easiest universities to transfer to

Last Updated on December 15, 2022 by Omoyeni Adeniyi

Transferring from one school to another is a wise or even necessary choice for many students, but it’s not without obstacles. College transfer acceptance rates are actually lower than freshman acceptance rates, meaning competition is higher.

This might sound like it’s cause for alarm, but, like applying as a freshman, it just means you need to be prepared.

For millions of students, the path to a degree isn’t a straight shot through a single college. In fact, more than a third of undergrads transfer schools at least once.

Despite its prevalence, however, transferring can prove tricky—particularly to take the credits you’ve already earned with you.

A 2014 report from the National Center for Education Statistics found that students who transferred lost an average of 13 credits, equal to nearly an entire semester’s worth of tuition. And a recent U.S. Government Accountability Office study showed that students who transferred between public schools lost an estimated 37% of their credits. Transfers between private colleges or a public and a private, which are less common, resulted in even more lost credits.

The hurdles associated with transferring credits can affect how long it takes and how much it costs to earn a degree. So MONEY used newly available federal data on completion rates for transfer students to highlight colleges where transfer students are succeeding in large numbers.

We started with our 2018 Best Colleges ranking, a list of 727 colleges that provide an ideal combination of educational quality, affordability, and alumni success. For this list, we then eliminated any college that ranked in the bottom half and any where transfer students in the fall of 2017 comprised less than 15% of enrollment—the median among MONEY’s ranked colleges. Data released last year show that transfer students as a group earn degrees at a higher rate than their first-time peers, so we also removed any colleges where transfer students completed at a lower rate than their peers. Finally, we ranked the colleges based on a combination of the 4-year and 6-year graduation rate for transfer students, as well as the share of transfer students on campus.

You’ll notice California colleges dominate our list below. That’s not surprising: the state’s two four-year college systems have a clearly defined pathway for community college students, supported by a statewide set of general education courses that will transfer between institutions. Other states, like Florida, top California for transfer-friendliness by also requiring statewide course numbering and guaranteeing admission to a public four-year college for students who start at community colleges.

If you think you may transfer, try to plan early to ensure the courses you take will count, and keep your grades up. More than eight in 10 college admissions officers said overall GPA at a prior college was of “considerable importance” for acceptance of transfer students, compared to just 10% who rated standardized test scores as important, according to an annual survey from the National Association for College Admissions Counseling.

Acceptance rates for transfer students are sometimes higher than that for first-time applicants. But all of the colleges below are still highly competitive. Five of the top 10 are rated as “very” difficult to get into as a transfer student, according to Peterson’s Undergraduate Database, meaning more than 50% of all students were in the top 10% of their high school class.

If you need or want to transfer but aren’t sure where to go, check out some of the colleges with the best transfer acceptance rates.

Why Is the Acceptance Rate Lower for Transfer Students?

Knowing the reasons transfer acceptance rates are lower will help you better understand what schools are looking for. You can address these concerns about transfer students in your essay, demonstrating that you’re a great candidate. Don’t panic—it’s not impossible to be a successful transfer student!

Because transfer students have already proven that they can succeed in a college setting, it seems counterintuitive that their acceptance rates would be lower. However, due to a lack of information on transfer student graduation rates as well as many misconceptions about transfer students, it’s only recently that colleges have begun to court them.

In the past, many colleges assumed that accepting transfer students would lower graduation rates. The truth is that transfer students and students who start at a four-year school have the same graduation rate of 60%.

The difference is that only 28% of community college students overall graduate within four years, and 60% of them never transfer. The low graduation and transfer rates might signal to colleges that community college students in particular aren’t ready for four-year education, despite their graduation rate being the same as that of four-year students.

Transfer students also tend to take more time to graduate, which is often because they aren’t enrolled full-time—many work or care for families while in school. Another common belief among colleges was that students who attended community college instead of a four-year university right after high school did so because they weren’t ready for a four-year education academically.

As time has gone on, studies have shown that even top-scoring community college students don’t move on to four-year schools, suggesting that it’s not academic readiness, but rather some other obstacle—money being one of the biggest.

Many transfer students are at lower income brackets than students who enroll directly at four-year universities. Low-income students typically have lower enrollment rates, but without surveying students directly, colleges might have assumed that transfer students just weren’t ready for universities.

In fact, one of the many reasons that transfer school enrollment was lower for low-income students is that many schools lacked scholarships and grants for incoming transfers, raising the financial burden.

Coupled with many credits not transferring and therefore requiring more classes at a higher cost, the financial burden on low-income students was simply too high for a long time. However, things are changing—many schools have created pathways for students to move from community college to four-year schools with few obstacles.

Good news! College transfer acceptance rates are improving!

Why Are College Transfer Acceptance Rates Changing?

There are a couple reasons that colleges are now beginning to accept transfer students at higher rates.

One of the largest is that undergraduate enrollment has decreased, leaving more room for transfer students to take those spots. With lower undergrad enrollment, colleges need to find a way to make up the difference, and two years of tuition from a transfer student is more beneficial to colleges than having no tuition at all.

But an even bigger reason is that elite colleges have a reputation as having largely homogeneous student bodiesPrinceton admitted its first transfer students recently, which serves to add diversity to a college typically seen as white and wealthy.

So though admission rates for transfer students are lower than rates for freshmen, that doesn’t mean you’re up against insurmountable odds. The processes for transfer students are changing, and planning ahead will protect you from many of the common obstacles transfer students run into.

How Many Transfer Students Get In?

Transfer acceptance rates vary among schools. Some, like Princeton, are just now beginning to accept transfer students after decades of having policies against them. Almost half of all college students enroll in two-year public schools, and 37% of all college students transfer at some point in their education.

According to the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), in 2010 the transfer acceptance rate was 64% overall. In the last eight years, however, significant strides have been made to simplify the process for transfer students of all kinds.

Of all two-year college students who transfer, some 42% go on to earn a bachelor’s degree—a substantial increase over the number of all two-year college students (around 13%) who earn a bachelor’s degree. That’s actually slightly higher than the national average for earning a bachelor’s degree within four years.

However, just 33% of students transfer within six years, extending the time they spend in school.

Again, while all this looks bleak, it’s important to note that things are improving. With programs designed to smooth the process for transfer students by providing transparency about credit transfer, more financial assistance, and more interest in courting these students, rates are improving overall.

body_college-9If you want this to be your study space, plan early.

Which Schools Have the Highest Transfer Acceptance Rates?

Planning to transfer colleges is much like planning to attend a four-year school straight out of high school. You should develop a list of potential colleges to transfer to so that you can attend the school that best suits your needs—and having a variety of schools with different transfer acceptance rates is a great way to do that.

Because there used to be some stigma that transfer students weren’t ready for a four-year education, there’s sometimes an assumption that transferring prevents you from getting into good schools.

Though many Ivy League colleges do have extremely limited transfer programs, there are still many top universities that readily accept transfer applications. In fact, one of them (UCLA) is both a top-ranked school and one of the biggest accepters of transfer students.

The majority of college applicants are high school seniors, and most of the college application advice out there is aimed at them. But what do you do if you don’t fall into this narrow category? Our eBook on how to prepare for and apply to college as a nontraditional student will walk you through everything you need to know, from the coursework you should have under your belt to how to get letters of recommendation when you’re not a high school senior.

20 Schools That Accept the Most Transfer Students

The biggest reason some schools have higher transfer percentages is that they’ve instituted programs to make that pathway easier. Often, these schools will partner with local community colleges through articulation agreements, which help ensure that more credits transfer appropriately.

The following schools take some of the most transfer students in the US. The schools are arranged from highest number of transfer students admitted to lowest.

SchoolTransfer Acceptance RateNumber of Transfer Students Admitted
UMD University College99%17,902
San Francisco State University78%12,462
CSU Long Beach33%11,128
CSU Northridge53%10,859
CSU Los Angeles51%10,811
University of Central Florida67%10,009
UC Davis55%9,764
Florida International University75%9,690
Cal Poly Pomona59%9,352
CSU Fullerton36%8,997
San Jose State University53%8,982
University of Houston91%8,299
University of South Florida62%5,842
UCLA24%5,770
San Diego State University19%5,046
Texas State University81%4,717
University of North Texas64%4,490
University of Texas at Arlington69%4,199
CSU Sacramento67%3,579
Liberty University55%2,711

UMD University College, which has a whopping transfer acceptance rate of 99%, has partnerships with all 16 community colleges in the state, as well as 90 more throughout the US.

Likewise, the University of Central Florida has a variety of programs intended to make the transfer process smoother, including guaranteed admission for students at many colleges.

If you can, find a school partnered with your current college to make the entire transfer process easier. Instead of worrying about classes that don’t match up and lost credits, you’ll know which courses you need to take and when.

If these programs aren’t available, you’ll have to make your own. Do as much research as you can as early as possible to avoid losing credits or running into other obstacles while trying to transfer schools.

Top schools are taking more transfer students today than they did in the past.

Transfer Rates at Top 20 Schools

Just like acceptance rates at top universitiestransfer rates to schools such as Princeton and Harvard are very low.

Princeton previously accepted no transfer students at all, but since 2017 has been accepting just a handful of students per year. Princeton isn’t the only one—more and more schools are increasing their outreach to college transfer students.

Here are the transfer acceptance rates at the US News top-ranked national universities:

SchoolRankingTransfer Acceptance RateNumber of Transfer Students Admitted
Princeton University1⁠<1%13
Harvard University2<1%15
Columbia University36%168
MIT34%23
Yale University31%24
Stanford University61%27
University of Chicago65%48
University of Pennsylvania67%205
Northwestern University915%316
Duke University10<5%26
Johns Hopkins University109%122
Caltech121%3
Dartmouth College121%11
Brown University148%152
University of Notre Dame1522%198
Vanderbilt University1525%393
Cornell University1717%892
Rice University1710%54
Washington U in St. Louis1920%240
UCLA2024%5,770

These top schools are selective but definitely not impossible to get into. Vanderbilt has a 25% acceptance rate for transfer students, and UCLA takes more than 5,000 transfer students per year, despite its acceptance rate of just 24%.

Though you’ll need to be truly exceptional to make it into Harvard or Princeton as a transfer student, that’s also true of applying straight out of high school. If you want to make it into the Ivy League, plan early and make your application stand out, and always apply to multiple schools.

With a strong enough application, you’ll have your choice of schools to pick from, regardless of how low or high their acceptance rates are.

body_confident-2Get your application in order and you’ll be feeling great about transferring.

How to Boost Your Transfer Acceptance Chances: 4 Tips

Even though all this information can help you better understand the transfer process, acceptance isn’t just up to luck. With lower acceptance rates overall, you’ll need a highly polished application to stand apart from everybody else.

#1: Prepare Early

The #1 thing you can do to make your transfer process easier is to start early.

If you’re attending community college, begin thinking about what schools you’ll want to transfer to and work with an advisor to create an academic plan. If you’re transferring for other reasons, such as a program change or because you’re in the military, start doing some research right away.

It’s far better to do some unnecessary work in looking up school requirements than to realize your credits won’t transfer and there’s no way to fix it. The sooner you start, the more time you have to create a transfer plan that’s going to benefit you in the long run.

#2: Coordinate With Transfer Schools

The easiest way to transfer schools is to find a school that’s part of an articulation agreement with your current college. These agreements mean there are already clear guidelines for what courses transfer and which don’t, eliminating some of the hassle and worry for you.

If there’s no articulation agreement and your schools aren’t in contact with each other, then see whether your new school has a transfer department you can coordinate with. The more information you can get for what credits will transfer and which won’t, the better off you’ll be.

Getting in touch early, even if you’re not accepted, can give you a clearer idea of what your next college will expect and help you plan out your time at your current school more efficiently.

#3: Treat Your Application As If You’re a Freshman

While it might seem as though transfer students should have an edge in college admissions since they already have some experience, that’s not necessarily true.

Don’t assume you’re going to have an easier time applying—treat your application with the same care and thoughtfulness you would if you were a freshman trying to make your first good impression.

The further removed you are from high school, the less your high school grades and test scores matter. You can replace them with college grades if you have them. Your letters of recommendation should be from college professors rather than high school teachers, as well.

But keep in mind that admissions is still competitive and you’ll need to make an effort to stand out. Take your application seriously, and treat it as if they won’t be impressed by your prior experience as a college student—they should be impressed by you and your journey as a student, not just that you have college courses under your belt.

#4: Write a Great Essay

Essays aren’t the most important factor when transferring schools, but they are a great place to flesh out your application.

In your essay, address your reasons for transferring—but stay positive. Instead of framing any dissatisfaction with your current school as a negative (e.g., “The gym is old and crumbling, and there are no nice places to study on campus”), focus on the positives of the school you’re applying to (e.g., “[College]’s facilities consistently impress me—it’s not hard to see myself making friends on the tennis court or curling up with a book in the library”).

Follow all the best practices for writing college essays, but do be sure to fold in your own college experience if you can. Why transfer now? Why transfer to this school in particular? What have you learned from your time in college, and what do you hope to learn in the coming years of your program? You should be able to confidently answer all these questions, even if they don’t come up in your essay.

What’s Next?

Getting your transfer application in order can be confusing. What do you need? What don’t you need? This guide has all the info on whether or not you need your SAT scores to transfer.

Even if you don’t dream of attending an Ivy League, a Harvard-worthy application will make you a shoo-in for other colleges. Learn more about crafting an amazing Ivy League application!

Transfer students need to be just as judicious about choosing the right college as those entering college right out of high school. You’ll need a good list of schools to apply to, and this guide can help!

Tips on How to transfer into an elite college

Trying to calculate your chances of gaining acceptance into an elite college or university through the transfer admissions process is about as easy as handicapping a cat race. Unlike the regular admissions process, there is enough fluctuation in admission-related variables from year-to-year to make even the best prognosticator about as accurate as Miss Cleo (RIP).

If you find yourself pining to gain acceptance as a transfer into an elite college or university, be prepared to enter an impossible-to-predict game. Dartmouth’s recent history demonstrates this truth quite well. In the last few years, the transfer admissions rate has bounced from 0.5% (in 2017) to as high as 4.1% (in 2019-20) as they have accepted between a handful and two-dozen students per year. On average, a transfer applicant to a prestigious school will face poorer odds than a typical applicant for undergraduate admission. For example, Stanford accepts just 1.1% of transfers versus 4.4% of freshmen. The University of Chicago takes in 5.4% of transfer applicants compared to 7.3% of regular applicants. Washington and Lee, which admits 21% of freshman applicants, typically welcomes just 3-5% of transfer hopefuls.

That being said, if you’re dead-set on exiting your current institution for greener pastures, there are five strategies you can employ to improve your likelihood of success:

Tip #1: Do your research

While it is impossible to predict the transfer process on any given admissions cycle, you may be pleasantly surprised to learn that there are a fair number of selective schools known to be “transfer-friendly.” Wesleyan University typically enrolls approximately 60 transfers each fall and 15 each spring. Boston University sports a higher admission rate for transfers (42%) than regular applicants (21%). Many top-notch state universities including all schools in the University of California system, UNC—Chapel Hill, Clemson, and UVA offer similarly generous rates to transfer applicants. Baylor, Southern Methodist, American, Kenyon, and Skidmore are additional private institutions that sport significantly higher transfer acceptance rates than freshman acceptance rates.

Tip #2: Grades are king

Simply put, if you are looking to transfer to a competitive school, your college transcript, embryonic as it may be, needs to sparkle. If you are looking to transfer as a college freshman, your high school grades, especially those from senior year will take center stage. Candidates that had strong SATs but poor high school grades can no longer sell their “potential.” A 1490 SAT score and a 1.9 GPA your freshman year of college does not paint an appetizing student profile. Even if you are unhappy at your current school, put every ounce of effort into achieving stellar grades. It will be your best ticket onto the campus of your dreams.

Tip #3: Professor recommendations matter

As a student with aspirations to transfer into an elite university, chances are you stood out from the crowd in the eyes of at least one professor. In seeking letters of recommendation, target professors who took note of your eagerness to contribute to class discussions, your regular appearances at office hours for the purposes of seeking help and/or engaging in further intellectual discussion, or your research/term paper that ultimately received a very high mark.

If possible, you are seeking more than just a generic “He/She got an ‘A’ in my class” type of recommendation letter. If you are presently just beginning your college experience at a community or non-top choice school with the aim of transferring to a prestigious college next year, make it a point to exhibit these type of attributes as each semester unfolds. Remember that the goal is to leave a lasting impression. While your professor may ultimately be sad for their institution to lose a student of your caliber, chances are they will be more than happy to assist you in following your academic dreams.

Tip #4: How to approach transfer application essays

There are two main things that you want to highlight in a transfer admissions essay: 1) Why your prospective transfer school is a perfect fit for you; and 2) What unique attributes and talents you will bring to campus.

Share with your prospective new academic home what makes them attractive and unique. Smaller class size, a particular academic program, a more diverse environment, or even proximity to home are just a sampling of the legitimate selling points you can offer. Mention specific courses that you are eager to take at their institution, certain distinguished professors who you desire to study under, and unique clubs, activities, or campus traditions in which you are excited to partake. Take advantage of this chance to impress admissions officers with you expansive knowledge of their institution as well as a highly-specific accounting of how you will take advantage of your time there. Doing so will separate you from the pack of similarly-qualified transfer applicants.

This is also a perfect opportunity to demonstrate your record of involvement on campus. It is far easier to sell yourself as someone who will be a contributing member of the campus community if you displayed these qualities at your previous college. Students with an eye on transferring are sometimes so focused on escaping their first institution that they fail to become involved in anything outside of the classroom and thus miss out on valuable opportunities to demonstrate leadership and passion—the very traits needed to transfer to a prestigious school.

Tip #5: Craft a positive narrative

Make sure that the reasons that you communicate for wanting to transfer do not end up sounding like a nasty Yelp review of your present school. While you may want to leave College X because the professors are all centenarian windbags and your roommate is breeding skunks to sell on Craigslist (is there really a market for that?), remember that the school to which you are applying wants to feel wanted. Think about it; would you rather listen to your girlfriend/boyfriend rant about their ex or hear them tell you what makes you awesome. Admissions officers considering a transfer student feel the same way.

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