The Transfer-Up Myth

As we’ve shared before (in our post about writing transfer essays), more than a third of college students transfer, and nearly half of those who transfer will go on to transfer at least one more time.

There are many reasons why students transfer, but one of the most common reasons is that they feel that they can do better. They want to be at a more prestigious school, in a more prestigious program, or somewhere with better facilities.

They may have even felt this (and planned for it) from the beginning. It’s common that students who can’t get into top-tier schools as high school seniors will go to the best place that they are admitted, work to get amazing grades, great internships, and some stellar recommendations, and then, after a year or two, apply to where they think they should have always been.

If you’re one of these students or the parent of one of these students, listen up:

The idea that transferring is a backdoor way into a better school is a fallacy.

Why? Because the numbers just don’t work out.

Transfer students serve to fill the gaps created in a class when students leave. As members of a college class drop out, take leaves of absence, or transfer, slots open up. Schools often look to fill these slots because a full class = more money for them.

But, there is a direct relationship between the prestigiousness of the school and their retention of students. While many schools can lose 10-20% of a given class over four years, top colleges tend to keep 95% or more of their original class. This means that there are far fewer gaps to fill.

At Harvard, only about 1% of transfer applicants are admitted each year, and sometimes not even a single person is offered admission. The transfer admission rate at Stanford is around 2%, and Pomona’s is 8%. The transfer admission rate at Bowdoin is said to go as high as 13% some years, but others it’s as low as 2%. Princeton is the truly shocking stat though. They didn’t even accept transfer applications for two decades, and only started again this year (for Fall 2018).

These percentages matter because, while there may be fewer applicants to compete against than when you apply as a high school senior, the competition is even fiercer. The math is clear: it is harder to get into a top-tier school as a transfer.

Transferring up is possible, and we’ve helped some truly stellar students do it, but we think it’s important that students and families know what they are getting into. If you want to transfer to Harvard, it’s not just about killing it in college — you have to fight to be a statistical anomaly.

Just like with the normal application process, it’s how you present yourself that opens the door to admission, even if it’s only by a crack. This goes beyond a perfect GPA, stellar recommendations, or top test scores since basically everyone else applying will have those. Your secret weapon needs to be truly outstanding writing. We can help with that.