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by Lan Ngo

Want to Transfer to Columbia University? Tips on Recommendation Letters

September 14, 2015 in Admissions, All Transfers, Four-Year Transfer Articles, Ivy Plus

Columbia University


We attended an admissions information session at Columbia University this summer and got insider’s information from an admissions officer, who had completed his undergraduate studies at Columbia. Some of his most insightful advice was about letters of recommendation, and we’re paraphrasing them here with some additional tips and revisions geared toward transfer applications.

Ask professors that like you. That sounds very obvious, but many students think that it’s okay to just ask any professor that gave them an A in class. A professor that likes you is more likely to write a thoughtful, compelling recommendation letter.

Ask the professor if he/she would be comfortable writing a positive letter about you.  Don’t simply accept “yes” when you ask a professor if he/she is willing to write a letter of recommendation.  Confirm that the letter will be positive. If a professor cannot say, “Yes, I feel comfortable writing a positive letter for you,” that is a sign that you should ask someone else to write you a letter.

Remind professors about your specific achievements or attributes. Professors have to work with a lot of students, and it’s inevitable that they will forget details about each student’s particular achievements or strengths. If there was a time in class that you made an especially insightful comment about a difficult subject that sparked a deep class discussion, remind your professor about it. Encourage your professor to include that in the letter as an example of your intellectual prowess and ability to add to a learning environment.

Ask the professor to write about what you do outside of the classroom. Learning and contributing to an organization are not confined by four walls. After you’ve verified that the professor is willing and able to write a positive letter of recommendation, ask him/her if he/she could also include details about what you do and what you’re like outside of the classroom.

Review these notes before you decide which teachers to ask to write your recommendation letters, and you’ll be on your way to some great letters that will vouch to your ability to succeed at and contribute to the college or university of your choice.

(Photo: InSapphoWeTrust)

by Lan Ngo

Navigating College Transfer Credits

September 9, 2014 in All Transfers, Credits, Four-Year Transfer Articles


We’re a few weeks into the new school year, and some of you freshmen or sophomores out there are already considering transferring. It’s good to get an early start! Looking ahead, one major consideration is whether the classes you’re taking will transfer over to your new, future college. Not getting enough transfer credits could add up to more time as an undergrad and more dollars on your tuition bills. Before you decide on which colleges to apply to, do some homework on whether your colleges of interest will give you transfer credits. The tips below will help start you off.

College Websites

General information about the transferability of credit is usually offered on a college’s website, which is probably the best place to start. As an example, Cornell University’s College of Arts and Sciences lays out some general guidelines for incoming transfer students. If you have further questions after reading the information, don’t hesitate to email or call the admissions office to see how you can gather more information.

Special Courses and Requirements

Many liberal arts colleges and universities have special writing course requirements, such as first-year writing seminars. That means you might not get credit for the writing course you’re taking as a freshman at your home institution. Again, start by looking at the website of the college you want to transfer.  You might need to look at the college’s writing program website or speak to someone that works in the writing program.  For example, Cornell University’s writing institute determines whether external writing course credits can be transferred to Cornell.

College Specific Online Tools

Some colleges have websites where you can check the transferability of credit from your home institution. See for example, these online tools from the University of Virginia and the University of California system. You’ll notice that such online tools are mostly not available from private institutions.

Department Offices

Depending on the college, the individual departments might be open to speaking with you about transfer credits. If you took (or are taking) an introductory art history course to fulfill a general education requirement, consider contacting the Art History Department of the colleges of your interest to check the transferability. Remember that whatever the department says isn’t necessarily final. Take the information they give you as an approximation, because it’s rare for a college to approve transfer credits before you actually transfer into the college.

Looking into transferability is not easy, and you may come across guidelines that are difficult to understand. Don’t hesitate to call the admissions office for clarification. If they don’t know the answer, they can at least point you in the right direction.

(Photo: Thomas Abbs)

by Lan Ngo

College Transfer Story: Family Matters

February 18, 2014 in All Transfers, Four-Year Transfer Articles, Specific College, To Transfer or Not


by Rose Pallone

In April 2012, I got an email from the University of St Andrews in Scotland admitting me as a second-year transfer student in English Literature and Art History. I remember calling my mom, crying, to tell her the fantastic news. Her response was “Oh” followed by prolonged silence. I was more than a little confused. My parents willingly paid for the application fee, and they did not object to the idea of transferring whenever I brought it up.  Considering the college I was enrolled in at the time was my dad’s alma mater and my brother planned to apply there Early Decision that fall, I should have expected a fight. I was not, however, prepared for the war my parents launched.

At first, I reacted to my parents’ objections like a teenager. I screamed, I cried, and I nearly made myself sick. Still, I accepted my place at St Andrews (as no deposit was required), and I managed to compose myself enough to attend a meeting with my Dean of my college at the time. The Dean spoke about my options and the process of officially withdrawing from the college. At the end, he asked me how my parents felt. I told him that my mom and dad were not happy, but that I was continuing with the process, hoping they would come to terms with it eventually. My Dean gave me a weird look and said that I should try to reach my parents on “their level of understanding.” I had no idea what that meant, so I continued to ignore the problem. It should be my decision; I was the one going to school. Did I really have to make them “understand” why I needed this?

Halfway through July, I realized that I needed my parents’ help, and I wanted them to be proud of me. That evening, I sat down with my parents and just listened. My mom was concerned about the writing program and the money I needed for a school that was farther away. My dad was worried about the reputation of the school and how easy it would be to get a job after graduation. With their arguments in mind, I got to work on my very last application: a presentation on why transferring to St Andrews made sense. I conducted research for days. I showed them that St Andrews is not only a well-established, highly-ranked university, but it would save thousands of dollars in tuition annually, has incredible extracurricular activities for writers, and has a job placement percentage higher than the U.S. national average for college graduates.

I won my parents over by doing as my Dean said, and really getting on “their level of understanding.” As silly as I looked giving a PowerPoint Presentation over dinner, it was worth it, and admittedly, it was not very hard. Just keep in mind that your parents really are trying to help you succeed, and if you can address their concerns, you will have no problem getting them to stand behind you.

What’s your transfer story?

Photo: Moyan Brenn

by Lan Ngo

Transfer Admissions Rates For US News 2014 Added

September 29, 2013 in Admissions, All Transfers, Community College Articles, Four-Year Transfer Articles, Ivy Plus, Stats


We’ve just added the recently released Fall 2012 transfer admissions numbers for some of the top schools in the US (the “2014” Top 50 National Universities according to US News). These are the stats for students who applied to transfer and start Fall 2012 term.

(US News releases its Top 50 every September, based on information from the previous fall. So these transfer stats for students transferring and starting school Fall 2012 is for the US News Top 50 rankings released September 2013.)

Check it out by clicking here, or by hovering over the “Statistics” tab at the top of the page and clicking on the first option in the dropdown menu.

Generally speaking, it looks like the trend of shrinking admissions rates continues this year. Here’s our quick analysis:

Fall 2012 transfer acceptance rates vs. Fall 2011 transfer acceptance rates

Some of the numbers that stand out include the transfer acceptance rate for Stanford.  The Fall 2012 acceptance rate decreased by about half, going from 4.1% in the previous year to 2.3%.

The transfer acceptance rate for Brown has also decreased by about half.  The acceptance rate for Fall 2012 is 5.6%, with 98 transfer applicants accepted.  Compare those numbers to Fall 2011 when the transfer acceptance rate was 11.2%, and 214 transfer applicants were accepted.

For U Penn, the numbers have not changed much.  The transfer acceptance rate for Fall 2012 was 9.4%, while it was 9.7% for Fall 2011.

Duke is an interesting case because the transfer acceptance rate increased dramatically, from 2.8% in Fall 2011 to 10.7% in Fall 2012.  This change reflects the fact that, for the entering class of Fall 2012, there was only one-third of the number of applicants compared to the previous year.  This large increase in the transfer acceptance rate stands in stark contrast to previous years: Duke only accepted 26 transfer applicants for Fall 2011 versus 74 the previous year, a 65% drop.

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again…

Conclusion: Transfer rates move a lot so apply to several schools

We think the key piece of information here is that transfer admissions rates fluctuate a lot more than freshman admissions rates. This is mainly because transfer space varies a lot each year depending on the spaces available given each colleges’ development plans and their own dropout/transfer out rates.

Based on that information, two important takeaways:

(1) Don’t let a single year’s acceptance numbers determine whether or not you apply to a school. Do the best you can, and if you’re a competitive applicant, you have good reasons for transferring, and you want to go the school, apply. You really don’t know if they’ll have more space or less space next year, and you don’t know how many students you’ll be competing against for those spaces.

(2) If you’re really interested in transferring, apply to several schools. For example, maybe you think you’re the perfect fit for X University, your top choice. And maybe you are, but unfortunately it turns out they just don’t have any space this year. You should’ve also applied to Y University, which is almost as good a fit, and which happens to have plenty of space due to a housing initiative they just started.

Overall, just use the stats as a metric to get a roundabout sense of how hard it may be to transfer to a particular school. Either way, if you have a good profile for a school and have good reason to transfer to it (such as any of the many successful real stories mentioned in the book), the stats shouldn’t affect your approach too much either way.

Question of the Day: Do you see any interesting patterns in the stats? Surprised that a particular school has a particular transfer admissions rate? Intrigued that a certain college’s transfer admissions rate changed so much? Let us know in the comments! We plan on following up with some of the schools to better understand their particular policies toward transfer admissions.

Photo: Danny Fowler

by Lan Ngo

College Transfer Q&A: What Extracurricular Activities Should I Do? – Part 1

December 5, 2012 in Admissions, All Transfers, Community College Articles, Four-Year Transfer Articles, Q&A

This article was written by Vince Lauer.


What kinds of extracurricular activities will make me stand out as I apply to transfer to the college or university of my choice?


Nowadays, as transfer applications become more competitive and more complex, colleges are looking for more than good grades and impressive standardized exam scores. Colleges look at applicants as a whole.

The top opportunity for the applicant to stand out as an individual is the personal statement, which explores the student’s motivation for transferring and also details some of the student’s extracurricular activities that back up their motivation. However, developing a strong set of extracurricular activities is more challenging, but we’ll discuss what you can do to improve in this area.

Two caveats before we continue: 1) Notice that we’re not suggesting that you rack up a laundry list of extracurriculars.  2) A great set of extracurricular activities won’t necessarily compensate for a mediocre transcript, because grades are the most important in a transfer application. Now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s move on with the topic of this article.

First, let’s consider the case of these two transfer applicants:

Bob’s extracurricular list:

  • serves as the college basketball team captain (1st year)
  • volunteers at nursing home on weekends (1st year, 2nd semester)
  • spent 1 week of winter vacation volunteering at animal shelter (2nd year)
  • likes to read, write and travel

Annie’s extracurricular list:

  • does freelance writing for a college magazine (1st year)
  • is a creative writing teaching assistant (1st year, 2nd semester)
  • serves as the editor-in-chief of her college magazine (2nd year)
  • likes softball and travel

Which applicant would you accept to your school? When it comes time to write a personal statement, which applicant would have a much easier time?

While Bob’s list of extracurriculars are impressive, Annie’s list is much more consistent. They tell her story and her passion. They have a theme. When the admissions committee meets to discuss the two applicants, Annie will be “the college writer” and Bob will be just another applicant.

How can you create a theme for your transfer application that will make you stand out?

1. Start early: Start thinking about your theme early, even in the first semester of college. Some great examples are education (tutoring experiences, mentoring programs, teaching assistant jobs), language (helping new immigrants, tutoring language classes, traveling), etc. Think about what you are passionate about. If you don’t have any ideas, go to the first meeting of a variety of campus clubs early and figure out where you fit in best and what you are most genuinely interested in.

Check back for part two of this article.  In the meantime, what questions do you have about extracurricular activities?

(Photo: acidpix)