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Articles / Admissions / "Easier" as Transfer to Ivies & Barnard?

May 18, 2020

"Easier" as Transfer to Ivies & Barnard?

Question: I got rejected from the schools I really wanted to go to. Is it true that it's easier to get into a school by transferring? I'm looking at schools like Harvard, Columbia, & Barnard.

Harvard and Columbia are almost impossible for transfers. These schools admit very few and tend to favor applicants with non-traditional backgrounds (e.g.., older students, disadvantaged candidates who first attended community colleges, etc.). Students who were just denied this spring as high school students have very little chance. The forecast is a bit better at Barnard but, even so, you will have to do extremely well in college--not just in the classroom but by distinguishing yourself in other ways, too (e.g., campus leadership, research assistantship, internship). This can be tricky for first-year students who are just starting their college careers and haven't yet had time to make a mark. Also, because sophomore transfers are admitted before their freshman year is even over, admission officials will only have one semester of grades to evaluate, which means that it's critical to get off to a running start.


Transferring is also, to a great extent, a "numbers game." This means that some years, if attrition is unusually low, there will be hardly any spots open for transfers. Conversely, when attrition goes up, so does the transfer figure. But at the most selective colleges, those open slots are almost always few and far between.

You have probably heard those "it's easier to get in as a transfer" rumors because, each year, many institutions do admit transfer students who have done well in college despite having less-than-stellar high school records or test scores. So it's certainly possible to "trade up" from a less selective school to one that is much more so. However, when it comes to the places you've named .... especially the Ivies ... transfer odds plummet significantly.

So my advice is to try to make the best of whatever college you plan to attend and do as well there as you can. Then, if you still want to move on, go ahead and apply as a transfer to your dream colleges but also find some other colleges that might be good fits for you but where the transfer odds are more realistic. Avoid going on "name brand" alone, and also keep in mind that, if you have a successful undergraduate career and stand out in the crowd, wherever you are, many doors will open up for you at grad-school time, perhaps including some that are closed to you right now.

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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