From Disadvantaged Background to Elite University

Question: I come from a low-income Latino family and am currently a freshman in the honors program at the Ohio State University. I graduated from high school with a 3.92 (weighted) GPA and an SAT of 1220. Only about 5% of the graduating students from my high school go on to college. What are my odds of transferring to colleges like Northwestern, University of Chicago, University of Michigan, or any university of this caliber?

It sounds as if you have compiled an impressive record—perhaps even against the odds—and it’s likely that you will have a strong shot at transferring to one of the universities you named. If you are applying to enter as a transfer student in September, admission officials will look closely at your first-semester Ohio State grades as well as at your high school record. They will want to see how your high school strengths translate to a college environment. If your grades are good (B’s and above) you should likewise have a good shot at affirmative decisions.

You do not say, however, whether you applied to these universities before, when you were still in high school. If you did, and you were not admitted, then it’s a different story. In that case, you should plan to start the transfer process a year from now—in other words, to transfer at the start of your junior year rather than at the start of your sophomore year—so that admission officials will see three full semesters of college-level work. If you tried to apply sooner, they would be likely to “reject” you again for the same reasons that they did not take you straight from high school.

Assuming that this is the first time that you are approaching Northwestern, Chicago, and Michigan, etc., you should immediately contact their admission offices by phone or e-mail. Ask for the name of the official who is responsible for minority recruitment. Each office should have one (if not, ask for the transfer official) then tell him or her exactly what you’ve told us. Emphasize your high school record, your good SATs, and, above all, the fact that such a tiny percentage of your high school classmates went on to college. If your parents did not attend college, be sure to mention that, too. Ask this official if he or she thinks you are in the ballpark by applying. Chances are, you will be encouraged, and this individual will stay in contact with you as you go through the process and keep an eye out for your application later on.