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by Lan Ngo

College Transfer Q&A: I Didn’t Do Well My First Semester. Do I Still Have a Shot at Transferring?

May 19, 2012 in Admissions, All Transfers, Community College Articles, Four-Year Transfer Articles, GPA, Q&A

Pasadena City College


I’ve just finished my first year of college, and I’m looking to transfer, either as a sophomore in the spring semester or a junior in the following fall semester. The problem is that I did really poorly my first semester. I didn’t get good grades. But in my second semester, I worked really hard to get good grades, and I’ve managed to really pull up my GPA. I’m still worried about my first semester, though. Do I have a shot at transferring?


It’s quite common for students to not do so well their first year of college: Some people get homesickness, some people don’t realize that college is much more demanding than high school, and others get distracted by parties and other social activities. However, that bad, first semester does not necessarily have to scar your academic record for life. Getting As across the board, or very close to straight As, in subsequent semesters will boost your GPA and prove to the college that you want to transfer to that you’re certainly able to do well in college, despite your first semester mishap. Here are some success stories to inspire you:

Story 1: A student received a 3.0 his first semester during his freshman year, but worked really hard to get a 3.7 the second semester. He continued on that track, earning a 3.9 GPA his first semester of sophomore year. He was able to transfer to his dream school, the College of William & Mary.

Story 2: A student had a “pitiful” first semester. After not getting into the college of her choice, she did not work hard at the college she ended up going to. She got a 3.0 that first semester. However, she turned around and pumped herself up after reminding herself of her desire to succeed. She got a 4.0 each semester for the next three semesters, for a cumulative GPA of 3.75. She’s transferring to NYU.

Story 3: This student, like many others, thought that college was going to be easy, and therefore, was unmotivated his first semester at a community college. He actually managed to get straight Fs in the four classes he took. He decided to take time off, and after two years, returned to the same school and got mostly As. However, his cumulative GPA was still not great because of that first semester of Fs. He heard from a counselor that he could try to apply for an academic renewal. He was able to get an academic renewal, which, in his case, removed the first semester of his grades from being counted toward his GPA. Now, his GPA is a 3.7 and he will be transferring to one of the University of California (UC) campuses.

Academic Renewal Policies

The third story brought up an interesting concept: What exactly is an academic renewal? Different colleges/universities have different policies, but just as an example, let’s look at the academic renewal policy at Pasadena City College, a major community college in southern California that has transfer agreement policies with many of the UC campuses, including UC San Diego and UC Davis.  Here’s the explanation of an academic renewal from the Pasadena City College website:

The purpose of Academic Renewal (Sections 55764 and 55765 of the California Code of Regulations) is to disregard students’ previously recorded substandard academic performance when such work does not reflect current demonstrated ability. As a consequence, Academic Renewal allows students the benefits of their current level of ability and performance and does not permanently penalize them for poor performance in the past. Academic Renewal encourages students to continue their efforts toward their educational objectives when the weight of previously recorded substandard work would otherwise make the achievement of those objectives unlikely.

There are many stipulations, but the point is to give you a fair second chance if you really deserve one. This system doesn’t mean that you get to slack off for a semester and then reverse time by signing up for an academic renewal. You have to apply for an academic renewal, and you may or may not get it. Furthermore, in the case of the Pasadena City College, for example, even if you do get an academic renewal, the schools that you’re applying to transfer to might not accept it:

Academic Renewal by Pasadena City College does not guarantee that other institutions outside of the district will approve such action. This determination will be made by the respective transfer institutions.

Of course, try to avoid putting yourself in a situation in which you would need to apply for an academic renewal. However, if you really need to apply for one, it’s there for you to give it a try.

Concluding Remarks

Having a first bad semester doesn’t mean that your academic reputation is scarred forever. There are ways that you can go above and beyond to make up for a less than perfect first semester. Yes, you have a shot at transferring.

(Photo: Herr Hans Gruber)

Your Transfer Application: the Complete Breakdown

November 2, 2011 in Admissions, All Transfers, Community College Articles, Essays, Four-Year Transfer Articles, GPA

Stanford columns at sunset

Here’s a breakdown of all the items any student (whether coming from a community college or a four-year school) may need to apply to transfer. The major exception to these guidelines are community college students interested in transferring to a public university in their own state. Those students should check out our state transfer guides, that outline specific, state-by-state requirements students can fulfill to improve their chance of (and in some cases, guarantee) admission.

We’ll describe each item briefly below, along with a description of how much time you should devote to each, and when. The first four items—the application, personal essay, college report/transcript, and the financial aid documents—should be required no matter what school you want to transfer to. The other items (letters of recommendation and test scores) may or may not be required depending on the school and your situation (for example, in many cases test scores may only be required if you’re applying to enter as a sophomore).

Application/Common Application (

What is it: This is what most people think of when they think of an application. It asks for your basic information (name, address, etc.), information about your family, extracurricular activities, and so on. The majority of the US News Top 50 schools (31 out of the 50) use the Common Application, so we provide a complete walk-through of that form in The Transfer Book. The remainder that doesn’t use the application consists mainly of state schools that have their own forms. sesli sohbet

When to work on it: Take a look at the application of the school(s) you’re thinking of applying to right now. Although many schools prefer that you fill out the form online, the easiest way to see everything is to look at a printable version of the form here: It’s good for you to get a sense of what is required as early as possible. You don’t need to fill it out now, but start thinking about how you’ll fill in the blanks.

Personal essay & supplement

What is it: The personal essay that every applicant dreads. This is actually part of the application, but we like to talk about it separately, because it’s significant enough and different enough from the rest of the application that it deserves independent treatment. We tell you how to write a beautiful essay as painlessly as possible in The Transfer Book. If a school uses the Common Application, they will likely have a supplement you’ll need to fill out too in order to apply. That supplement allows the school to ask you anything they want to know that the standard application doesn’t cover.

When to work on it: Start about three months before the final application deadline. We find this provides the right urgency level needed to get it done, while also providing comfortable time to go through the necessary process of (1) getting feedback, (2) revising, and (3) repeating steps (1) and (2) (again, more on the essay later).

College Report and Transcript (and, in many cases, High School Report and Transcript)

What is it: A transcript must be turned in for each college you’ve previously attended. Often, it will have to come with a form that has to be filled out by a college official (a dean or college counselor), that will attest to the fact that you were a student of the college and weren’t subject to disciplinary action. It will also ask for a recommendation letter, so give this form to the college counselor or dean that knows you best. In most cases your high school transcript and a similar high school report will have to be submitted as well.

When to work on it: Request the transcript and form to be filled out ideally two or three months in advance of the application deadline, and definitely no later than one month before everything is due.

Financial aid forms (FAFSA, CSS, each school’s scholarship form)

What is it: No school requires it, but every single student should fill out the FAFSA. FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid, and it is by far the largest source of both grants and the best loans for students. Many schools (30 out of the 50 on the US News list) will also require that you fill out a CSS (College Scholarship Service) Profile form, which provides colleges with more details than the FAFSA. Finally, a few colleges have their own aid forms that you may need to fill out, and some states may have forms to fill out to get additional aid in that particular state (for example, in California, the Cal Grant).

When to work on it: Although schools will often specify priority deadlines, you should turn in your financial aid forms as soon as possible after they become available (for the FAFSA, the new form is up January 1). You don’t need to have your and your parent’s tax returns complete before you do fill out the forms (you can estimate based on last year’s information and correct the information when you do your actual taxes later). The longer you wait, the less money will be available.

Again, the previous four items should be required for any school you apply to. The next two will be required by many, but not all.

Letter(s) of recommendation

What is it: A letter from a professor (or, in some cases, a high school teacher or work supervisor will do). Many colleges don’t require any letter of recommendation, several require one letter, and, at the high end, MIT requires three.

When to work on it: Start asking professors at little more than one month in advance of when you need their letter. It gives them enough lead-time to fit it into their very busy schedules.

Test scores

What is it: Your SAT or ACT score. The requirements here vary significantly. 19 of the US News Top 50 require an SAT or ACT score, 13 require a score only if you’re applying to transfer before a certain amount of time after high school (usually if you’re trying to enter as a sophomore), five require it only if you’ve already taken a test, and ten don’t require it at all. Bottom line: make sure to check with the schools you’re interested in. Only a few schools require the results of SAT II subject tests. Additionally, if you’re a non-native speaker of English applying from abroad, you’ll most likely have to take the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language). Most schools also take the IELTS (International English Language Testing System), but every school takes the TOEFL.

When to work on it: If you need to take the SAT, you should take it at least one month before the application deadline for the results to reach the school on time, and if you need to take the ACT, you can take it the month before the deadline.

Now, given all of the above information, here’s your basic, ideal timeline:

Basic Timeline

Now Look at the applications, do well in school, be a leader in your passions, get to know your professors
ASAP after Jan 1 Complete financial aid forms
At least three months before the deadline Work on your essays
Two months to one month before the deadline Take the SATs/ACTs (if necessary)
At least one month before the deadline Request letters of recommendation

That’s it for our brief overview of all the application items. In the coming weeks, months, and even years, we’re going to continue to write content that helps you transfer as easily as possible. If you found this post useful, please share it (it’s how ideas spread). If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions (about this post or about anything else), please leave a comment, or say something in the discussion forum! Transferweb is a new project, so we really appreciate any and all feedback.

Best of luck with the process!

(Photo: Josiah Mackenzie)

by Lan Ngo

College Transfer Admission Criteria: What’s a “Good” GPA?

January 11, 2010 in Admissions, All Transfers, Community College Articles, Four-Year Transfer Articles, GPA, Requirements

This question was inspired by an email we received from a reader.

So, what GPA do you need to get if you’re applying to transfer? The obvious answer is “get all As (and maybe even shoot for A pluses) so that the school you apply to will have no excuse to reject you.” Of course, it’s not that easy to get straight As (or it might be too late for you), so here’s another answer: it depends. Whether or not your GPA is good enough depends on which school and program you’re looking at. In this blog post, we go over the following:

  • Expected GPA from top schools
  • Minimum GPA requirements
  • GPA requirements under transfer agreements

Top-tier Schools Demand an Ambiguously “High” GPA

If you’re shooting for a top-tier school, expect extremely high standards in terms of grades and other qualifications. Let’s say you’re interested in Yale. Here’s what Yale’s “Who Makes a Good Transfer Student” web page says this:

Given the large number of extremely able candidates who wish to transfer to Yale and the very limited number of transfer spaces, no simple profile of grades, scores, and interests can assure a student admission to Yale.

Yes, the evaluation process is difficult and a little fuzzy, but a competitive academic record is still expected:

Successful transfer applicants present evidence of exceptionally strong college performance in demanding courses. The average GPA of admitted transfer students is usually 3.8 and above.

Minimum GPA Requirements

Some schools explicitly lay out their GPA requirements. Purdue University lists minimum GPA requirements for transfer applicants according to field of study. For example, you should have at least a 2.5 GPA if you’re going to apply to transfer into the Electrical and Computer Engineering Technology program. For the minimum GPA requirement for other academic programs, visit Purdue’s Transfer Student Admission Criteria page.

Other schools similarly outline the grades you need to be considered for transfer admission. Check if the school you’re interested in does this. Note that meeting the minimum GPA requirement does NOT guarantee transfer admission.

GPA Requirements under Transfer Agreements

Transfer agreements between two institutions tell you exactly what you need to do to get from School X to School Y. Foothill College put together an extremely clear explanation of how their transfer agreements with other school work:

This page lets students know the exact minimum GPA they need in order to transfer to a particular school (or to be considered for transfer admission) that has teamed up with Foothill College. If a Foothill College student wants to transfer to UC San Diego, for example, she should have at least a 3.0 GPA. If your current school has transfer agreements with other institutions, they’ll probably work in a similar way. You can ask an academic counselor (if possible, a transfer counselor), about transfer agreements.

However, you can probably find the info you need by searching online. Let’s be honest: counselors don’t know everything, so it’s to your advantage to do your own research as well as consult school counselors. Let’s say you currently attend Delaware County Community College ( and you want to find out about the transfer agreements your college has with other schools. Do an advance Google search by using the “search within a specific site (:site)” function. What’s the point? You want to do an online search of info on transfer agreements published somewhere in the Delaware County Community College web space. That way, the info you obtain is more likely official than if you found it on a random website. In the Google search box type this:

transfer agreement

The second search result item should take you exactly where you need to go: Let’s try another one. If you currently attend Santa Monica College (, you can find transfer agreements by googling this:

transfer agreement

Again, it just so happens that the second item in the list of search results steers you to the exact page you need.

There are websites that are trying to compile as many transfer agreement documents as possible. It’s a noble attempt, indeed, but the compilations are a work-in-progress. There are just so many colleges and transfer agreements out there, but at least you can try the Google “:site” search.

Final Remarks

Looking up all this information can be a grueling process, but all your efforts will pay off! With careful research (and lots of introspection), you should be able to find a school that’s a better fit for you.

(Photo: Robert S. Donovan)

by Lan Ngo

The Transfer Application: Is My High School or College Record Given More Weight?

December 12, 2009 in Admissions, All Transfers, Community College Articles, Four-Year Transfer Articles, GPA

Weight picture
Here are the highlights of an email we received:

I am currently a freshman at Rutgers University in New Brunswick (NJ). Needless to say, I am unhappy. I am a student with a great amount of potential. In high school, I was one of seven students in my graduating class to have taken six AP classes. I took summer session classes at University of Pennsylvania and at Brown University and even left Brown with 2 A’s and a great recommendation from one of my professors. I scored a 2200 on my SATs (1430 out of 1600). You get the picture. My GPA, however, wasn’t outstanding. Though I took difficult classes, I didn’t try my best and let personal affairs affect my ability to do well. Thus, I have a few C’s sprinkling my high school transcript and was rejected from almost all the schools I applied to (Brown, Vassar, Wesleyan, Bowdoin, Brandeis, etc.). I was ultimately accepted to the honors program at Rutgers…

There’s more to her story, but for now, let’s look at her current college experience:

My semester started off really well. I got a 100 on one of my midterms, got really good grades on my papers, but the loneliness and frustration from being here has begun to take a toll on me. I also work about 25 hours each weekend at the restaurant. I feel so burnt out, but not having a job isn’t an option for me as I have to be financially independent…

I am currently taking 13 credits and I believe I will finish the semester with 2 or 3 A’s, but I am unsure about what I will receive in my art history class. I know it probably won’t be an A, but I can shoot for a B if I really REALLY try. Which I am planning to do.

As for your grades, yes, aim for at least a B. A red flag might go up if you get anything lower. Of course, an A would be best. From our own experiences and what we’ve heard from other transfer students, it seems that your college record would be weighted more heavily than your high school record. That’s why, in a previous blog entry, we stressed the idea that you should work hard in college to overcome a weak high school GPA. According to our interviews with successful transfer students, applicants with solid college grades were able to transfer into the more competitive schools. Look at it this way: the college you’re applying to wants to know if you will succeed at that college. What might be a good predictor of how well you’ll do at the college you transfer to? Wouldn’t it make sense to look at your performance and activities at your current college? That is not to say that what you did in high school won’t count for anything. Your high school record is still important.

Along these lines, here’s info from Yale’s Transfer Student Program main page:

The Committee places primary emphasis on your college record, reasons for transfer, and recommendations from college faculty and administrators. Your secondary school record, extracurricular interests, and work experience are also given weight.

Here’s what Vassar’s FAQs page for transfer applicants says:

Q: How much is my high school record weighted in the evaluation process?
A: Since the competition is highly competitive, an applicant’s entire academic history is considered in the admission process, and we require high school records with the application. It is difficult for students who have had an unsuccessful high school career to be competitive applicants. However, as the distance from an applicant’s high school years grows, the weight assigned to that performance is lessened.

Many schools stress the fact that they look at the whole package when evaluating applications; it’s not just about one element of your application. Here’s info from Brown regarding their transfer admissions criteria:

… All credentials requested by the Board of Admission have a bearing on the eventual admission decision but no specific weight is accorded to any particular credential. Additionally, no cut-offs with respect to grade point average, rank in class, test scores, or the like are employed. The Board evaluates each application on its own merits, seeking students whose records demonstrate both academic excellence and personal growth.

Each applicant is unique and there are so many components that make up your “package”. According to the above info from Brown, you may get brownie points for demonstrating personal growth. If you have to work 25 hours a week to support yourself, something that very few students at four-year schools have to do, play up your personal growth from that experience in your application. Look at what else you have to offer and see where those fit into the application.

The bottom line:  Though it seems that your college record is more important than your high school record for many schools, other aspects of your transfer application are also considered.

(Photo: Playingwithbrushes)

Transferring Colleges: Three Ways to Overcome a Weak High School GPA

July 26, 2009 in Admissions, All Transfers, Community College Articles, Four-Year Transfer Articles, GPA, Ivy Plus

Applying to Transfer: Overcome a Weak High School GPA

The question: How can I overcome a weak high school GPA if I want to transfer to a school with high academic standards?

My high school transcript was pretty weak for the school that I was shooting to transfer to. I got Cs in two math courses, and Bs in a host of others (even in courses that I considered myself good at, like English). Further, I got a 1 on my French AP exam (which is what you would get if you just wrote your name on the test and did nothing else), and low scores in the other AP tests I took (2s and 3s mostly). How could I get around my weak high school performance to transfer to Dartmouth?  And this is a school where 45% of accepted freshmen this year were the valedictorians of their high school classes (see here).

There are really just three ways to overcome weak high school performance:

(1) Make sure your grades are better overall
(2) Focus on what you are really good at
(3) Confront your weakness head on

(1) Make sure your grades are better overall

First, I made sure my grades at my current college were beyond reproach. I only got one B (and it was a B+!) at my first college, which I’ll discuss below in a second. I also stayed at my first college two years before applying to transfer out (applying in the fall of my second year of my college career), to provide myself with a longer period to prove myself and establish a solid record of improvement.

Your grades should show a consistently improving trend. If, for example, you were a B student in high school, and that prevented you from getting into the college you really wanted to go to the first time around, you want to show that you’re pulling off consistent As at whatever college you’re at. It will prove that you’re more than ready for your first choice school.

Take a look at the average high school GPAs for accepted students at each school you’re interested in transferring to (the school admissions websites will have the info), and make sure you’re well within or above that range.

Besides getting better grades all around, there are just two further strategies you can pursue to overcome a weak high school transcript: (2) focusing on your passions and doing really well at those, and/or (3) confronting your weakness(es) head on. I did a little bit of both when transferring myself, so I’ll talk about what I did on each side.

(2) Focus on what you are really good at

I knew that (at the time, anyway) I was interested in classical history (the Greeks and the Romans), so I made sure I was really good at any courses I took in that subject. I also demonstrated my interest outside the classroom in several ways.

First, I saw a flier one day for a scholarship that would pay for an undergraduate to go on a classical archaeological dig (which besides being right in my area of interest, just sounded really cool too), and so I applied and, luckily, got the scholarship (more on applying for scholarships in the future). Second, I also participated in a one-on-one research project with a professor (which really helped him write a strong letter of recommendation for me later on, since we knew each other so well by the end of the project). Finally, I also took a summer school course in classics after my first year (that I got an A+ in).

If your high school GPA was dragged down by the fact that you’re just not good at certain subjects, then one way to improve your GPA would be to simply not take those courses at your current college and instead focus on what you’re really passionate in.

History is full of examples of tremendously accomplished people that were very bad at certain things. We just don’t hear about how, for example, Richard Feynman was horrible at English and philosophy because, frankly, who cares given that he won the Nobel Prize in physics and accomplished so many other things?

In fact, one could argue that, in many cases, the intense focus these people applied on the one or two things they really cared about—to the exclusion of so much else—is what made them so great in the first place.

If you’re interested in transferring, you should have a better sense of what you’re interested in than a high school applicant would, since you’re (likely) at least a little older, and you’ve (definitely) had the chance to take college level courses.

Take more courses in the major you’re leaning toward and really excel in them. You should also get involved in activities that reflect your academic interest. Do research with a professor. Even if you may not be good at other subjects, you can still blow the admissions officers away at the topics you are good at.

(3) Confront your weakness head on

So I mentioned at the beginning that I got a 1 on the AP French exam. Other weak subjects aside, that one really bugged me, since I wanted to be good at a second language and the 1 was really embarrassing to me since, again, it’s what anyone could get on the test by just writing their name.

So I sucked it up and took Intermediate French at my college. Not even low-level French, but the hardest level of French I could hope to take and not completely fail. I mustered up all  the study skills I could, using flash cards and whatever other tools I found that would get the information into my head, and I worked like a demon that whole quarter.

…and I got a B+. Not exactly the A that I was hoping for and that would demonstrate really extreme improvement, but not bad nonetheless. In my application essay I pointed out the 1 I got on my French AP exam (instead of just ignoring it, leaving the admissions office to wonder what happened there), explained to them why I did so poorly on the test the first time around, and showed them how I took the course at a high level in college and pushed myself to do pretty well in an area I was otherwise weak at.

If you want to be really impressive (which you’ll have to be if you want to stand out to a super-competitive school), you can directly confront any areas of particular weakness on your high school transcript at the college you’re currently at. For example, if you got a bad grade in a high school math class, take a college math course or one that uses a lot of math and absolutely crush that course. Then you can highlight how although you had troubles with math that hurt your high GPA when you were applying to colleges as a freshman, you’ve directly overcome that weakness. This is obviously a hard thing to do since you’re trying to succeed where you once slipped up, but there’s no more direct and indisputable way to show that you’re a stronger applicant, and a stronger person.

Now what if you take that course in college and unfortunately don’t do well in it yet again? First of all, do everything you can in your power to avoid messing up in the class. If transferring to a particular, hard-to-get-into school is important to you, and if your desire to improve in this area of weakness is genuine and strong enough, we think there’s no way you won’t work hard enough to improve.

But maybe something horrible happens on the day of exam—there are always things that are out of our control—and you still don’t do well in that course. Explain in your application what went wrong, and still stress the point that you were willing to take on a subject or course that you didn’t do well in in high school knowing full well how it would look on your transfer application if you missed your goal. Your willingness to challenge yourself so directly is still incredibly impressive.

So to summarize, this is how you overcome a weak high school GPA:

(1) Make sure your grades are better overall at your first college than they were in high school
(2) Really excel at the areas you are good at/interested in
(3) If you want to really blow them away, do your best to overcome particularly weak areas

If you found this useful, please comment and/or pass this on! Thanks!

(Photo: m00by)