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Last updated August 22, 2023

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How to Transfer Colleges

Key Takeaway

Transferring to another four-year school can be challenging. To prepare, you will need to craft a narrative around why you'll fit better elsewhere, build a strategic school list, and write new essays. Stay engaged at your current school and carefully consider your new school list.

Sometimes the first college or university you pick just doesn’t end up being the right fit.

Whether the problem is an academic or cultural mismatch, you might be thinking about transferring.

In this post, we’ll cover the best reasons for transferring and the most effective way to craft your transfer application.

Let’s get into it.

Reasons to Transfer

Transferring from one four-year school to another is hard—and that’s speaking from personal experience. I was a transfer student myself!

Maybe you realized that you don’t like the academic structure or actually want to pursue a specific major that your current institution doesn't offer. Or maybe you just don’t like the location, the weather, or the social scene.

No matter the reasons, use this self-awareness to guide your search for a new school.

I know that starting the college search all over again can be confusing and challenging. It was for me, at least. But in the end, finding your way to a better fit will make all the effort worth it.

How to Transfer

Logistically, there are a few things you’ll need to do to be able to transfer colleges.

Take a look:

  1. Open an account with the Transfer Common Application. Note that this is a completely different application than the first-year Common App! Most transfer applications for fall term are due in the spring, so you’ll want to make your account around January or February.
  2. Start writing your essays. I know, I know. It probably feels like you just finished writing your college essays. But you’ll need to write new essays for your transfer application (more on those in a minute).
  3. Seek out letters of recommendation. Most transfer applications require at least one letter of recommendation. It’s a good idea to try to get one from one of your college professors if you can, even if you haven’t known them very long. A recommendation from a faculty member can help admissions officers get to know who you are in the college classroom, which can be helpful when they only have a semester or a year’s worth of college grades to go off of.
  4. Go on college visits. If you can, it’s worth trying to do some more campus visits. Since you have a better idea of what you like and don’t like now, these visits should be more informative. At the very least, you should be doing virtual visits.
  5. Request your transcripts. If you haven’t been out of high school very long, you might want to contact an administrator from your high school and have your transcript sent to the schools you’re applying to. You’ll also need to contact the registrar at your current college or university about sending in your college transcripts.

Once you’ve gotten your to-do list in order, you’ll need to start preparing your essays.

How to Write About Why You’re Transferring

For most transfer applications, you’ll have at least one essay to write. Transfer applications are a bit less standardized than first-year applications, so you’ll have to pay close attention to what each individual school requires.

Typically, you’ll include a personal statement similar to the one you wrote for your first round of college applications. Schools may also ask you a “Why are you transferring?” question or other kinds of supplemental essay prompts.

As with your first-year application, crafting your transfer application requires careful thought.

You can’t just complain about what's wrong with your current school and hope that it will be enough to get you into a new one. Instead, your application should create a cohesive narrative about why the schools on your new list are a better fit for you.

Having clear reasons for your decision to transfer is really important. You want to give admissions officers a concrete understanding of why it’s not working where you’re at and why you’ll be much better off in a new place. Maybe your dream major isn't available at your current institution. Or it might be a mismatch between your lifestyle and the campus life. Even a personal situation that requires you to move on is a good reason.

In short: avoid talking negatively about your current school while telling your story. Highlight why you believe you'll fit better elsewhere instead. Be positive, look ahead, and use this chance to show your adaptability and resilience.

How to Stand Out as a Transfer Student

Many students apply to transfer while they’re still active college students. Balancing your transfer application with your college coursework and activities can be tricky.

But the more you can do to help your application stand out, the better off you’ll be.

  1. Don’t sleep on your essays. When it comes to your transfer application, your essays are your most powerful tool to connect with admissions officers and advocate for yourself. Transfer essays especially are important because you want to make sure your reasons for transferring are framed in the right light, especially if you have any grade blips.
  2. Stay engaged at your current institution. Even as you plan your transfer, stay engaged at your current institution. Keep up your academic performance and participate in extracurricular activities. Admissions officers will say, “Hey! I know they’re unhappy, but look—they’re still thriving. Just imagine what they could do on our campus.” Plus, staying engaged will also help you have a strong transcript and get good letters of recommendation.
  3. Be thoughtful about your school list. The super-reach, reach, target, and safety framework for building a college list still works for transfer students. You’ll still want to apply to schools where your GPA and standardized test scores (if applicable) are competitive. If you haven’t been out of high school long, you can also use your high school statistics to help you decide what schools fall into which categories for you.

At the end of the day, transferring is about finding a better fit. Being authentic in your application narrative and building a strategic school list will help you get there.

Good luck!


Transferring colleges requires a thoughtful approach. Key steps include opening an account with the Transfer Common Application, crafting new essays, seeking recommendation letters, revisiting colleges, and requesting transcripts. In your application, avoid criticizing your current institution; instead, build a narrative around why you'll fit better elsewhere. Lastly, stay engaged at your current school and carefully consider your new school list.

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