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by Lan Ngo

Adjusting to Stanford University as a Transfer Student

September 21, 2012 in Adjusting, Costs, Four-Year Transfer Articles, Ivy Plus

In this article, Chris (co-founder of TransferWeb) interviews me (Lan) about my transition to Stanford as a transfer student. These are the main topics I discuss:

  • The academic adjustment
  • The social adjustment
  • Financial aid

You’ll see why, in reflecting on my experience trying to adjust to Stanford, I tell other transfer students, “Basically, don’t be like me. Don’t be a fool.”

Without further ado, here’s the interview.

Chris: Some people have asked about what it’s like to transfer into Stanford. How was it for you transferring in, the process of adjusting, and getting used to Stanford?

Lan: It was really, really hard. In hindsight, I wish I had done many things very differently. Going from UCLA to Stanford was very difficult because just the name Stanford alone was very intimidating. I, in some ways, was surprised that I got in because I could not accept the fact that I got into this extremely prestigious school, especially coming from a very humble background with very little education.

Once I got there, I was overwhelmed by how amazing everyone else seemed. I was scared, actually. It seemed like everyone around me was so accomplished. Everyone around me had already started a business or a non-profit, or they had done some amazing internship while they were in high school, and they were continuing to pursue such amazing endeavors while in college. I felt very little. You often hear the cliché that you’re a superstar in high school, and then you go to this awesome college, and suddenly you’re not a superstar anymore. That was a blow to my confidence.

I made the wrong move by giving myself a light load the first semester. I thought, “I need to adjust, so I’m just going to take three classes instead of four.” I think that might work for other people because they have transfer shock. Right when you come in, you’re shocked, and to lighten up the ramifications of this shock, you might want to take fewer classes to ease yourself into taking a more difficult load later. You have to assess your situation. For me, I like to be in intense situations, so actually, taking a lighter load was not good for me in retrospect.

I took a lighter load, and I think it made it harder for me to adjust because I wasn’t pushing myself hard enough. The following semester, when I wanted to take more classes, it was a hard transition. I should have just taken the regular load, which was four classes, the first semester.

The social transition was the hardest. We heard a lot of transfer students that we interviewed talk about how hard it is because you’re not a freshmen anymore, but you’re also not a continuing student like everyone else. I lived in a dorm with a lot of other transfer students and also non-transfer students. My roommate was a transfer student. I think because I was also very focused on doing well in school, I didn’t take the initiative to be social. I should have been actively pursuing social endeavors, but I didn’t. That’s why I’m glad we’re talking about this now, and we wrote this book on what you should do and shouldn’t do. Basically, don’t be like me. Don’t be a fool. Don’t lock yourself in the library. That is what I ended up doing, just going to the library all the time to study. At the same time, I was very involved in a lot of different clubs, and that’s another mistake I made, because I was spreading myself too thinly, trying to be an active member in everything. I wasn’t just a member; I was in leadership roles in a few clubs. That made it very difficult to be focused and emotionally and mentally devoted to an organization or to a cause.

Chris: Let me try to sum up. If you had the chance to do it over again, you would’ve taken your normal course load right off the bat. You would have made more of an effort to put yourself in more relaxed, non-formal social situations. Clubs, for example, is a formal social situation. You think you should have hung out a little bit more. Was there anything else?

Lan: The last point I made was about spreading myself too thinly.

Chris: So, don’t spread yourself too thinly in terms of clubs.

Lan: Correct.

Chris: It obviously varies every year, but some people might be curious; do you remember the schools that other transfer students transferred from when they came into Stanford the same class as you?

Lan: I remember someone was from Mills College. Everyone else was like me; they came from “lower” ranking schools.

Chris: What did Stanford do in terms of orientation services for you guys once you arrived?

Lan: We had a specific orientation just for transfer students. One of the deans was in charge of transfer students, and there was an advisor that was specifically working with transfer students. She led the orientation for transfer students. In addition to the orientation that was going on for freshmen, they had one for us. It was nice to start off with a little community.

First, there was a general welcoming of everyone, and then a meeting with our advisors. It’s a little strange. I guess the school had no choice; in the beginning they give you random advisors, and you meet with them. For me, it was useless. I got someone who was the coach of some sports team. I was not happy with that. I eventually transitioned over to an actual professor in the economics department, but that was not good to have that as my start in academic advising.

Chris: Because you’re not big into sports, right?

Lan: Not at all. We also had a peer transfer group. I think Stanford should have done a better job of maintaining a core of transfer students, a support network of transfer students, throughout the year. It was only at the beginning that we had a couple of group meetings or activities with this transfer peer group. Then, after that, it just tapered off.

Chris: Overall, how happy were you with your decision to transfer and transferring to Stanford?

Lan: I think it was one of the best decisions I made in my life, although when people ask me, “How was your experience at Stanford?” I often start with, “I didn’t know how to navigate the resources that were available to me, because I didn’t come from an educated background.” It’s nice to go to Stanford. You really move up from going to a public university when you go to a place like Stanford whose endowment is ranked third after I think Harvard and Yale. Stanford is totally loaded. Money translates into a lot of different services and resources. It’s nice just being in that kind of environment that is so rich in resources.  Resources include human resources. Think about these people that surround you; they are so accomplished, they’ve done so much, and they have all these connections. It’s really inspirational. I think going to Stanford inspired me to–it’s a cliché–branch out and to broaden my horizons. It allowed me to try a lot of new things because of all the different opportunities that were available.

For example, I did a fellowship where I was a resident director assistant for a program where college students from Taiwan and Japan came and stayed for a summer. It was an intensive program in American language and culture for them, and I was one of the five Stanford assistant directors. From that experience, I was able to go abroad, because it was an exchange program. I ended up going to Japan and Taiwan with these people and the other Stanford students. From there, I ended up going back to Japan and learning Japanese. Since then, I’ve been to Japan five or six times and Taiwan at least three times, and all that started from going to Stanford and having this amazing opportunity to be a part of this program. I think going to Stanford afforded me with all these different opportunities that allowed me to open my eyes to new things, new experiences, and new people.

Chris: Can you give us a ballpark of how generous Stanford was in terms of financial aid? Was it cheaper to go there than to UCLA?

Lan: Money is huge, and again because Stanford has so much money, if you’re low-income, you’re very much taken care of. I spent three years at Stanford. There were two terms when I took time off, but I figured out a way to still be able to use financial aid from those two terms. I think in the three years I was at Stanford, I took out $13,000 in loans. I can’t remember the exact amount, but my loans from my one year at UCLA were more than $13,000, which is what I had to take out to go to Stanford for three years.

Chris: You weren’t paying for anything out of pocket at Stanford?

Lan: I had to work at Stanford, but I worked when I was at UCLA, too. I did work-study, and I worked summers.

Chris: Three years at Stanford for you cost about the same as one year at UCLA?

Lan: I would say less.

(Photo: LeeBrimelow)

Avatar of Lan Ngo

by Lan Ngo

Transferring to Stanford: Why and How?

August 30, 2012 in Four-Year Transfer Articles, Ivy Plus, Specific College, To Transfer or Not

The decision to transfer is a very personal one, but it’s without a doubt one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life. Just how did I come to the decision to transfer, and what were my next moves after I made that decision? In this article, Chris (co-founder of TransferWeb) interviews me, and I provide very vulnerable responses. I admit that I didn’t really know what I was doing during the transfer application process. I operated on very little information. Since then, I have successfully completed many, many applications: master’s programs, doctoral programs, ultra-competitive scholarships and fellowships, etc. Knowing what I know now, I would have proceeded differently in my transfer application process. Through this website and The Transfer Book, I hope to help other students who are now in the same shoes I was in when I was an undergrad.

Key takeaways from this interview include the following:

  • You should have a solid reason for wanting to transfer.
  • Fit is very important in successfully applying as a transfer student.
  • You won’t necessarily get into all the schools you apply to transfer to, and that’s okay!
  • You can learn from Lan’s experience and mistakes.

Hope this interview is helpful to you!

Chris: You started out at UCLA, and then you decided to transfer, or at least to apply to transfer. What made you make that decision?

Lan: I started thinking about transferring my first year, just about maybe one or two months into being a freshman at UCLA. It was around October when I started thinking about transferring. A big reason why I wanted to transfer was related to my major. At that point, I was deciding about cognitive science. I was interested in focusing on something like linguistics within cognitive science. I was also thinking about majoring in business.

At that point, I was taking introduction to economics, and I wanted to major maybe in business, but UCLA doesn’t have an undergrad business school. It has a graduate business school. But if you want to major in business, the closest you can get to that is to either do economics, which is what a lot of people do when they’re at a liberal arts school, or you can do something called Business Econ at UCLA, which is just an econ major but you tack on some accounting classes that you take at the UCLA Anderson School of Business. But that didn’t sound very business-like to me, so I thought, “Oh, I want to go to business school.”

My first reaction was to try to apply to UC Berkeley Haas School of Business because I had a friend from high school who was studying there. I looked into applying to the Haas Business School. Berkeley is part of the UC system, which has some kind of special regulation, stating that if you wanted to transfer, you would have to transfer as a junior so that you had two years of undergrad under your belt before moving on to UC Berkeley. At that time, because I was just a freshman, it meant I couldn’t transfer as a sophomore. So I thought, “I’m going to look at other schools to apply to transfer to. If I don’t get in, that’s totally cool because then I’ll just stay one more year at UCLA and apply to transfer as a junior to UC Berkeley Haas School of Business.

Chris: So, you applied to transfer to the Haas School of Business?

Lan: I didn’t because I ended up getting into Stanford. I didn’t need to.

Chris: What were the schools that you applied to transfer to?

Lan: I was thinking about business, and I really did not know anything about applying to transfer to a college in general, but I knew that there was this one person from my high school who ended up going to the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. This is very rare because my high school sucks. Very few people ended up going to top schools like that. I just knew of that name because that classmate went there, so I thought, “I should apply to Wharton,” which is really ridiculous because I knew nothing about the school. It’s pretty hard to get into, and I know people do get into it, but a lot of people get into that school by transferring from other business programs, I think. These are people who actually want to study business. I applied to Wharton, which is a completely different process from applying to Penn itself. I also applied to Stanford just because I had heard of that name from someone. I remember when I was a high school student, one of my friends liked Stanford. She talked up Stanford.

Chris: If you didn’t get into those schools, you would have applied to Berkeley the next year; that was your plan?

Lan: Right.

Chris: Just as a side note, there was that one student that got into Wharton from a liberal arts school that we helped with our consulting service.

Lan: That’s right.

Chris: You applied to transfer to Stanford and to Wharton. Were the applications similar; was it different to apply to a business school?

Lan: I don’t really remember too much about the application process specifically for Wharton. I guess I’m trying to block it out of my memory because it wasn’t that interesting to me. I didn’t realize how unique it was, how the application to a business school is actually very unique, in that you have to show your business prowess. I think I didn’t emphasize that at the time because I didn’t know too much about applying to transfer to any school, especially to a business school. People we’ve talked to in writing The Transfer Book who have successfully transferred to a business school really emphasized their business skills, or showed how they are really entrepreneurs or mini-CEOs, and how they really fit in at business schools specifically, and not just an economics program. I think it was about fit and presenting your best self as someone who is very suited for business school.

Chris: Long story short, you didn’t get into Wharton, but you got into Stanford.

Lan: Yes, and I can see why I got into Stanford and not Wharton.

This interview continues with Lan discussing her adjustment after transferring to Stanford.  Stay tuned!

(Photo: quinn.anya)

Avatar of Lan Ngo

by Lan Ngo

Transfer Requirements: Cornell University Case Study

April 18, 2011 in Admissions, All Transfers, Community College Articles, Four-Year Transfer Articles, Ivy Plus, Requirements, Specific College

Meeting requirements for the transfer application is crucial; missing even one item could disqualify your application from being considered. Unfortunately, the requirements are not always straightforward. This post examines the process of determining course requirements for transfer applicants using Cornell University as a case study.

Specifically, let’s say you want to apply to transfer as a junior into the Applied Economics and Management program, a highly competitive major, within the Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS). Begin by following this website pathway: CALS Home > Prospective Students > Admissions > Transfer > External > Required Coursework. You’ll end up on this page showing required coursework for external transfer students.

The top of the page tells you that transfer applicants to most majors within CALS need

  • one full academic year of intro Biology with hands-on labs
  • and two college Writing/English Composition courses or one Writing/English Composition course and one Public Speaking course.

Those requirements sound quite specific already, but look closely at the requirements for particular majors. Click on the one you’re interested in, here, Applied Economics and Management. Now the list is extremely detailed and there are different requirements depending on whether you’re applying as a sophomore or junior transfer. Here are the requirements for students that want to transfer as sophomores:

  • Two College Writing/English Composition courses or one writing/composition and Public Speaking
  • Microeconomics
  • Macroeconomics
  • Calculus I
    • Encouraged (but not required):
      • Public Speaking
      • One full year of Introductory Biology (labs not required)
      • One course in either Chemistry or Physics

The requirements for junior transfers are similar, but there are many more required courses, given that you would have two full years of college before transferring:

  • Three College Writing/English Composition courses
  • Microeconomics
  • Macroeconomics
  • Calculus I
  • Statistics

The list looks cumbersome. Note that taking the “encouraged” courses will give you a competitive edge.

Let’s further investigate the College Writing/English Composition requirement because it looks like a major hurdle. Three College Writing/English Composition courses is a lot. However, if you dig carefully enough, you’ll find some semblance of loopholes on the AP credit, transfers, and substitutions page.
Here are the key points about applying AP credit toward this writing course requirement:

All students who score 5 on the Princeton Advanced Placement Examination in English receive 3 credits… Of students who score 4, only Agriculture and Life Sciences students may apply their 3 credits toward the writing requirements of their college.

For most majors, the university will accept nothing but a 5. For students in CALS, a 4 on one of the AP English exams will cover one writing course requirement. Going back to the example of trying to transfer as a junior, even with a 4 on one of the AP English exams, you still have two more required writing courses to fill, so you’ll have to take actual college writing courses. Here’s key information about college transfer credit for these writing courses:

… students must provide evidence that the course was offered on a college campus as part of its normal curriculum and that the work done was comparable to that in a First-Year Writing Seminar (see the guidelines–it is not sufficient to write, say, one 30-page term paper). Courses not taken in the academic year must be at least six weeks long. Students must earn a B+ or better in the course.

Cornell seems “picky” about these writing/composition courses. Now it’s time for you to look at the course catalogue of your current college and seek writing courses that are comparable to Cornell’s First-Year Writing Seminar courses. You can download the spring 2011 brochure of these classes here.

Even after looking at Cornell’s brochure and the brochure of your current school, you may still not be quite sure if writing courses at your college will count toward Cornell’s writing requirement. Try calling the office of admission or registrar, and, if you really want to keep things honest, take notes on whom you speak to, when, and what they tell you. You can keep a log of phone calls (or emails) in an Excel spreadsheet with the following column headings:

School | Name | Position | Date | Notes

If any doubt remains, use the “additional information” section in the Common Application or school-specific application to explain that you did all you could to meet all the transfer requirements and include information about when you called the school and what they told you.

Each school has its own requirements for transfer applicants. With a keen eye, you can be sure to meet every requirement and even go beyond them to put together the best possible application possible.

(Photo: Joe Shlabotnik)

Avatar of Lan Ngo

by Lan Ngo

Transfer Program at Harvard College Resumes

August 27, 2010 in Admissions, All Transfers, Community College Articles, Four-Year Transfer Articles, Ivy Plus, News, Specific College

If you look at our table of transfer acceptance rates, you’ll see that Harvard’s rate says “0.0%.” That’s because the transfer program ceased to even exist, but now Harvard is accepting transfer applicants again.

An article in the Harvard Gazette shares the news. Here are the highlights for prospective transfer applicants:

Harvard’s generous financial aid policies will apply to transfer students.

Yes, it’s nice to go to a “wealthy” school. Harvard, with an endowment of over $25 billion (as of 2009), can afford to share the love. Watch out for other schools that are less generous to transfer students than freshmen.

What does it take to be a competitive Harvard transfer applicant?

“Harvard seeks students with clearly developing academic interests that can be well served by Harvard,” said Marlene Vergara Rotner, director of transfer admissions.  “Students who apply should be enrolled in a challenging liberal arts curriculum that includes mathematics, science, and a foreign language.”

“Transfer admission closely mirrors that of freshman admissions, insofar as it looks beyond good grades and test scores and considers the qualities of creativity, intellectual curiosity, and independent thinking,” Rotner said.  “Other factors weighed in the evaluation of transfer candidates include significant nonacademic talents and personal qualities such as a capacity for leadership, energy, character, motivation, and a sense of responsibility.”

Academics are important, but an immaculate transcript alone just doesn’t cut it for Harvard and the other ivy plus schools. In contrast, many state universities that have transfer articulation agreements with community colleges usually just look at grades and GPA. In many cases, when applying to a four-year school under a transfer articulation agreement, a transfer essay is not even needed.

For most transfer applicants, Harvard is definitely a “reach” school. However, if you think you have what it takes, it’s worth a shot. We wish you all the best with your transfer process!

(Photo: David Paul Ohmer)

Avatar of Lan Ngo

by Lan Ngo

The College Transfer Application Essay: An Example for the University of Pennsylvania

May 26, 2010 in Admissions, All Transfers, Community College Articles, Essays, Four-Year Transfer Articles, Ivy Plus, Specific College

(Update: We’ve added another “why” transfer essay example with a detailed critique here.)

One of the most important elements in your transfer application is the essay on why you want to transfer to the college of your choice. Here, we’ll deconstruct a real-life transfer application essay by David, a student who is trying to transfer from Amherst College to the University of Pennsylvania. The essay was posted on About.com, which says that the essay is for the Common Transfer Application. However, this might be an error, because you wouldn’t write something school-specific for the Common Application. The essay was more likely written for the University of Pennsylvania Application Supplement for Freshmen and Transfer Applicants, which has the following prompt:

REQUIRED

Answer the essay question on a separate sheet of paper. (Do not exceed one page.)

Benjamin Franklin established the Union Fire Company, the Library Company of Philadelphia, the American Philosophical Society, Pennsylvania Hospital, and, of course, the charity school that evolved into the University of Pennsylvania. As they served the larger community of Philadelphia, each institution in turn formed its own community.

Which of the academic communities and social communities that now comprise the University of Pennsylvania are most interesting to you and how will you contribute to them and to the larger Penn community?

For freshman applicants, the prompt is straightforward. They just have to talk about a great academic and social community at Penn. The transfer applicant, however, must also explain why s/he wants to transfer to Penn.

We’ll work through David’s essay for Penn, paragraph by paragraph, looking at the good and the not-so-good.

Paragraph 1:

During the summer after my first year of college, I spent six weeks volunteering at an archaeological excavation in Hazor, site of the largest tel (mound) in Israel. My time in Hazor was not easy – wake-up came at 4:00 a.m., and by noontime temperatures were often in the 90s. The dig was sweaty, dusty, back-breaking work. I wore out two pairs of gloves and the knees in several pairs of khakis. Nevertheless, I loved every minute of my time in Israel. I met interesting people from around the world, worked with amazing students and faculty from Hebrew University, and became fascinated with the current efforts to create a portrait of life in the Canaanite period.

This opening paragraph works well because it follows our rule 3 for the college transfer essay: Be specific. It also follows the mantra for college essay writing: Show. Don’t tell. For the most part, he verbally creates a visual for the reader, helping us to imagine what it felt like to work at the archaeological dig.

Imagine if he had written something vague like, “I volunteered at an archaeological excavation in Israel and learned a lot from the experience. I worked with great people who taught me more about my field of interest, and I truly grew as a person. [More of the same fluff…]” This kind of essay doesn’t really tell admission officers anything. Don’t waste their time with filler statements.

To strengthen this paragraph, he could highlight his accomplishments by pointing out one concrete way in which he added value to the project. The college transfer essay is the place for you to make your superstar qualities shine.

Paragraph 2:

Upon my return to Amherst College for my sophomore year, I soon came to realize that the school does not offer the exact major I now hope to pursue. I’m majoring in anthropology, but the program at Amherst is almost entirely contemporary and sociological in its focus. More and more my interests are becoming archaeological and historical. When I visited Penn this fall, I was impressed by the breadth of offerings in anthropology and archaeology, and I absolutely loved your Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. Your broad approach to the field with emphases on understanding both the past and present has great appeal to me. By attending Penn, I hope to broaden and deepen my knowledge in anthropology, participate in more summer field work, volunteer at the museum, and eventually go on to graduate school in archaeology.

It looks like he took the effort to learn about Penn and its anthropology program. He clearly lays out the difference between the program at his current college and Penn, getting to the heart of his reason for applying to transfer to Penn.

This part could be improved by mentioning a particular course at Penn that exemplifies the aspects of the anthropology program that stand out for the applicant. What’s so special about the anthropology and archaeology courses at Penn? Don’t they have those courses elsewhere?

The line, “I absolutely loved your Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology” is not informative. Perhaps he let rule 3 (be specific) slip a little. An example of why he “loves” the museum would be helpful. He could also include one line about how the availability of the museum could specifically add to his anthropology education.

The last sentence could use some work. What kind of summer fieldwork (or fieldwork with which professor)? Although it’s great that he pointed out his desire to pursue graduate studies in archaeology, he could elaborate on how transferring to Penn could help him reach that goal.

Paragraph 3:

My reasons for transferring are almost entirely academic. I have made many good friends at Amherst, and I have studied with some wonderful professors. However, I do have one non-academic reason for being interested in Penn. I originally applied to Amherst because it was comfortable – I come from a small town in Wisconsin, and Amherst felt like home. I’m now looking forward to pushing myself to experience places that aren’t quite so familiar. The kibbutz at Kfar HaNassi was one such environment, and the urban environment of Philadelphia would be another.

This is a great paragraph, in which he follows our rule 2: Be honest. He is honest with himself as well as the Penn admission officers, in that he admits that there are reasons related to his social life and personal development driving him to apply to transfer. He’s also following our rule 1 (be mature) by exhibiting his understanding of himself and hope to leave his comfort zone. Also, he emphasizes another benefit of attending Penn—its urban setting, which greatly differs from the area around Amherst and what he’s used to.

Concluding paragraph:

As my transcript shows, I have done well at Amherst and I am convinced I can meet the academic challenges of Penn. I know I would grow at Penn, and your program in anthropology perfectly matches my academic interests and professional goals.

Though the essay doesn’t exactly end with a bang, his conclusion does its job.

Overall, this essay is a good one. Maybe we’re being too picky, but why not aim for the best when writing an essay that’s so crucial? Our transfer guide has real-life, successful examples and advice about the transfer essay from actual transfer students, so check it out!

(Photo: Ryan Neuls)