How Easy is it to Transfer Into the Ivy League?

We want to start this post by drawing an important distinction that is often overlooked: going to a community college or state school for two years and then transferring to a top tier school doesn’t work. That system can work if you’re transferring from a satellite campus to a main campus, but won’t get you from Temple to Penn. Here’s why:  

Top tier schools have very high retention rates, so when they’re looking at a transfer applicant pool, they’re only replacing the 2-3% of students that left. They technically don’t have to admit anyone, and they’re not admitting transfer students just because they have a stand out application.

In other words, transfer acceptance rates are low because retention rates at top schools, especially Ivy League schools, are high. What admissions counselors are looking for (and how many students they’ll accept) is different every year because it’s a direct function of both their retention rate and filing any holes they see.

Transfer Acceptance Rates:  

We’ve compiled a chart with transfer acceptance rates from top schools since 2014. The years at the top refer to the admission cycle year: so the percentages under 2014/15 refers to the class of 2019, 2015/16 refers to the class of 2020, 2016/17 refers to the class of 2021, and 2017/18 refers to the class of 2022.

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A note on a few statistics:

  • Cornell is clearly the outlier here with a transfer admit rate that far surpasses the rest. It’s the most “transfer friendly” of the Ivy’s by far.

  • Princeton didn’t accept transfer students until last year.

  • Brown’s usual 5% rose to 9% for the class of 2020, which is likely due to an unusual dip in retention rate that year. 

For reference, here are the regular admission rates for the same schools:

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Outside of Cornell, you’ll see that transfer acceptance rates are even lower in every case. If there’s one major takeaway from this post, it should be that transferring into a top tiered school after two years shouldn’t be part of your application strategy. Not everyone needs to attend an Ivy League, and these statistics will hopefully serve as a look into how difficult it is to get in. This isn’t to say that transferring isn’t an option, but you should consider where you’re applying and manage expectations from the start.

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