Should I Even Apply to Transfer to This College? Case Study: Brown University

You’re a college freshman or sophomore and you know you want to transfer. Now what? For one thing, you’d better be digging up info on schools that you might want to transfer to. As a transfer applicant, you should “do your research” with the goal of finding the little quirks of the college transfer process. After all, not all schools are created equally, and not all schools will treat transfer students equally. Make a list of the pros and cons of each school you’re interested in. Make note of the transfer-specific details. As an example, let’s look at Brown University through the lens of a transfer applicant. You have your reasons to be interested in Brown, but should you apply?


1. “We want you to apply”

Brown seems to stop short of giving transfer applicants hugs. The Transfer Guide to Applying to Brown begins with a letter from the Dean of Admissions:

We are very pleased that you are considering Brown and hope that you will decide to apply…

For fall 2008, 117 of the 972 transfer applicants were accepted. That’s a 12% transfer acceptance rate. To put that info into perspective, check out Stanford, which practically warns prospective transfer students to think more than twice before even attempting to apply:

Transfer applicants should be aware that transfer admission is considerably more competitive than freshman admission. In recent years, the admit rate for transfer students has been between 1-2%. Between 20 and 40 transfer student spaces are typically available each year, depending on our freshman to sophomore retention rate (usually 98%) and the number of freshman applicants who typically accept our offer of admission…

In contrast, an article in the Brown Daily Herald points out Brown’s warm welcome to transfer applicants:

According to Associate Dean of the College Carol Cohen, who has worked with transfer students for over 15 years, they are “an intentional population here, not just a plugging in of empty spots” left by an overestimated matriculation of first-year applicants.

2. Options

Many schools accept transfers only for the fall term. However, Brown gives you the option to be considered for spring transfer admission. You might have some unfinished business to tend to before starting fresh as a transfer student at a new school. Whatever your reason, it’s nice to have choices.

3. Housing

It’s hard enough to start your life over at a new school, but imagine the additional pain if you were left to fend for yourself in the housing market as well. For many transfers, it’d just be easier to move into a dorm. Good news from the admissions office:

Brown transfer students must live in residence halls unless excused by the Director of Residential Life under policies established by the Dean of Student Life.

(This aspect might be considered a con if on-campus housing would cramp your style.)

4. Positive feedback from Brown transfer students

We have an in-depth interview with someone who transferred to Brown, but for now, here are the highlights of some positive transfer experiences as documented by the Brown Daily Herald:

Elizabeth, who transferred from Hobart and William Smith Colleges, enjoys the academic freedom and student diversity. After adjusting to Brown, she started to love it. As she says, “Transferring was the best decision I could have made.”

Drew, who transferred from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is also happy with his decision. He likes the academics and the size of the school. He likes that Brown students speak up in class and are interested in learning.

Juliana transferred from the University of Chicago. She admires the type of students who come to Brown because they have passions that extend beyond the classroom walls.

(To read the full articles from the Brown Daily Herald, go here and here.)


1. Financial aid

As with many schools, transfers at Brown get the dregs of university scholarship funds while freshman applicants get first dibs. At least you’d still be considered for state/federal grants and loans that you qualify for. Just submit your FAFSA. The financial aid policy with regards to transfer students has gone through various changes over the years, BUT (this is a huge but), the current policy as stated by the financial aid office is:

Transfer students are admitted to Brown under a need-aware Admission policy. Need aware means that financial need will be taken into account in making the admission decision.

What does that mean? When applying, checking off that you’d like to be considered for university scholarship aid means that your chances of getting accepted drops. Keep in mind Brown’s price tag:

Undergraduate tuition for the academic year 2008-09 is $36,928, and room, board, and required fees are $10,812. The total cost is $47,740.

Even if you were accepted, could you afford to go to Brown without university financial aid? If your answer is NO, it doesn’t sound like Brown is your best bet.

2. Negative feedback from students that transferred OUT of Brown

A great way to get honest opinions  about a college that you’re interested in is to hear from students that transferred out of that college. Here’s advice about researching colleges from a student who transferred from Trinity College to Barnard College:

Even when you’re looking at colleges the first time around or interested in transferring, talk to transfer students that transferred OUT of the school that you’re interested in. You’re going to hear about all the positive stuff from the school. You’re going to see the school, read the guidebooks, and talk to the tour guide who loves the school. They’re extreme lovers of the school. You’re going to get the positive side but you’re not going to get the negative side… But the only way you can make a real decision is if you know both sides… You shouldn’t be afraid of hearing the negative side.

With that said, let’s learn from people who transferred OUT of Brown:

Eugenie, who ended up transferring to Stanford, was disappointed by both the social scene and academics at Brown. The Department of Physics was particularly disappointing.

Sarena transferred to the University of Pennsylvania because Brown couldn’t meet her academic needs. Despite Brown’s relative academic freedom, she wasn’t allowed to create her own major with an ideal mix of psychology, communications, and marketing. At Penn, on the other hand, she’s satisfied with the pre-professional options in the academics.

One reason David transferred out of Brown was that he “felt that the University had too much of a liberal political bias.” He wanted a school with “a more open political atmosphere and a stronger sense of community”

(To read the full articles from the Brown Daily Herald featuring the above students, go here and here.)

So, should you apply to transfer to that college you’ve been thinking about?

Use this case study as an example. Delve deep and you’ll find your answer.