Transferring “Up” to a More Competitive College

Question: I am currently a freshman at a large public university in the Southwest and want to know if it’s possible to transfer to an exclusive school such as Notre Dame, Georgetown, or Northwestern. If I were to earn a GPA of 3.8+, along with my high school SAT scores of 1190, would it be worth my time to apply for next fall? Should I retake the SAT, if I thought I could score at least 100 points higher?

Transferring can be a good way to “trade up” to a college that is more competitive than the one you presently attend (or than those that would have grabbed you right out of high school), but when you’re talking about the big guys—like the three highly selective universities you’ve cited—then you’ll need some big guns to get there.

For starters, don’t bother retaking the SATs. (Hope that’s good news.) SATs are really designed for high school students, and a jump of 100 points won’t make a lick of difference to elite-college admission officials since you’re already out of high school.

To be considered by a transfer institution that is something of a quantum leap from the one you’re at now, you are really going to have to make a mark in your current school that goes beyond even a strong GPA. This could include taking a very active and visible role in campus life (tough for a frosh, but not impossible), snaring a coveted slot as a faculty research assistant, or landing an impressive internship in your field of study.

If you’re thinking, “How can I do all that, I just got here?” well, you’re right. Chances are, you’ll need to spend two years, not just one, at your current college before you’ve primed yourself for a transfer to a very competitive university. Two years should buy you some time to decide on an area of academic concentration and to build up credentials in your field, as well as to make your presence known on campus.

While simply “wanting greater challenge” is considered a valid and admirable reason to try to transfer, admission officials like it far more when you can point to a particular academic offering at their school and show how it meshes with accomplishments (research, independent study, internships, volunteer work, etc.) that you’ve already gotten under your belt at your first school. You will also have to convince admission folks that their institution will be a far richer place with you on the student roster, and GPA and tests scores alone are not likely to do that.