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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

Question:

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?

Answer:

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)

by Lan Ngo

College Transfer Q&A: What to Write on the Common Application General Transfer Essay vs the School Supplement Essay

December 2, 2011 in Admissions, All Transfers, Community College Articles, Essays, Four-Year Transfer Articles, Q&A

Question:

When I looked at the common application, I noticed that there is a generic “why transfer” essay and a supplement for each school that asks, “Why do you want to transfer here?” What should be included in one versus the other?

Answer:

Before we get into the differences between the two essays, we think the most important overarching thing to remember is that each application to each school has to tell the story you want to tell that school. If the common app “why transfer” essay that you wrote for one application that has a supplement doesn’t make sense for another application without a supplement, then, by all means, customize your common app essay for that school.

That said, here are the differences between the two essays.

The Common Application “Why Transfer” Essay

There are two ways to tackle this essay:

1) Write a general essay: You may provide reasons for your desire to transfer in general, not your reasons for applying to a particular school, and submit the same essay for each school you’re applying to. For about 25% of this essay, you might end up explaining that, though your current school has provided you with many opportunities, it is lacking in certain aspects. Here are some examples of points you might include in this essay:

  • an explanation discussing why your current school won’t help you meet your short-term and long-term goals
  • a discussion of how the courses in your major are limited in range and level
  • an explanation of the lack of opportunities to conduct research at your current school
  • an earnest explanation of the lack of a community among the student body that fits your needs and interests in terms of your academic, intellectual, and/or social life

Warning: Be tactful and avoid sounding like you’re just whining about your current school.

Use about 20% of the space for your introduction and conclusion, and use about 55% of the space to lay out some of your specific achievements.  What were some amazing goals and feats that you’ve accomplished?  What makes you so great that you can achieve in and contribute to your next school?

2) Write an essay specific to the school you’re applying to: You can write a separate version of the “why transfer” essay for each school you’re applying to. Consider tailoring the common application essay, especially if the school’s application doesn’t require a supplement essay. For example, Washington University in St. Louis doesn’t ask for a supplement essay. In that case, this would be your only chance to directly discuss why you want to transfer to that specific school.

If the school’s application does require a supplement essay, you might still want to tailor the common application essay to that school if you feel that doing so would help you to tell the story that you want to tell in your overall application. If you take this route, carefully consider what you want to include in the common application essay as compared to the supplement essay to avoid being redundant.

We’ve seen students get into the most selective schools in the country both by writing general “why transfer” essays and by writing school-specific “why transfer” essays. Bottom line: always step back, look at the whole application, and ask yourself at the end if the application tells the story you want to tell the school. If it doesn’t, revise and, if necessary, customize.

The School Supplement Essay

The supplement essay for a particular school usually asks, “Why do you want to transfer to THIS school (as opposed to another school)?” If you’re applying to, say, Brandeis, then you would write about why Brandeis would be the ideal place for you to transfer to and how the university would meet your needs. Here are some points you might include in the school supplement essay:

  • the specific major at the school you want to transfer to and what
  • distinguishes that program from programs offered at other schools
  • particular professors and/or classes you’re interested in
  • particular resources and opportunities offered at that school but not elsewhere
  • characteristics that make you a good fit for the school and its student body

These points are just some examples of what you might write for each essay.  Start with information that is most relevant to your situation and you should be on your way to solid essays.

(Photo: Jinx!)

by Lan Ngo

College Transfer Q&A: Too Many Course Credits?

August 5, 2011 in Admissions, All Transfers, Community College Articles, Credits, Four-Year Transfer Articles, Q&A

Question:

I’ve just finished one academic year at my current university. Because of my heavy course load during both fall and spring semesters, I’ve accumulated 3 semesters’ worth of credit. I want to apply to transfer Spring 2012. Should I apply as a sophomore or junior transfer? If I don’t get into any school for Spring 2012, I want to apply for Fall 2012, but I’m afraid that I’ll have too many credits by then. Should I take a semester off while applying to transfer?

Answer:

Depending on which college/university you apply to, the answer may be different, but we’ll offer a general response that applies to many schools. If you will have 3 semesters of coursework by the time you enter as a spring transfer student, then you should apply as a sophomore. If you will have 4, then you should apply as a junior. You should avoid going beyond 4 semesters of coursework credit because then you would have a higher standing than junior status, and many schools don’t accept transfer students who are beyond junior standing.

You currently have two shots at applying to transfer: the Spring 2012 round of applications and the Fall 2012 round. Here’s a road map that you may follow:

  • Continue attending your current university during Fall 2011, and take a regular course load.
  • Complete transfer applications for Spring 2012, applying as a sophomore.
  • If you don’t get into any of the schools you apply to, take the Spring 2012 semester off and do something productive: intern, work, conduct research, etc. The more closely the work aligns with your major or area of expertise, the better. In the meantime, work on your transfer applications for Fall 2012.

Call each school you’re interested in to confirm that this plan makes sense. There may be a school out there that wouldn’t mind if you had more than 4 semesters of course credit, allowing you to avoid taking time off.

Notes about taking time off: taking time off during college may sound like a scary prospect. However, doing so may actually be quite beneficial. Lan took two terms off while she was an undergrad at Stanford (Stanford is on the quarter system and has 3 terms per academic year, plus the summer term). During one term, she studied Japanese language in Japan. During another term, she took time off to intern at a major electronics company, again in Japan. She found those experiences worthwhile, and they were not detrimental to her record. If anything, those experiences bolstered her profile, not to mention the fact that they provided her with opportunities for great professional, academic, and personal development. Just be sure to do something meaningful and productive during your time off. Also, before returning to school, prepare yourself mentally and emotionally to again immerse yourself in college life.

(Photo: Lee J Haywood)