Should I Even Apply to Transfer to This College? Case Study: Brown University


November 18, 2009 in Adjusting, All Transfers, Community College Articles, Four-Year Transfer Articles, Ivy Plus, Specific College

You’re a college freshman or sophomore and you know you want to transfer. Now what? For one thing, you’d better be digging up info on schools that you might want to transfer to. As a transfer applicant, you should “do your research” with the goal of finding the little quirks of the college transfer process. After all, not all schools are created equally, and not all schools will treat transfer students equally. Make a list of the pros and cons of each school you’re interested in. Make note of the transfer-specific details. As an example, let’s look at Brown University through the lens of a transfer applicant. You have your reasons to be interested in Brown, but should you apply?


1. “We want you to apply”

Brown seems to stop short of giving transfer applicants hugs. The Transfer Guide to Applying to Brown begins with a letter from the Dean of Admissions:

We are very pleased that you are considering Brown and hope that you will decide to apply…

For fall 2008, 117 of the 972 transfer applicants were accepted. That’s a 12% transfer acceptance rate. To put that info into perspective, check out Stanford, which practically warns prospective transfer students to think more than twice before even attempting to apply:

Transfer applicants should be aware that transfer admission is considerably more competitive than freshman admission. In recent years, the admit rate for transfer students has been between 1-2%. Between 20 and 40 transfer student spaces are typically available each year, depending on our freshman to sophomore retention rate (usually 98%) and the number of freshman applicants who typically accept our offer of admission…

In contrast, an article in the Brown Daily Herald points out Brown’s warm welcome to transfer applicants:

According to Associate Dean of the College Carol Cohen, who has worked with transfer students for over 15 years, they are “an intentional population here, not just a plugging in of empty spots” left by an overestimated matriculation of first-year applicants.

2. Options

Many schools accept transfers only for the fall term. However, Brown gives you the option to be considered for spring transfer admission. You might have some unfinished business to tend to before starting fresh as a transfer student at a new school. Whatever your reason, it’s nice to have choices.

3. Housing

It’s hard enough to start your life over at a new school, but imagine the additional pain if you were left to fend for yourself in the housing market as well. For many transfers, it’d just be easier to move into a dorm. Good news from the admissions office:

Brown transfer students must live in residence halls unless excused by the Director of Residential Life under policies established by the Dean of Student Life.

(This aspect might be considered a con if on-campus housing would cramp your style.)

4. Positive feedback from Brown transfer students

We have an in-depth interview with someone who transferred to Brown, but for now, here are the highlights of some positive transfer experiences as documented by the Brown Daily Herald:

Elizabeth, who transferred from Hobart and William Smith Colleges, enjoys the academic freedom and student diversity. After adjusting to Brown, she started to love it. As she says, “Transferring was the best decision I could have made.”

Drew, who transferred from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is also happy with his decision. He likes the academics and the size of the school. He likes that Brown students speak up in class and are interested in learning.

Juliana transferred from the University of Chicago. She admires the type of students who come to Brown because they have passions that extend beyond the classroom walls.

(To read the full articles from the Brown Daily Herald, go here and here.)


1. Financial aid

As with many schools, transfers at Brown get the dregs of university scholarship funds while freshman applicants get first dibs. At least you’d still be considered for state/federal grants and loans that you qualify for. Just submit your FAFSA. The financial aid policy with regards to transfer students has gone through various changes over the years, BUT (this is a huge but), the current policy as stated by the financial aid office is:

Transfer students are admitted to Brown under a need-aware Admission policy. Need aware means that financial need will be taken into account in making the admission decision.

What does that mean? When applying, checking off that you’d like to be considered for university scholarship aid means that your chances of getting accepted drops. Keep in mind Brown’s price tag:

Undergraduate tuition for the academic year 2008-09 is $36,928, and room, board, and required fees are $10,812. The total cost is $47,740.

Even if you were accepted, could you afford to go to Brown without university financial aid? If your answer is NO, it doesn’t sound like Brown is your best bet.

2. Negative feedback from students that transferred OUT of Brown

A great way to get honest opinions  about a college that you’re interested in is to hear from students that transferred out of that college. Here’s advice about researching colleges from a student who transferred from Trinity College to Barnard College:

Even when you’re looking at colleges the first time around or interested in transferring, talk to transfer students that transferred OUT of the school that you’re interested in. You’re going to hear about all the positive stuff from the school. You’re going to see the school, read the guidebooks, and talk to the tour guide who loves the school. They’re extreme lovers of the school. You’re going to get the positive side but you’re not going to get the negative side… But the only way you can make a real decision is if you know both sides… You shouldn’t be afraid of hearing the negative side.

With that said, let’s learn from people who transferred OUT of Brown:

Eugenie, who ended up transferring to Stanford, was disappointed by both the social scene and academics at Brown. The Department of Physics was particularly disappointing.

Sarena transferred to the University of Pennsylvania because Brown couldn’t meet her academic needs. Despite Brown’s relative academic freedom, she wasn’t allowed to create her own major with an ideal mix of psychology, communications, and marketing. At Penn, on the other hand, she’s satisfied with the pre-professional options in the academics.

One reason David transferred out of Brown was that he “felt that the University had too much of a liberal political bias.” He wanted a school with “a more open political atmosphere and a stronger sense of community”

(To read the full articles from the Brown Daily Herald featuring the above students, go here and here.)

So, should you apply to transfer to that college you’ve been thinking about?

Use this case study as an example. Delve deep and you’ll find your answer.

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22 responses to Should I Even Apply to Transfer to This College? Case Study: Brown University

  1. Hey Chris and Lan,

    My name is Winnie and I’m currently a sophomore in college. I did my freshmen year studying engineering at Northwestern University, but now I’m back at home in California because at the very end of this summer and after a lot of though, I made the decision to take the year off instead of returning to a potentially unhappy year at school. Since I waited until August to decide, I didn’t have very much time to figure out what I was going to do with myself, except that it was just really important for me to figure out a way for me to continue my education even though I was taking ‘time off’ from a 4 year institute. So I opted to take a full load of classes at my local community. In addition to that, I have a part-time job and I volunteer at our county soup kitchen once a week. Although it was initially really hard to adjust to staying at home while I watched all of my friends leave for their second year at colleges they absolutely love, I’ve learned to really appreciate and enjoy my decision to stay at home because I’ve been able to spend more time with my family and I’ve been able to pick up some of my hobbies again.

    Now I’m looking at figuring out what to do next semester and ideally, I’d really love to study abroad. I kinda figured that if I’m going to take time off from college, I might as well go abroad right? Well Northwestern’s study abroad office hasn’t been very helpful but I’ve done my research and I’ve found a few programs that might work. Including one that would allow me to study engineering with students at Tsinghua University in Beijing but that application is due in a week. And if I were to go abroad next semester, it’d make putting together my transfer applications in the spring really complicated. On top of that, if I go abroad then it’d make it almost impossible for me to complete the pre reqs that UCs require of their junior transfer applicants. Although, I don’t know if I’d choose to go to a UC over another out-of-state school that I like, I don’t think I’m confidant enough in my qualifications as a transfer student to completely ignore them. I’d like to see what you guys thought about this. Would I be selling myself short by staying at home for another semester at community college? How can I show colleges that I’m not just staying home and ‘bumming’ around, when I’m super self-conscious about that already?  Do you have any suggestions of other things I can do abroad that won’t cost as much, and won’t be as risky as studying abroad in the spring? 

    I’ve read your book twice and now, and I’ve especially loved your collection of interviews. However, even after learning about other people’s experiences, I’ve still have a hard time convincing myself that I am not alone and that I haven’t failed because I felt so lost and upset when I didn’t like my freshmen year, when I decided to withdraw from a really ‘good’ school and when I decided live at home for a year. Since you guys are the experts, I’d really love to hear what you have to say about my current situation. 

    It’s a lot of stuff all of once. Sorry! 


    • Good points!  Things to add to the list to discuss!  I’d also like to invite other readers to share their thoughts.

  2. How badly do you think my chances would be affected if I noted on my application that I intend to apply for financial aid? Brown is my dream school but it’s definitely out of my family’s price range if we can’t get enough financial aid. 

  3. What would be a min GPA for Brown transfers?

    • Unlike many other schools, Brown doesn’t have any strict GPA cutoffs for transfer admission. The successful transfers we directly know of though had a 4.0 and a 3.8. But, obviously, everything depends on majors, reasons for transferring, the difficulty of the curriculum, activities, etc.

  4. Hello,

    How competitive is it to transfer to Brown for the biology major? Is it one of their more popular programs?

    • We haven’t heard anything in particular about the biology major.

      In general, schools like Brown actually don’t really look at the space available in particular programs when they consider whether or not to admit you as a transfer (the only case where that kind of thinking occurs is in particular schools, like schools of business or engineering).

      Instead, they focus on whether or not (1) you’ve got the numbers, (2) you’re the kind of person that does and will continue to do big things (regardless of major), and (3) whether or not your reasons for transferring make sense.

      Hope that helps! Let us know if you have any more questions!

  5. Do you think an American from the University of St Andrews stands a chance of transferring into Brown with the equivalent of a 3.6 GPA if you bear in mind the absence of any grade inflation at European institutions?

    • Sure! There’s always a chance. If your outside activities, reasons for transferring, essays, and your letters of recommendation are all spot-on, I’d say you’ve got a decent shot!

  6. How much do your high school grades play a role in the transfering process?

  7. For most colleges/universities, generally speaking, if you’re applying as a sophomore transfer, your high school grades are really important because by the time you submit your transfer application, you’ll only have one semester of college grades, which isn’t a lot of information to judge you on. If you’re applying as a junior transfer, generally, your high school grades are given less weight than if you’re applying as a sophomore. Some college/university admissions websites answer this question in their FAQ, so check that out for the individual schools you’re interested in applying to.

  8. Thank u for such an insightful article!
    I am only a first term freshman at a Jesuit school and want to transfer to Barnard. I have a GPA of 3.66 (a mix of honors and upper-level classes) have joined a feminist club, am the secretary at a Community-service society and a copy editor for my school’s paper. I also work as a research assisstant for my intl-relations prof. I plan to apply to Barnard’s human rights-poli sci program. I am really passionate about what I do but am worried about my GPA. Should I even dare to apply to such a prestigious school?

    • Hi Miserlou! You could totally try applying (and there’s little downside to trying to apply – you can always just apply next year if you don’t get in). You GPA is a little below the average for accepted transfers (which is 3.73), but if you put together a great essay and have strong recommendations, you should stand a pretty good chance of getting in. Good luck!

  9. What GPA would one need to transfer from Dartmouth College to Brown?

    • If you’re applying to another Ivy League school, you should still have a high GPA. If you’re doing well at Dartmouth (very academically rigorous), then people would assume that you would also be able to do well at another Ivy League school.

  10. I’m a second-year college student studying in India and I’m trying to transfer to an American University at the end of my second year. I took my SATs and scored 2210, and my college GPA is 3.5 (3.6 is the highest in class), but I’m not sure where I stand when compared to other international transfer students. Also, I can’t afford the fees at schools like Brown, Cornell and UPenn, so I will have to apply for aid as well. I’m aware that my chances are slim, but just how bad is my current situation? Should I just finish my undergrad here and apply to the same schools for my post graduate degree?

    • In many cases, your chance of being accepted as an international student will be reduced if you indicate that you need financial aid. However, if you are able to devote time to prepare strong transfer applications, and if you don’t mind paying for the application fees, it might be worth it to apply to transfer. If you don’t get accepted, as you mentioned, then you can concentrate on doing well at your current undergrad school, and then apply to the same schools for grad school.

  11. Would you say the chances of being accepted are higher if you are particularly interested in majoring within a department that is not very common?

  12. I am a freshman at Los Angeles Pierce College. I am interested in transferring to a school like Brown. I didn’t do so well in high school but I have been doing well in college and it is very important to me that I continue to do so. I know some schools require you to start as a freshman when you transfer especially if you are a freshman or sophomore in community college. Also especially for programs like architecture which is the program I want to transfer into. Would I be able to do that if I wanted to transfer to Brown? What are somethings I should know that could help me transfer?

  13. Chances of getting into brown as a sophomore transfer?
    HS GPA: 3.89 (weighted)
    College GPA: 3.667
    SAT: 2210 (740 math, 710 reading, 760 writing)

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