COVID-19 Transfer Admissions

College Transfer in the COVID Era

The COVID-19 virus has completely disrupted the world of college admissions, with policy changes in standardized testing, dramatic shifts in opportunities during the school year and summer, and fluctuating statistics in college admissions.

The college experience has also been quite transformed through what experts are wryly calling “forced innovations,” although students and professors look forward to in-person learning in the not-too-distant future. Yet there is one aspect of college admissions that may not return to the status quo once things go back to normal: transfer admissions.


This fall, 25 organizations in higher education published a call to action advocating for an overhaul of the transfer application process. Citing issues of unequal access, these organizations want to use the turbulence and uncertainty in higher education caused by the pandemic to completely rethink how colleges handle transfer admissions. The main thrust of their call urges for an improvement in credit retention: transfer students are often hindered by incoming schools not accepting course credits. This is good news for later-stage transfer students, who often find themselves in summer classes or taking an extra semester to complete a new set of divisional requirements. The call to action also predicts that transfer applications will be affected by the economic recession, with college closures, mergers, and realignments leading to greater mobility in students moving between institutions – an indication that the transfer numbers may change again.

At first glance, transfer admissions in the COVID era indicate good news for the student planning to transfer. According to a recent National Student Clearinghouse Research Center report, fall transfer student enrollment fell 8.1% last year, and student mobility across transfer pathways decreased across the board: transfer from 4-year college to 2-year college dropped 19.4%, lateral transfers (4-year to 4-year) fell 6.7%, and upward transfers (2-year to 4-year) dropped .7%. Odds are that if you transferred this fall, you found yourself in a statistically attractive situation.


Entrepreneurial students will see these numbers as illustrative of a rare golden age in transfer admissions, but this is not exactly the case, particularly for students interested in ‘leveling up’ in the transfer round. While acceptance percentages will rise at small, cash-strapped schools and public universities experiencing low class retention, they are less likely to budge at elite institutions, where attrition rates will be minimal. It’s also worth noting that last fall’s numbers may swing in a wildly different direction this next spring transfer season.

Additionally, because the circumstances are so unstable, it’s not unlikely that acceptance percentages will shrink at desirable schools due to the increased student mobility that the Clearinghouse Center reports. Made to take virtual classes and unable to invest in campus life, more students may cast a wandering eye towards their dream schools, and decide it’s not that hard to uproot an already-disrupted education. According to the Washington Post, an online source that allows students to check to see if their credits are transferrable has seen a 15% increase in searches. Additionally, other online transcript-sharing services have reported increased traffic. We have definitely seen discontent in students who are frustrated that their freshman year of college doesn’t look the way they hoped it would, with limited access to professors and school resources. Yes, this is in large part a result of COVID 19, but for the student with only 3 years remaining, they are considering transferring. We have also had students whose sports were discontinued and their identity as college athletes crushed. They too are in search of a home for their athletic talents. 


So, as transfer deadlines fast approach this February and March, you, like plenty of students, may be considering the transfer option, and deciding whether or not it’s worth the age-old question: what if?

We are here to help and have a few remaining spots in our transfer programs. It’s vital that you stand out as there are obviously fewer seats than when you applied as a freshman. Get on it!

Top Tips Transfer Admissions

Transfer Tips: Make the Most of Freshman Year

Are you working on your college transfer applications, or considering the transfer process? If so, you are not alone, and it’s not too late! Roughly 4 in 10 college students will transfer schools, sometimes more than once, in order to find the best fit. As March transfer deadlines rapidly approach, it’s important to stay organized as you tackle the many components of these applications (are your scores up to date? Have you created a transfer account with the Common App? Do you know how to request your transcripts?). As a potential transfer student, you won’t get the same benefit of the doubt as you did when you applied to college while in high school. Admissions officers want to see concrete evidence that you have made meaningful contributions to your current college and that you are working towards clear academic goals. With this in mind, here are 5 tips to ensure you’re making the most of freshman year to be a competitive transfer applicant!


  1. Go to Office Hours

If you’re currently enrolled in large, introductory classes, it may feel intimidating to visit your professor’s office. The best way to secure a glowing recommendation on your transfer applications, however, is to ensure your professors know who you are and can speak to the ways you’ve made an effort in their class, regardless of your current performance. Additionally, most professors include class participation/attendance as a percentage of your final grade, and a few visits to office hours is a great (and easy) way to boost this score. If your professor has office hours by appointment only, don’t hesitate to reach out and coordinate a convenient time to stop by and introduce yourself. You can think of a specific question about an assignment or simply continue a conversation that began in class. Whatever you do, do not use office hours to argue your grade or ask your professor why you didn’t earn an A. Your interactions with faculty should, above all, demonstrate your love of learning and not come across as grade grubbing.

TTA Tip: Not sure what to say during your meeting or how to begin your conversation? Do a quick Google search to find a recent article that relates to topics you’ve covered in class and bring it with you. Professors love to see how you’re making connections between their lectures and the “real world.”

  1. Stay Involved

After four years of high school, where you were kept busy with countless extracurricular activities and an overbooked class schedule, college may feel like the time to sit back and enjoy your free time. If you are unhappy at your current school and know you want to transfer, it may be especially difficult to motivate to join the community in a meaningful way. As part of your transfer application, however, you need to make the case that you have taken advantage of every opportunity available at your current institution. If possible, find ways to demonstrate leadership freshman year through academic clubs and research opportunities. The more you can do now to prove you’re a serious student on a specific academic path, the better!

  1. Seek Out Enrichment

Maybe you’re looking to transfer because your current college lacks the major that interests you most. Instead of giving up, or holding out for a new curriculum at a new school, use this winter to sign up for an online course. This demonstrates your academic commitment, your scholarly aptitude, and your willingness to find enrichment opportunities even when they’re not readily accessible on campus. Not sure where to start? We love Coursera, Yale Open Courseware, and the Great Courses.

  1. Don’t Forget the Paperwork

Most colleges accept the Common App for Transfer, which includes a number of forms you will need to complete as part of your application. Other schools (like Columbia) only take the Coalition Application and some schools (like Georgetown) use their own application portal. Be sure to plan accordingly and create accounts for these platforms. In terms of paperwork, some forms will need to be signed by college official(s) who have access to your academic and disciplinary records. This can take time, so don’t delay!

Double check each college’s transfer webpage for an exact list of application requirements, but you can anticipate needing to submit the following items:

  • Official transcripts from all colleges and universities attended
  • Official high school transcript
  • SAT or ACT scores
  • Two instructor evaluations from faculty who have taught you at your current college
  • The College Report
    • Once you fill out your section of this report, you need to give the form to a dean, advisor, or other college official and ask them to complete the academic portion of the form.
  • The Midterm Report
    • After you complete all the relevant questions, you will need to give this form to instructors whose courses you are enrolled in at the time you file your application and ask them to provide a general indication of your performance, including your current grade and (if they wish) additional comments.
  1. Write Compelling Essays

Finally, after your scores and grades put you in range, your essays will set your application apart and improve your odds of admission. For transfer applicants, the essays play a particularly important role since they help demonstrate how serious you are about a particular school and the concrete ways you would contribute to a new college community. In other words, admissions officers want to know you would hit the ground running if they were to accept you.

TTA Tip: Our College Transfer Essay Program, works well for students who want to focus on the essays themselves. This package includes 5 or 10 hours of essay guidance with our Transfer Specialist.


Interested in transfer guidance? Not sure where to start? We would be happy to help you identify schools in range and guide you through the essay process. The Transfer Analysis and Guidance package includes an assessment of your admissions chances, a list of target schools, a personalized transfer report, a one-hour phone consultation, 3 hours of essay guidance, and the Top Tier Admissions Transfer e-Guide.

Questions? Contact us today!

Top Tips Transfer Admissions

The Common App for Transfer Students

Last year, the Common App unveiled an entirely new website and interface for transfer applicants. As you begin the application process, you will use the same initial website to create your account but will then be redirected to a new, transfer-specific dashboard, which looks and functions differently than the first-year Common App you’ve seen before. This redesigned transfer Common App is made to better support a wide range of applicants including community college students, new and returning adult learners, and veterans/active military members, in addition to “4-year to 4-year transfers.” More than 650 colleges and universities use this new, more inclusive Common App for transfer applications as member institutions.

According to the Common App press release, some of the new enhancements on the redesigned website include an extended profile “that allows for tailored pathways based on age, goals, degree status, and credits earned,” an expanded document collection portal to centralize the collection of documents (especially transcripts), a more inclusive “experiences” section where applicants can report volunteer, internship, and work experience, as well as any awards or honors, and a streamlined recommendation portal where applicants can choose recommender types. Your application dashboard will consist of four primary sections: “Personal Information,” “Academic History,” “Supporting Information,” and “Program Materials.” Since each of these sections includes between 1-11 sub-categories, it’s important to begin your application as early as possible, and to read the directions carefully. Time management and organization are key components of the transfer admissions process, since you will not have the same administrative support at your current college or university as you may have had from your high school college counselor.

In spite of its many improvements, the redesigned Common App can still be a bit difficult to navigate, as can the entire transfer process. Need help? Check out our Transfer Analysis and Guidance program. This program includes a personalized transfer report, follow-up strategy call, 3 hours of essay guidance, and the Top Tier Admissions Transfer e-Guide.


Learn More >



Step 1: Personal Information

The first section of the Common App includes fairly straightforward biographic information, contact information, citizenship information, questions about race & ethnicity, as well as military history. You are also invited to share more about your gender identity in a 100-character text box.

Within the Personal Information section, the seventh tab, “Other Information,” includes a question about your career interests. Unlike the first-year Common App, however, you are given 100 characters to provide a more specific description of your future plans, rather than relying on the drop-down options alone.

Step 2: Academic History

The second part of the transfer Common App asks for detailed information regarding your academic history such as high schools attended, colleges attended, college coursework, GPA, standardized tests, continuing education courses, SAT subject tests, APs, IBs, CLEP (College Level Examination Program), and Senior Secondary Leaving Examinations (for students attending secondary school outside the United States). You are able to edit existing college or degree information after the submission of your application, if needed.

You are also able to self-report your test scores in this section and list any tests you plan to take. Under the “Continuing Education Courses” tab, you will be asked to upload a copy of your course certificate, so make sure you have that downloaded and readily accessible. This is a great place to list any online courses (such as Coursera) you have taken in high school or since graduation.

If official college transcripts are required for a program to which you are applying, you can learn more about the options for providing those transcripts by mail or electronically within this FAQ.

Step 3: Supporting Information

The third step, “Supporting Information,” includes four sections: “Experiences,” “Achievements,” “Documents,” and “Affirmation Statements” (affirming the veracity of your application, authorizing the Registrar to send your records, etc.)


  • This section is similar to the “Activities” section of the first-year Common App, but here, you are given far more flexibility and space. In terms of “experience type” you can select one of five categories: Employment, Research, Extracurricular Activities, Volunteer, or Internship. There is also a place to add your supervisor’s name, title, and contact info, making it much easier to highlight your employment history and work experience, if applicable. You are given 600 characters to describe each experience, including your key responsibilities.


  • Achievements can fall under three categories: “Honors,” “Awards,” or “Publications.” As with the “Experiences” section, you have 600 characters to describe each achievement, unlike the first-year Common App which only allows 150 characters per entry (including spaces). You can update your achievements any time prior to submission and even after submission, you can add more achievements. However, you cannot update or delete completed achievements once you submit.

Note: Unlike the first-year Common App, which only allows space for 10 activities, there is no limit to the number of experiences and achievements you can list in your transfer application.

According to a Common App representative: “You don’t have any limits. However, although you can enter any experiences that you believe are relevant to your application, we recommend focusing on those experiences within the last 10 years and at the collegiate level and above. Enter only current and in-progress experiences, and check your program’s requirements regarding documentation.”


  • This is where you will upload any relevant supporting documentation, specifically if you are a member of the armed services. Possible categories include CV/Resume, DD214, (Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty), Green Card, and Joint Services Transcript.

Step 4: Program Materials

Once you have selected your list of colleges, this section will organize each school’s supplemental materials and let you know if they require additional supporting documents.

The following documents should be submitted to the specific school directly:

  • The Academic Evaluation (CA) or Professor Recommendation (UCA) form must be completed by one or more instructors who have taught you in a full-credit college course.
    • Note: A high school teacher’s recommendation should not take the place of a recommendation by a college instructor. This can be submitted online via the application site, or by mail.
    • You are also allowed to invite an appropriate high school official to submit a high school transcript on your behalf by adding the high school official as a “recommender.”
  • The College Report collects information about your standing at your current institution. You may need to contact your advisor, dean, or registrar to find out who has access to your academic and disciplinary records. This should be printed from your online application account, completed, and submitted by mail.
  • The Mid-Term Report collects information about the courses in which you are currently enrolled. This form is completed by your current instructors. If midterm grades are not available to submit with your application, the Mid-Term Report should be submitted as soon as possible when grades are available.
    • Note: If your college does not assign midterm grades, you will need to ask your professors to assess your current performance in class.

Do not save these forms for the last minute!

  • The Personal Essay
    • Although there is no mandatory “Personal Essay” on the central Common App, many programs require a personal statement, which you will upload under “Program Materials.” This statement helps colleges get to know you better as a person and as a student, specifically your reasons for transferring from your current institution (in about 650 words).
    • Some programs may require additional essays in addition to, or in lieu of, the personal statement. Be sure to review the individual requirements for each program.

Need help with your essays? Our College Transfer Essay Program includes 5 hours of one-on-one essay guidance, detailed written edits, and phone/video chat time to brainstorm and discuss your ideas.


Enroll Now >

Top Tips Transfer Admissions

Time to Transfer?

First semester is over and you’ve given it your best shot. You didn’t get into your first choice school, or maybe even your second or third choice school, but you’ve plunged in headfirst to classes and campus life. Or maybe you did get into your top choice but now that you’re a few months in, you realize that what you thought was most important as a high school senior is not really what’s most important to you now.

Sound familiar? With so much focus and intensity on choosing the “perfect” school, not to mention the high-stress admissions process, it’s not atypical to find yourself feeling like college is not quite all you expected it to be. In fact, of the 3.6 million students who started college in the fall of 2008, 37% transferred to a different school at least once while pursuing their undergraduate degree.


Who you are now – as a first semester freshman – may be very different than who you were as a first-semester senior in high school. Naturally, your thoughts may turn to transferring. Before taking the plunge and starting another application process, you should think about the factors that may be influencing your decision:

  • Academic programs: You’ve decided that you want to study medieval and Renaissance literature, engineering, computer science, geography, etc., but your school’s offerings in your field are slim to none.
  • Extracurricular life: Students head home or off-campus after class, leaving you with a sense that no one is invested in building community outside of class.
  • Fit: Greek life dominates campus life but you’d rather focus your energies elsewhere. It’s hard to feel like you’re going against the grain. That beautiful, leafy campus you saw last spring seems cold and grey. The small town is even smaller or maybe the city is less welcoming than you had hoped.
  • Sense of purpose: Students don’t seem particularly interested in their schoolwork; skipping class is the norm. Courses are large and impersonal, taught by grad students. It’s tough to get to know professors, let alone find an opportunity to do research with them. Perhaps the converse is true. Students are hyper-competitive and grade-focused. There’s no sense of teamwork or collaboration, just getting ahead.
  • Change of heart: What was important to you as a high school student seems so much less important now.
  • Finances: With the cost of education topping $70,000 a year at some private colleges and universities, the prospect of significant student and/or parent loans to help finance a college education, perhaps due to a change in a family’s financial circumstances, may also lead students who don’t qualify for significant need-based aid to seek less expensive public colleges and universities.


There are plenty of great schools that welcome large numbers of transfer students each year. Cornell, for instance admits about 500 transfer students each year. Public, national, and regional universities typically welcome large numbers of transfer students as well. That said, the transfer application process at some of the very top colleges is not an easy one. With very high student retention rates, top colleges have very little room to add additional students through their transfer process and they might have very clear mandates for the kinds of students admitted as transfers. Stanford might admit 20-40 transfer students a year but many of those will be transfers from two-year community colleges. Harvard today takes fewer than 15 per year. If your sole goal in transferring is to “trade up” to a more prestigious school, you should rethink your reasons for seeking to make this change. Admissions officers at top private schools that admit so few transfer students are looking for students with unique stories and experiences to help add to the diversity of the community. They can easily spot the students who are looking to climb the prestige ladder.

college transfer checklist


If you’re ready to make a change, then here are some key considerations:

  • Research: Do some legwork to look for schools that offer the programs, community, or change you seek. Dig into their admissions websites to see if they take transfer students and what’s required of transfer applicants. Make a note of deadlines and application pathways. Many schools will use the Common Application’s transfer application; others will have their own application portals.
  • Timing: Students seeking to transfer can apply for entry as sophomores or juniors. Entering as a sophomore gives you plenty of time to settle into a new environment; coming in as a junior typically means you are ready to hit the ground running in your major field of study. Particularly at schools that take small numbers of transfer students, you won’t find quite the same academic advising and orientation resources that are typically available to incoming first-year students.
  • Academic criteria: Typically, the transfer application process looks at both your college and high school academic records. If you’re struggling in college and your grades reflect it, it will be tough to be a viable applicant in transfer pools that are selective. Standardized testing typically isn’t as big a factor in the transfer application process, although schools may ask to see those SAT or ACT scores you took in high school. If you didn’t take the exams in high school, you won’t be asked to do them now.
  • Recommenders: You will be asked to submit at least one letter of recommendation from a faculty member, so you need to reach out to one of your professors to talk about your plans. This could be a little awkward – especially since faculty don’t like to lose great students – but be thoughtful about your reasons for seeking to transfer and share them with the professor. In addition, your academic dean (or someone in the Dean of Students’ office) will be asked to affirm that you are a student in good standing.
  • Essays: Depending on the college or university, you will be asked to submit an essay or two as part of your transfer application. A typical question that you will be asked will be to explain your reasons for seeking to transfer and how a new school will help you to realize your goals and aspirations. Often times, you’ll also be asked to talk about the ways you have contributed to your current college community and what you will bring to your new school.
  • Activities: The more selective the school’s transfer admissions process, the more likely they will also look to see how you’ve gotten involved in campus life or beyond campus in your areas of interest. A clear sense of engagement in some aspect of campus life will strengthen your application.

The transfer admissions process is a more confusing one than the first year application process and there’s very little support from your college or university to help you navigate it. The admissions experts at Top Tier are here to help!

Insider Tips Transfer Admissions

Top 10 Transfer Application Tips

The transfer application deadline for many highly selective colleges, including all of the Ivy League colleges, is either March 1st or March 15th. Brown, Columbia, DartmouthHarvard, Princeton, and Yale have March 1 deadlines, while Cornell and UPenn have March 15 deadlines. With odds lower than even the early or regular rounds, transferring schools can be a daunting process. Read on for our top tips to help make even the oftentimes stressful transfer application process more transparent!

Now, down to the nitty gritty…


1) Dig Deep and Ask Yourself WHY: Just throwing in a transfer application because you miss your girlfriend or you have to study way harder than you anticipated is not a compelling reason to transfer. Make a clear list, yes bring on a legal pad and pen, and be honest with yourself. This exercise has helped many students we’ve worked with decide to either make the most of where they are or pull it together and create a strong application elsewhere.

transfer application plan

2) Write a Compelling Essay: Show (don’t tell) why you are hoping to transfer. That’s the #1 question on an admissions officer’s mind, “Why is this applicant unhappy at his/her current college and what is it he/she can bring to our school?” Need help? We got you.

3) Do Your Research: Admit rates at very top colleges for transfer students are much lower than typical freshman acceptance rates. Think about it, students at Harvard aren’t typically interested in leaving which is why Harvard’s transfer rate is typically less than 1%.   University of Virginia, however, has more like 35-40% acceptance rate for transfer students. It varies a lot school by school but generally the very top schools are all near impossible.

4) Understand the Common Application: This isn’t going to help you this application round, but in August 2018 The Common App is rolling out a new application for transfer students. You will have to leverage the existing Common Application, so get to know it fast!

5) Will Your Credits Transfer: Each school makes their own decisions on which prior college credits they will honor. You may have to make a few phone calls to a specific school’s registrar’s office to find out if they will indeed take your accrued college credits. This might be a game changer for a specific school on your list. Knowledge is power so we recommend finding out before applying.

6) Major Considerations: Will the schools you are interested in transferring to have similar major requirements? Are there core requirements for that major that you don’t have? Again, knowledge is critical. Email the department administrator, for instance, if you want more specifics that aren’t readily available on the department’s website.

transfer application deadline

7) Educate Yourself: We have your back. Click and GO.

8) Community Impact: With super-low transfer admission rates, the admissions office will be very choosy and look for students who will add interesting dimensions to the student community. Even if you’re only part-way through your first year, show how you’ll contribute. Focus on your unique perspectives and experiences.

9) Recommendations Matter: It may be awkward to ask faculty members, advisors or deans for recommendations, especially since you are looking to transfer, but make time to talk to them and ask for a recommendation. You’re most likely to be asked why you want to transfer. Be sure you can answer this question in a thoughtful way.

10) Stay Engaged: With exceptionally low rates of admission for transfer students, you need to be prepared to take advantage of opportunities at your current institution in the event that your transfer application is not successful. Stay on top of all academic deadlines and requirements, seek out interesting organizations and activities, and get to know your faculty and classmates.

We are here to help you take a breath, gain important knowledge and create a transfer plan that works for you!