Many college freshmen had a challenging first semester of college. It was hard being away, classes were not as interesting or easy as expected, friendships were hard to make and activities hard to find. They came home moaning and groaning, and many want to transfer to another college. Yet for potential transfer students, freshman year is junior year of high school all over again. Colleges want active, engaged, successful students. So students need to take freshman year as seriously as possible. Depressed freshmen are not powerful transfer candidates, and in fact, when students get more engaged on campus, they end up wanting to stay at their original college.
Yet if students want to transfer, there are things they must do to maximize their chances of success in transferring and ideally finding happiness at their current college.
1. Successful freshman year grades. Grades are the primary factor in transferring, and if a student does not do well first semester, transferring sophomore year is nearly impossible. Also high school matters, especially senior year grades.
2. Correct selection of classes. Students who plan to transfer should be very selective in the classes they take. They should be taking as many general core classes as possible so that they can transfer these classes into their next college. Each college has its own transfer requirements. Many students avoid classes first year such as math or a second English class. If students are not sure if classes count, they must contact colleges, which may want to see syllabi and course descriptions.
3. Engagement and involvement on and off campus. Colleges want engaged and active students. So freshmen need to be active. Ideally they worked or did something substantial the summer after senior year of high school. Ideally students joined activities and did internships or volunteer work their freshman fall. Ideally they are working or volunteering during the holidays.. Transfer colleges want students to be very involved in their college experience. I recommend at least two activities fall and spring, a winter job or volunteer work. Students can get internships, join a fraternity or sorority, but no matter what they must be active.
4. Happiness and focus. Colleges want happy students, not sad or depressed students. Many kids forget to exercise. High schools mandated sports or they were on varsity teams. When they get to college, they don't exercise, and that exacerbates depression. So join a team-intramural or club. Go for a run. Do yoga. Find ways to get involved. Follow a passion and join a singing group; volunteer at a local school; go to a campus sporting event. Many students may need to speak with a professional who can guide them through this challenging time.
5. Major readiness. Most colleges want transfer students to come in knowing what their intended major is. Some will accept undeclared sophomores, but no matter what, students need to be making some progress towards their major. They can explore their major academically as many colleges have major prerequisites and extracurriculary through volunteer work or internships. Take advantage of your career center, get a job, talk to a professor about research, or do volunteer work related to your major.
6. Tracking of all application requirements. Transferring is more complex than freshman year as each college has its own transfer requirements that no master application -- not even the Common Application -- tracks. So you need to go to each college's admissions website and collect transfer deadlines and requirements. For example some schools want test scores no matter what, while others waive them if a minimum number of units are completed. Students will also need to submit transcripts from their high schools and colleges. They need to find out how each one sends these out. Students will also need to put in an adviser's or counselor's contact information. They may not know their adviser at a larger institution, but need to find someone for application purposes only. At a smaller institution, students will know advisers. They may not need to explain anything, but if they do, they should white lie and not lay blame on the current campus.
7. Campus visits and transfer representatives. All campuses have dedicated admissions officers for transfer students. They are usually quite friendly and willing to speak with students -- never parents. Students can contact them via email and even visit them during campus visits. Also if possible, students should visit their transfer campuses --not only to demonstrate interest to the colleges but to also make sure they have want they want.
8. Leaves of absence. Colleges will allow you to take a leave of absence at no charge. Many students want to return after they transfer, so don't risk losing a spot by not taking a leave of absence.
9. Powerful applications. Applications are very important. Transfer essays are typically must more focused on reasons for a selected major and desire to transfer. Many colleges have supplemental questions. Spend time writing powerful essays that do not focus on unhappiness at your current college but rather what you want from your major and how you are working towards that right now.
Following these tips may just help freshmen get happier on their original campuses. For others, it may confirm that they want to transfer. Transferring works for many students who do well and are active. It is harder for those who are missing requirements, doing poorly in classes, and not engaged. Sometimes students may need to apply more than once, and earlier rejections do not usually affect later chances of transferring once transfer candidates strengthen their profiles.