Are There “Transfer Friendly” Colleges Out There?


(Photo: lissalou66)

Yes, there are “transfer friendly” colleges out there. When deciding on which schools to apply to transfer to, it’s worth taking a few minutes to check out a wide range of the schools you might be interested in applying to (before you start narrowing it down) and to think about two points: (1) the school’s interest in accepting transfer students and (2) what support the school provides for transfers.

(1) Does the school actively court transfer students or not?

The first point can help you to decide if the school is within your reach. A school’s admission rate can be a good start if you have absolutely no idea of your chances. As an example, let’s look up Vanderbilt’s transfer acceptance rate:

  • Go to
  • Under ‘Search by college name’, type ‘Vanderbilt’
  • Click on ‘Admission’
  • Look at the data under ‘Transfer Students’

In 2008, 533 students applied to transfer and 298 were accepted. That means that 55.9% of all fall transfer applicants were accepted. That’s huge! Compare that to, say, Stanford’s 2008 transfer acceptance rate of 2.1%. Just judging from this basic information, it looks like Vanderbilt might be a school that’s really interested in taking in transfer students.

[UPDATE: We added Fall 2008 transfer acceptance rates at 50 top colleges here. You can also get there by clicking on the “Stats” tab at the top of the page.]

The transfer acceptance rate of a school is only part of the story, however: what if a lot of students that entered as freshmen simply left Vanderbilt in later years, thus opening up all those spaces for transfers? In this case, the high transfer acceptance rate could be less about the transfer friendliness of the school and more about the school simply having a lot of space to fill.

The truth looks like it’s somewhere in between. In an article in Vanderbilt’s student newspaper, the high transfer acceptance rate is in large part due to Vanderbilt completing a special residence hall that all freshman are required to live in. That residence hall, however, can fit 40-60 less freshmen than the normal freshman class and those 40-60 slots can now be filled by transfer students. The article does, however, also quote a dean there who has some very good things to say about transfer students. So the higher transfer acceptance rate is due both to a welcoming policy toward transfers, as well as some space opening up.

Should the transfer acceptance rate affect your decision to apply to a school? Ideally, not too much. Whether or not you apply to a school should really be based on what you’re looking for in a school (whether it has a strong department in your chosen major, and offers you the opportunities and facilities you need to succeed) and whether or not your profile (interests, GPA, and, if applicable, test scores) fits what that school is looking for. If you are up to a school’s standards and have good reason to transfer to it (such as any of the many successful real stories mentioned in the book), the overall acceptance rate shouldn’t affect your approach too much either way. Again, just use the acceptance rate as a basic, first-sweep indicator of what schools might be more transfer friendly than others.

In practice, however, students love looking at the admissions rates, and it does affect where they apply to. I recently talked with Robert, who will attend the University of Pennsylvania as a transfer student beginning this fall (he did his freshman year at Northwestern):

Lan: You mentioned that Penn has a relatively high rate of transfer admission. Did that affect your decision to apply there? Did you think that applying there would increase your chances of getting accepted?

Robert: Yeah, actually I did. I originally wasn’t even going to apply to Penn, but my sister said, “You should apply to Penn. It’s known to have a good transfer rate.”

(2) Does the school offer some kind of support to transfers once they’re in?

One quick and basic way to find out is to see if there’s a student organization devoted to transfer students. Let’s look at how we can find out more about the level of transfer friendliness at Brown University:

  • Go to
  • To the right of ‘Life on Campus’, click on ‘Student Groups’
  • Click on ‘Browse Organizations’
  • Scroll through the list or try searching for ‘transfer’
  • You’ll find ‘Organization of Transfer Students, Brown (BOTS)’

Under this organization’s name, there’s even the email address of the group contact. This person is very likely a transfer student (and possibly a transfer counselor) who may be happy to provide answers to questions about transfer students at Brown.

I spoke with Bryce, who transferred from Hampshire College to Brown University. She was heavily involved in the Brown Organization of Transfer Students, serving as a student-counselor to new transfer students. She said that Brown has a great transfer community. She explained that when she came in as a sophomore, the message was: “Just acclimate yourself to Brown and just pretend like you never transferred. Just pretend that you’re the same as everyone else.”

However, she and several other transfer students worked hard to create a stronger support system for transfers. The message then became: “You’re a transfer student and that’s part of your identity as a Brown student. You should celebrate that and take part in the transfer community. Make it a part of your experience rather than try to ignore it.” If you’re someone that wants a little extra support once you’re in as a transfer student, a transfer environment like the one at Brown might be for you.

For more information on what a really transfer-friendly environment would look like, check out our in-depth spotlight on the College of William & Mary.

You can follow the above steps to dig up even more info on schools you’re interested in. This is the second college you’ll be going to. Now that you’re older and wiser, take the time to do the research to find a school that’s really the best fit. There’s one out there for you. Happy researching!

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