nature. Work on reframing what prestige means to you. Does it mean increased job prospects? If so, in what fields? What are your career goals and how can these institutions help you achieve them? Maybe you’re focused on research opportunities that only exist in schools with enough resources for specialty labs. In your transfer application for schools like the Ivies, stress their specific offerings, not the fancy name.

Transfer Essay

Additionally, one of the most important parts of the transfer application for schools will take some time to complete: the transfer essay. This essay is different from the personal statement you may have written in high school– so don’t just reuse the same essay! Your essay is an excellent opportunity to tell your story.

Brainstorm by asking yourself why you want to transfer and what you have learned from your experience at your first school. You’ll also want to highlight what you will bring to a new school and how that school will help you achieve your academic and career goals. 

As the essay is a crucial part of the transfer application, we’ve compiled some tips to help you in our next section. 

Tips for Writing the College Transfer Essay

transfer application

The essay portion of the transfer application for schools is one of the most important sections of the application. To transfer colleges, you must convince the admissions committee that you would immensely benefit from a different college experience than the one you are currently having. Or, if you studied at community college, you’ll need to show that you are passionate about taking the next step in your academic journey. 

Here are some tips for crafting the best essay for your transfer application for schools. 

Tips for Writing Transfer Application Essays

1. Be specific

Similar to a “why school” essay that you likely wrote as a first-year applicant, the essay for your transfer application for schools should be detailed and specific. If you’re trying to transfer colleges, always do your research on each school of interest. Admissions committees want to see that you have put in the work and understand why their school in particular would be a good fit for you. If you could submit your essay to transfer colleges to various schools, you’re not getting specific enough. An essay for Binghamton University won’t be the same as one for Cornell University

2. Explain why you want to transfer colleges — without bashing your first school.

When you’re looking to transfer colleges, you need to walk a fine line. In your essay, you need to express that there is something at a new institution that you just can’t get at your current one. However, you must do so without being rude about your current school. Framing your desire to transfer colleges in quest of resources, opportunities, or a specific major or program that your school doesn’t offer will help you walk this line. This closing paragraph from an Emory transfer student exemplifies how to find this balance: “I’ve never regretted my time here. I simply exhausted all the available resources and it’s my responsibility to go where I can flourish as a student in every sense, and this place for me, is Emory University.” 

3. Express your academic or career goals.

When you filled out your college application the first time, you may not have known what you wanted to study. However, schools expect that transfer students are more confident in their academic paths. They expect that, as a transfer student, you have settled on a major. Talking about your academic and career goals is also a great way to express why you’d be a better fit at a new school. If your current college doesn’t have the same opportunities, that’s a great reason for you to transfer colleges. Let’s say you want to pursue an interdisciplinary major or study a very niche topic. Write about this in your essay as a reason why you need to be at that school and nowhere else! 

4. Be yourself

Just like in a typical college essay, the most important thing to remember about your transfer application is that it should show a college who you are. Each one of us is unique, and your transfer application should reflect your distinct skills, qualities, and goals. You can express your uniqueness by being specific about your experiences and sharing relevant anecdotes about your life. Remember that the transfer student meaning has different nuances–use the transfer application essay as an opportunity to show who you are, not only as a transfer student, but as a person. Also, don’t be afraid to have a little fun with applications to transfer colleges! If you’re a creative person, show that in your essays. Not only will this make your application feel authentic to who you are, it will help you stand out.

5. Don’t forget to use great grammar, spelling, and word choice.

All the rules of great writing still apply to your transfer application and essay.  With access to online spellchecking and grammar tools, there’s no excuse for submitting typos or grammatical errors in your essay. Always read your essay out loud before you submit it to catch any mistakes. Additionally, enlist the help of friends or family in the proofreading process. 

Remember that while you can get creative with your essays, don’t get so creative that you forget about grammar. You want to show off your writing chops–don’t let grammatical errors distract from your narrative! These example essays from USC are a good reference—the writer talks about silly things but provides vivid descriptions using impeccable vocabulary and grammar.

Ultimately, writing your essay to transfer colleges should focus on expressing your unique reasons for wanting to transfer using specific details, vivid descriptions, and flawless spelling and grammar. If you’re looking for more inspiration, check out our article on transfer essay examples. 

More College Transfer Advice

Transferring colleges can be a daunting process. If you’re still asking yourself, “How do college transfers work?”–here’s some more transferring colleges advice.

Start the Transfer Process Early

If you’re at a community college, make sure you talk with your admissions counselors about transfer friendly colleges that interest you. If you’re in a four-year program, your grades and extracurriculars will be an important part of your application. So, even if you plan to transfer, get involved at your first school. Preparing early is one of the best pieces of transferring colleges advice to ease the transfer process.

Build an Application Narrative

Keep in mind that the transfer student meaning includes many students with different goals and experiences. Sometimes transferring colleges is a backup plan for people who don’t get into their top schools the first time around. In fact, this is very common.

While it can feel exhausting, you should aim to make your transfer application as competitive (if not more) than your first college application. After all, just because you apply to transfer colleges, doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily get in. Take the time to craft the best application narrative possible!

If you’re a student who has lower stats than the average student at the universities you’re applying to, or you get mostly B’s, don’t panic. However, you’ll want to put extra energy into other parts of your application, like your essays or your letters of recommendation. You could also tell a story of academic growth over time and explain any extenuating circumstances. 

Do Your Research

When seeking out transferring colleges advice, remember that college lists are important in the transfer process. Look at a transfer rates calculator, or a list of transfer rates, to understand which schools are more friendly to transfer students. The UCs, for example, take far more transfer students than somewhere like Harvard. It’s useful to look at a transfer rates calculator because these rates are different from regular admission rates. For example, at UC Berkeley, the transfer rates calculator shows rates that are higher for transfer students than for first-year students.

And our last piece of transferring colleges advice is to stay organized! We’ve provided an easy way to do so below.

College Transfer Application Checklist

transfer application

If you started reading this guide wondering, “How do college transfers work?”, then you’ve probably learned plenty about the process. Now, a better question might be: “How do I stay organized when completing the transfer application for schools?” Here’s a checklist to keep you on schedule:

College Transfer Application Checklist

  • During your first year of college, ask yourself, “Should I transfer colleges?” 
  • Talk to a counselor at your school about how to transfer colleges—there may even be a designated office to assist with transfers.
  • Make sure that your academic plan has transferable credits. 
  • Research transfer-friendly schools.
  • Familiarize yourself with the transfer application and the requirements for each school.
  • Check the transfer application deadline. Every school has different transfer application deadlines, so make sure you know when to apply.
  • Secure letters of recommendation from your professors who can speak to your strengths.
  • Give yourself plenty of time to work on your transfer essay. 
  • Order your transcripts from your school’s registrar.
  • Fill out and submit your transfer application by the transfer application deadline!

Remember, during your first semesters at a new school, make sure to keep your grades up and get involved with extracurriculars. You should have a good idea of what academic goals you want to pursue once you transfer colleges. And, you need to be able to demonstrate that you made the most of your time at your first college in your transfer application. 

We know that navigating the transfer application process can be tricky. But we hope that this transferring colleges advice and checklist make you more confident in the process. Now, we’ve covered a lot, so let’s go over some final takeaways.

Navigating the Transfer Application Process – Final Thoughts

transfer application

Transferring colleges can be a challenging and stressful process, but remember the light at the end of the tunnel. A successful college transfer means more educational opportunities and a college that feels like the perfect fit. If you decide that your first college isn’t the right fit for you, or that you want to pursue a bachelor’s degree after attending community college, then going through the transfer application process may be the right choice for you.

Make sure that you do your research and choose transfer friendly colleges—schools that have the right financial fit, coincide with your academic goals, and provide meaningful extracurricular, career, and research opportunities. If you’re wondering what your chances are of getting into a particular school, don’t just rely on their regular admissions stats. Transfer rates calculators offer a more accurate picture of your chance of getting admitted as a transfer applicant. 

Most transfer applications can be filed using the Common App, just like most first-year applications. However, some applications, like the MIT transfer application or the UC application, have their own platforms via their school websites. Make sure that you know where and when to apply. Remember to put a lot of thought and effort into your transfer essay since that’s where you’ll explain to the admissions committee why you want to transfer to their school.

More Transfer Resources

If you want more resources on how to transfer colleges, check out these free CollegeAdvisor resources. This webinar on transferring colleges can help assuage any concerns and this one gives you a first-person perspective from a student who successfully transferred to Vanderbilt. 

Regardless of where you are in your college journey, CollegeAdvisor is here to support you. We can provide one-on-one counseling from expert advisors, and we have countless guides to help you transfer to your dream school.

transfer application

This article was written by senior advisors, Courtney Ng and Rachel Kahn. Looking for more admissions support? Click here to schedule a free meeting with one of our Admissions Specialists. During your meeting, our team will discuss your profile and help you find targeted ways to increase your admissions odds at top schools. We’ll also answer any questions and discuss how can support you in the college application process.