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Articles / Applying to College / I Want Out! Can I Transfer in the Middle of Freshman Year?

April 24, 2020

I Want Out! Can I Transfer in the Middle of Freshman Year?

Question: I just started my freshman year of college and I already I think I've made the wrong choice. This university is quite selective but it feels too large and too conservative. Can I transfer as early as this coming January?

This is yet another time when “The Dean" must respond with an unsatisfying “It depends."


Some colleges will admit mid-year freshman transfers and some won't. So your first step must be to contact any colleges that interest you to see what the policy is. Note, however, that even if a college does not ordinarily accept freshman transfers, if this is a college where you applied when you were in high school and where you were already accepted, it's possible that the school will make an exception for you IF they have the space available (which they may not know until it's nearly time for the next semester to begin).

If you hope to transfer to a college to which you applied in high school but were denied or waitlisted, then it's highly unlikely you will be accepted for January admission, even if this college does take mid-year freshman transfers. In your case, the college will want to see at least a full year of college grades before considering your re-application.

Similarly, if you want to transfer to a college where you did not previously apply but would probably be something of a “Reach" school for you based on your high school credentials, then The Dean is not optimistic that you'd be accepted without a full year of college grades and, ideally, two full years.

You can use the College Board Web site to get a sense of transfer statistics that can provide at least a rough guide to what the transfer application requirements are and how competitive the transfer process might be. For example, if you're interested in Wesleyan University in Connecticut (probably smaller and more left-leaning than the place you are right now), you'd start here:

https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/college-university-search/wesleyan-university

Next, click on “For Transfer Students" on the left-hand menu.

You'll then see that Wesleyan accepts sophomore and junior transfers, but “Freshman" is not listed. You'll also see that Wesleyan admits approximately 28% of its transfer applicants (as opposed to only about 18 % of its freshman applicants). So that's potentially good news for would-be transfers who have compiled a strong record at their initial college.

But Amherst College, a fellow member of the “Little Three" conference, accepts 14% of its freshman applicants but only a paltry 6% of would-be transfers. So that's a signal that all but the most exceptional candidates should steer clear. And Amherst, like Wesleyan, admits only sophomore and junior transfers.

Usually transfer applicants apply to far fewer colleges than freshman applicants do. So use statistics like those offered by the College Board to make your choices wisely.

As you're making your transfer plans, here are a few more tips:

  1. Don't give up on your current college right away. Even if it feels like a mismatch now, you may need time to meet your soul mates. Join organizations and clubs that are likely to attract others who share your interests. Make an effort to get to know your roommate, your dorm mates, your professors, etc. You may be pleasantly surprised if you keep an open mind.
  1. Even if you're miserable, focus on your grades (and not Netflix) because they will be your ticket out.
  1. Get involved in activities outside of the classroom which will strengthen your transfer applications.

Finally, keep in mind that, although some colleges offer special orientation sessions or other activities geared specifically to mid-year transfers, it can be hard to join a new community halfway through the school year. So, even if you decide that transferring is an imperative for you, you may make a smoother transition if you wait until next September. The additional time at your current colleges should also give you a chance to expand your transfer options if you can compile a strong academic and extracurricular record, which you wouldn't have time to do if you want to bail out right away. Above all, the extra semester will help you to hone in more specifically on what you really want in your transfer college so that you don't repeat your past mistakes.

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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