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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

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)

by Lan Ngo

College Transfer Q&A: Who should I ask to write my recommendation letter?

April 7, 2013 in Admissions, All Transfers, Q&A


We wanted to highlight a question someone asked in the forum.  It’s related to an essential component of your transfer application.  For those of you who are still working on applications for fall 2013 and have not yet finalized who will write your recommendations, be sure to read this!

Question: I already have one professor writing a letter of rec for my transfer application, but don’t know who to go to for my second letter of rec. I am undecided between two people. One is a professor who I took two classes with for my major and got A’s in both. But, I know he doesn’t know me that well. The other person I can go to is my lab TA. I had her for two quarters and did well both times. She is very familiar with my work and knows me well. However, I feel like a letter of rec from a TA isn’t going to carry as much weight as one from a professor. Whose letter will better for my transfer app? Should I go with the professor, even though he doesn’t know me that well, or the TA?

Answer: Make one of these requests to your lab TA. Decide which is the best option depending on your relationship with your TA:

– Could she write a letter and ask the professor to co-sign it?
– Could she co-write the letter with the professor?
– Could she provide information to the professor to help the professor write a letter for you?

Your recommendation letters are very important, so carefully consider who you want to ask to write them.


(Photo: State Libraries and Archives of Florida)

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)

by Lan Ngo

Should I Transfer Out of My College?

November 4, 2012 in Four-Year Transfer Articles, Q&A, Specific College, To Transfer or Not

We hear a lot of great questions and stories in our forums.  We would like to highlight one thread that might be helpful to students who are deciding whether they should transfer out of their current college or university:

Student: I’m currently a freshman at Spelman College, and I am thinking about transferring after this year. I have been at my college for a little over a month, and it’s fine, but that’s it: it’s just fine. I applied as a sort of throw away safety, but ended up attending (for some reason I always had a feeling that that would happen though…). The school has an amazing reputation in the African-American community, but is not as well known nationally, and I am not sure how that will affect me when applying for jobs.

When I was talking to my dad about this (he completely supports the idea) he gave me a few things to think about: and the last thing he said was “Think about what you want your college experience to be like.” I know I don’t want my experience to be “just okay.” I want more diversity, more school spirit (maybe some sports teams), and more people that challenge my ideas (often I’m one of the only people talking in class).

I’m from California, so I was contemplating applying to UCs (Berkeley and UCLA) the applications are due in November, so it would be great to get advice about applying to those because the deadline is so soon! I loved Northwestern when I visited in high school, so I would probably reapply there and to USC.

Also, I’m trying to figure out what extracurriculars to do: would playing soccer for the school (they are D-III) significantly help a transfer application?

TransferWeb: Thanks for sharing your situation.  I have a friend who transferred TO Spelman.  She recently graduated from there.  I asked her for her thoughts, and here’s what she said:

I will say that Spelman is not for everyone. I believe that it is way too expensive to stay there if it is not where you want to be. It is not a place with sports teams and that type of “college experience”.

However, I would not worry about Spelman not being nationally known. Spelman is internationally known. Graduate school recruiters from the Ivies and Fortune 500 Companies recruit Spelmanites. If there is anything you want to accomplish, Spelman will do nothing but help you accomplish your goals.

So in reality, it is all up to you. I would say apply to transfer out if you feel you need or want to, so that at least you will have options. No harm done if you decide to stay. Also, if you want more information on the Spelman experience, I could help. I recently graduated from Spelman, and I actually transferred to Spelman.

Student: Thank you so much for your reply/advice from your friend! I really appreciate it.

My main concern is that I am not being challenged enough in classes. Literally yesterday my English professor canceled class because only 2 (including me) girls in a class of around 15 did the reading and she didn’t want to have a discussion with 2 people. There is an honors program, but I would not be able to get into it until sophomore year, and I’m still not sure how much more difficult the classes will be.

I also have many different interests that I think a bigger school would offer classes in. For instance, I’ve always had a weird obsession with Russia and many of the schools I am looking at have either a Russian or Russian Studies major/minor or a Slavic Studies program. I feel like I wouldn’t be able to explore these interests after college, so that is another reason I’m considering transferring. However, the major that I am in right now, International Studies, is great, and not many colleges offer something like it.

Spelman definitely does have great career opportunities. Representatives from major companies come on campus all the time, but I was worried about if companies will recognize the name after I graduate if they did not actively recruit Spelman students.

I’m aiming for a 4.0 this semester but if that doesn’t happen I think I will not get less than a 3.7-3.8. I’m in Model UN and I really love it, I’m going to join the Spanish Club (I’m a Spanish Minor), and I joined another community service club but I am not sure how organized they are so I may have to find a different one. Do you have any suggestions regarding EC’s to make my application stronger?

Here are some of the schools I’m considering: USC, Tulane, Northwestern, Brown and UCLA/Berkeley

What do you think my chances are?

TransferWeb: As the Spelman grad explained, you should go ahead and apply to transfer, and then decide later if you want actually make the switch.

Holding a 4.0 GPA or a GPA that’s as close to 4.0 as possible certainly makes you more competitive than other students applying to the schools you listed.

Regarding extracurricular activities, I would say to do what you’re really interested in and what would be worth your time and effort, and then point out that genuine interested somewhere in your application.

We hope this is helpful to you!  Please share your questions and stories in our forum!

(Photo: dalbera)