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Articles / Applying to College / Transferring "Up" to a More Competitive College

Nov. 5, 2002

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 guysâ€"like the three highly selective universities you’ve citedâ€"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.

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

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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