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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

College Transfer Q&A: What Can I Do To Improve My Chances?

January 15, 2015 in Admissions, All Transfers, Ivy Plus, Q&A, Stats

In forums, prospective transfer students often ask, “What can I do to improve my chances?” I’m going to take you through one such post and provide the same type of advice I would give to a student if I were providing a one-on-one consultation. The post comes from ElmerChelmo:

I am currently a first-year student (technically a sophomore) at a four-year public university. I’m looking at Rice University, UNC, University of Southern California, and Notre Dame, which I realize are crazy hard to get into. I am motivated and desperate though because simply put, I hate the school I attend. I get full tuition paid for, but I can’t get over the fact that I just hate everything about it. It’s just not for me.

“Hate” was mentioned twice. Be careful to avoid coloring your transfer application with your strong, negative emotions toward your current school.

It was my safety school my senior year, and I got rejected by a lot of top schools, which I should have realize were way out of my reach. I didn’t think going to my safety school would be bad, but experiencing it as a student there could not have gone worse.

An important–often unspoken–part of the transfer application process is expectations management. You will inevitably be let down if you label your reach schools as your match schools. If the “top schools” you had aimed for as a freshman applicant were “way out of [your] reach”, perhaps your safety school was actually your match school.

Choose a wide range of schools, and take the time to label them as accurately as possible (safety, match/just right, or dream) based on information gathered from school websites,, and direct communications with the schools.

High School:
Couple ECs including Student Council secretary, Tutor, NHS, SADD, Cross Country, Book Club, and Track
Ranked 2/118
Don’t remember GPA
ACT 32
SAT Writing 800, SAT Reading 680, SAT Math 750
SAT Subject Math II 790, SAT Subject US History 790
AP US History (5), Calculus BC (5), US Government (5), English Language (5), Statistics (5), Microeconomics (4), English Literature (4), Environmental Science (4)
Worked at a restaurant as a busboy
Interned with a lawyer

The Common App allows transfer applicants to list up to 10 activities, including those completed in grades 11 and/or 12. Given the limited space, carefully choose which activities to include in your application. If you were very substantially involved in an activity prior to grade 11, consider including brief information about it in “Additional Information” in Common App. However, avoid dumping a list of superficial activities into “Additional Information”.

Of your high school activities listed, busboy sounds the most interesting, as many (or most) high school students do not work during the academic year. If you had to work to help cover living expenses, mention that in the description of this activity.

Math & Stats / Information Systems double major
Calculus III (A), Probability (A), Physics (A), Physics Lab (A+), Business 101 (A-)
3.93 GPA (I’m really going to try harder next semester to get a 4.0)
I came in with 35 credit hours, last semester I took 14, next semester I’m taking 17
Information Systems and Analytics Club treasurer, Green Team member, Optimist Club (volunteer) member, Actuarial Science Club member
I’m going to try to do Habitat for Humanity to get more service hours

Cohesion in your application makes for a good strategy. For example, if you want to portray yourself as an expert in Math/Stats/Information Systems, align your activities as such. If your only reason for doing Habitat for Humanity is to gain community service hours, I would reconsider. Perhaps you can use your talents and skills in math to serve society, e.g., provide math tutoring. Do something you’re genuinely interested in.

I want to transfer so bad, and I can’t transfer to a school that is mediocre or only above average academically because I’m going to have to pay so much more to attend whatever school I go to so I want to make transferring worth it by going to a top school.

Take some time to think about why you want to transfer, as you will need to articulate your reasons very clearly in your application. You’ve provided a lot of information, but I still don’t actually know why you want to transfer. What would you gain from transferring? What are your goals? How would transferring align with your bigger goals? What do you have to offer to the school you transfer to?

By the way this is my first time applying to these schools. What kinds of things can I do to really improve my chances of transferring to these very exclusive schools? I’m talking about specific suggestions. Thank you in advance! [smiley face]

Additional information from ElmerChelmo:
Also I’m going to try to get another leadership position in either the Actuarial Science Club or the Optimist Club. Thanks again! [smiley face]

How does the Optimist Club fit into everything else you’re doing and your goals? Stay focused. While you have a great profile, I don’t know what your center of gravity or core is.

Reply from Camo:

You sound like you have a really good shot. Most top colleges consider 3.7-3.8 competitive so your GPA is pretty impressive (especially with the classwork).
Just did a quick check, Rice admits 17% of transfers, USC admits 29%, UNC admits 39%, and Notre Dame admits 25%. I think you’re probably at the top of the pool. Just perfect your apps and you’ll probably get in to a couple of them.

As we say whenever we post statistics on transfer admissions, take these numbers with a grain of salt. Knowing about a relatively high transfer admission rate might not be helpful for your context.

For example, the transfer admission rate for UNC Chapel Hill looks high at least in part because the university has a transfer program: “…[The] University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill launched the Carolina Student Transfer Excellence Program, or C-STEP, to enable more community-college students to transfer to and graduate from Carolina.”

Reply from 1sttimetransfer:

With your gpa and courseload you could probably get into top 20 schools for sure. So I think that is within your range.

Such a comment may provide a morale booster, but again, expectations management is important for reducing the stress involved in the transfer application process. Yes, you do have a great profile, as I mentioned earlier, but no one can tell you whether you will “for sure” get into “top 20 schools”.

My final suggestions: Be vigilant about potentially erroneous advice. Get more than one opinion, and analyze those opinions. Step back, look at your application as a whole in light of the data and evidence (both qualitative and quantitative) you’ve collected. Devise a strategy for tackling the transfer admissions process from there.

(Photo: Edwin Torres)

by Lan Ngo

Dartmouth Stresses Importance of Maintaining College Transfer Program

May 10, 2014 in Admissions, All Transfers, Ivy Plus, News, Specific College


The Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid at Dartmouth College considers transfer students to be the kinds of students the College wants to have in its community, according to a recent article in The Dartmouth, the College’s student newspaper. Although transfer admissions (along with freshman admissions) continue to grow in competitiveness, Dartmouth’s message generally seems to be one of welcome to transfer applicants. Below are highlights from the article:

At 1,210 students, the number of incoming freshmen accepting Dartmouth’s offer of acceptance is its highest ever, producing a yield of 54.5 percent.

Laskaris [Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid] said that although the Class of 2018 is overfilled, it is important to maintain a transfer program.

Laskaris noted, however, that the first-year application pool was the first priority. The number of accepted transfer students is contingent upon the space available after first-year students have decided to matriculate, she said.

Laskaris said the admissions process for transfer students is need-blind and the College meets 100 percent of demonstrated financial need for admitted transfer students, as it does for first-year applicants.

Two-thirds of all students who earn a baccalaureate degree attend two or more colleges or universities, said Judith Brauer, proposal developer at the National Institute for the Study of Transfer Students at the University of North Georgia. A report released through the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center placed the figure at one-third of all students.

Between 15 and 27 transfer students enrolled each year in the College between 2010-13.

Despite the small number of transfer students enrolled in the College each year, Dartmouth seems to be “transfer friendly”, in that the transfer admissions process is need-blind, and the Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid seems supportive of the College’s transfer student population.

Photo: Ben Stephenson

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

Strategy for the College Transfer Application

June 27, 2013 in Admissions, All Transfers, Essays, Ivy Plus, Q&A, Specific College


One of our readers has posted his/her strategy for putting together the best possible college transfer application and asked us for feedback. Here, I walk through the strategy, responding to the reader and highlighting the positive aspects as well as areas that can be improved upon. Let’s begin with what the reader says:

I’m going to take a stab at applying to Stanford as a transfer for the class of 2017. Although I will expect to go up against a 1-3 percent acceptance rate, I still want to try to apply because I think there will be less than 1500 freshman which means there might be a few more seats available when I apply in two years.

If you could, I would like you to read my strategy to appeal to Stanford and give me the best feedback you can.

The first part of my plan is to show Stanford that I am compassionate about helping people. As a high school senior, I was part of a program created by Stanford students that helped first-generation high school students matriculate to college. I was so influenced by the program that I’m currently working with the same nonprofit to create a new one that does the same thing but focuses on helping high school seniors work through their first two years of any college to help them transfer to a four-year university. I plan to write about this in the third supplement essay that asks “What’s important to you and why?” I plan to talk about how important it is to give resources to underprivileged groups and mention how I collaborated with Stanford undergrads to make it happen.

It seems that you are doing real work for people out there, and that’s great.

First, transfer essay prompts could change every year, so don’t count on seeing this exact question by the time you apply to transfer. Nonetheless, a lot of essay prompts are open-ended, allowing you to take almost any idea and make it work for almost any prompt. However, I will answer your questions assuming that the essay prompts remain the same.

After reading the above, I wanted to know if you were a participant in the aforementioned program as a first-generation college-bound student? If so, explicitly state so in your essay. Being a former participant in the program would imply that you had a compelling reason to return to the organization but as a leader. If you weren’t a former participant, carefully think about why you’re doing this volunteer work and consider how to articulate your reasons and objectives.

Mostly importantly, assuming that the question is “What’s important to you and why?,” given the above information, I’m not sure what your answer is. Do you want to say something like compassion is important to you? Is working for a nonprofit important to you? Come up with a thesis for your essay so that the reader will know what the point is. What do you want to tell the reader, and so what?

Also, you likely already know this, but avoid using the word “compassion” in your essay because such a word seems over- and misused in college entrance essays. One more thing, I would personally avoid creating a tone of the “savior mentality” (i.e. saying that you’re sacrificing yourself to save the underprivileged). This approach could rub some admission officers the wrong way.

The second part of my plan is to show Stanford that I’m culturally sensitive and very empathic. When I was in high school, I always helped my parents run our taco truck in the morning in the rough streets of Oakland. Throughout those experiences, I learned through my parents how to talk and relate to many different people and nationalities. Although my parents spoke broken English, they got along perfectly well with the Blacks and Latinos in the community. This translated to me having a diverse group of friends and being able to hold my social prowess in any setting. In college, I hope to join and start ethnic-based clubs that aren’t focused on Asian Americans. I want to do this because I believe it is important to be exploratory of many types of backgrounds and what not. I plan to write about this in my roommate essay by first talking about my taco truck experience and how I took those lessons with me in college. After I talk about myself, I would mention how I’m excited to explore the open-mindedness of the Stanford community, and I plan to finish off my essay by talking about how I want to invite all my fellow transfers to share our stories over beef tacos and enchiladas.

Your experience helping your parents run the taco truck seems to have been very important to you. However, as presented, I’m not sure how well your plan to convey your cultural sensitivity and empathy through this kind of essay would be executed. Try writing a few different drafts with very different approaches; show the drafts to people you consider good writers, and ask them which essay they would choose. People often conflate the words, ‘nationality’, ‘culture’, and ‘ethnicity’, so that’s something to watch out for.

To be very direct, my first reaction to your idea for the ending was that, though almost cute, it was a bit gimmicky or cheesy. As in the strategy of writing a handful of different drafts, try alternate endings for your essay. Also, try the tie-back model of writing introductions and conclusions.

The third part of my plan is to show Stanford that I’m an entrepreneur. I have this amazing start-up idea that relates to the city government, and I will work with techie computer science people to make it happen or to at least try to. I plan to write about this experience and talk about how it relates to how I want to be part of the entrepreneurial hub at Stanford in the intellectual vitality essay.

Though you probably have a very interesting idea, I highly suggest avoiding this approach. It is not new for anyone to discuss entrepreneurship and start-ups in relation to Stanford. For example, see the 2013 article, “The End of Stanford,” in the New Yorker. To give you an idea, the first two sentences of the articles states, “Is Stanford still a university? The Wall Street Journal recently reported that more than a dozen students—both undergraduate and graduate—have left school to work on a new technology start-up called Clinkle.”

The next part is to simply get a 3.8 plus GPA. Nothing to much to say here, if any.

Finally, my main key to my entire application. The school that I plan to attend in the fall is the University of the Pacific in Stockton, and just last year, a Stanford alum of the class of 2012 was elected as a city council member in the city. I plan to get a letter of recommendation from him since I will be working with him during my first two years. He was one of the most prominent students of his class with a Truman Scholarship, Dinkelspiel Award, and making it as a Rhodes Scholar finalist. Also, this alum was endorsed by Oprah and worked in the White house as an intern. I expect him to write a phenomenal letter since I’m really cool with him, and I’m interested in pursuing public service like him.

Having this person write you a recommendation letter certainly wouldn’t hurt. However, make sure the recommendation letters from your professors are phenomenal.

Overall, step back and look at all the information you’ve presented here and consider the “story” that you want to tell about yourself through the application.

Other readers out there, please let us know if you have any other comments or suggestions!

(Note: Very slight edits to the reader’s post was made for clarity.)

(Photo: François Philipp)