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  • Bentham Team

Transferring to an Elite School

It’s difficult for seniors in high school to know what they want in a college, what a particular school is really like, and even what they want their major to be. For this reason, 30 % of college undergraduates transfer to another school at least once. They transfer because they decide that going to college in the city is lonelier than they thought, or they feel that nobody at the school cares about learning, or, most importantly, they discover a passion for studying something their university either doesn’t offer or doesn’t have facilities, professors, or a reputation that is satisfactory to the student.

Another reason students transfer is in the hope of “transferring up.” The student is disappointed that the school that accepted them wasn’t their dream school, and from the first day, they are planning their transfer to a more elite institution. These students should know that this is not considered an appropriate reason to transfer by any elite school. These students better come up with a strong reason to transfer. Simply faking it on the essay won’t be enough.

If you are transferring, there are a few things you should keep in mind.

Academic Performance Required for Transfer to a Top School

The most important factor in a transfer application are your grades. You will want to demonstrate to the school to which you hope to transfer that you are acing your classes; this will suggest to them that you will be successful, even at a school with a more demanding reputation. As with high school, you want the courses you select to demonstrate that you are eager for challenge, rigor, and deep understanding. Obviously, if you are applying because that school offers your intended major, you want to excel in the prerequisite courses.

Letters of Recommendation

You will want to secure strong letters of recommendation from college professors. Be mindful to create relationships with a couple of professors wherever you can - is the prof reading on campus, participating in a symposium, planting a tree for Earth Day? Be there. Take advantage of office hours. Read their books or their research. Try in those classes to be extra sharp in class and in your papers. If it seems like there are layers of TAs between you and the professor, writing a paper or doing independent research that exceeds expectations will help get you noticed. As in the rest of your transfer application, you want to brand yourself, to have a recognizable identity as the expert on public transportation or phytoplankton or some other highly specific specialization that will help them remember you.


Admissions offices like to see transfer applicants demonstrating a deep interest in the particular major they want to pursue - that means doing research with a professor, if possible, or being an assistant in a course, or interning during the summer in your chosen fields. Extracurriculars in high school are commonplace, but succeeding in a college academic extracurricular, or choosing to take time away from your studies to participate in a club interested in helping people or promoting good in the world through an on campus extracurricular is more meaningful on a transfer application, as these activities are more akin to adult responsibilities. This is particularly true if you have a leadership position, or can get a recommendation from a professor or TA associated with that club.

The Essays

As when the student applied to college, there will be essays, but the emphasis will not be on helping the college get to know you through a snappy essay. For the most part, the admissions office is interested in why the applicant is transferring and why the applicant wants to transfer to this particular school. Don’t waste space criticizing your current school. The admissions reader will feel uncomfortable, and the applicant will come across as a self centered malcontent. Instead, the applicant should explain a compelling reason for the transfer, and how the school to which you’re applying is the perfect fit for you, uniquely offering the educational opportunities the applicant wants to pursue. Colleges are always interested in deeply driven students, so the applicant should focus on the unique learning opportunities of the prospective school, rather than locality or reputation.

March first is the deadline, so the prepared applicant will want to get letters of recommendation lined up by June of the previous year. And the applicant should do the homework - which schools are uniquely suited to their passions? Which schools on their list tend to accept a larger percentage of transfer students? The applicant who gets that sorted and follows the advice given here has reason to be hopeful about a successful transfer. If you feel you need more guidance from experienced transfer consultants, contact Bentham Admissions.


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