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by Lan Ngo

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.

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)