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For various reasons, many college students choose to transfer schools after their freshman or sophomore year. According to Inside Higher Ed, over one third of college students transfer. These transfers occur when a student transitions from community college to a four-year university, as well as when students transfer from one four-year university to another. Transfers between universities occur due to academic, social, and location reasons. Growing competition in university admissions is another reason many consider transferring.

“The statistics around transferring are pretty shockingly high. It’s getting higher every year because admissions is getting more difficult, so kids are not getting into their first choice school and then thinking they can fix things once they start college,” said Mimi Doe, Co-founder of Top Tier Admissions.

There are many reasons for the rise in transfers, but getting into a school you want to go to as a transfer student takes more than submitting an application on a whim. Much of the transfer process is similar to applying to colleges as you did in high school, but there are some key differences. We talked to Doe about the process of transferring to another school, how to find a school that has what you’re lacking at your current school, and how to get into that school as a transfer.

Evaluate if transferring is the best option

Before you start researching and applying to schools, take a step back and decide if transferring is absolutely necessary. The transfer process will take up a fair amount of your time, and you will have to essentially start over socially and culturally at a new school. So, if the problem you’re having at your current school is fixable, it may be worth it to stick it out.

“Do a very clear assessment and a reality check of what it is that’s making you want to leave the school. Are you homesick? Are you missing your boyfriend or girlfriend? Do you have a lousy roommate? These are all factors that one can work with versus leaving,” said Doe.

It’s also important to keep in mind that the admissions for transfer students is even more restrictive than it usually is for incoming freshmen. So, if you’re re-applying to a school you didn’t get into the first time around, your chances for getting in tend to be lower than they were before.

“If the reason you want to transfer is because you didn’t get into Harvard and you’re at Cornell, but you still want to try one more time to get into Harvard, save your time and save your money and shift your attitude, because Harvard only admits 15 [transfers]. You were denied and nothing’s changed since you applied,” said Doe.

Finally, there are valid social or location reasons for transferring. For example, you may be at a school that is largely dominated by Greek life and you want to focus your energies elsewhere, or you don’t feel safe on an urban campus. However, Doe explained that you will usually want to apply to schools as a transfer student on academic terms. So keep this in mind, and do deep research into academics when applying to other universities.

“In terms of getting in as transfer student, you have to build a very clear case on what the academic reasons are for transferring,” said Doe, who said that explaining to admissions officers what you don’t like at your current school is not a good strategy for admittance.

Finding the right school

If you’ve determined you definitely want to transfer, there are a few bases you’ll want to cover. First, do your research. If you have an academic reason for transferring, pinpoint what exactly that is. For example, say your major is being phased out, or Doe gave the example of a student who has developed a passion for Renaissance literature, and their university does not offer much depth in this subject.

Once you’ve pinpointed this specific academic lack at your current university, research colleges that offer what you’re looking for. If you want to make sure your credits will transfer (which is ideal), include this in your research. This specific academic reason will help you find in another college what you’re currently lacking, and this applies to other reasons you may have for transferring. For example, if you are transferring due to location, focus on finding the location that you want when looking at other campuses.

You will also want to use other search and application strategies for finding a new school that you perhaps didn’t use when applying to colleges as a high schooler.

“You want to use the same discernment that you did when you were looking for colleges the first time, and you certainly want to cast a wide net. Expand your reach,” said Doe.

Essentially, don’t take the process lightly or you may not find what you’re looking for in a new college. If you are transferring because you are at your “safety school” and regret that, make sure to apply to schools that are more realistic for you to be admitted to. Find data on the profile of admitted students to find out how likely it is that you will be admitted.

When you’ve narrowed down your search to a few schools you’re seriously interested in, be proactive about “getting to know” the school. Do a campus visit, meet with students there who are studying what you’re interested in studying, sit in on classes, and meet with the director of the department you’re interested in if possible. If you have friends who are currently students at the school, ask to stay the weekend. “You really want to be an entrepreneur of your process. You want to literally craft a way to find out what it is at that school that would work for you,” said Doe.

See also: What to Look for When Visiting College Campuses–And How to Get the Most Out Of It

Getting into the college as a transfer student

Your application to colleges as a transfer student will be structurally similar to the applications you submitted as a high schooler, except your time in college to date will factor into the process.

Admissions officers at your prospective college are going to look at your academics, engagement, and involvement at both your high school and current college. So, make sure you haven’t “checked out” of the university you’re at now. Take fairly rigorous courses your freshman year, as a light course load will not reflect well on your applications. You may also want to consider retaking standardized tests if your scores aren’t up to par, as this will again be a factor.

It’s also a good idea to get involved in some way. If you don’t want to get involved on campus, get involved in your community in your specific areas of interest by joining clubs or volunteering. Showing that you’ve engaged with your community or campus will help your cause.

Your application will also probably require one or two essays, but a typical essay question for this will be something along the lines of, “Why are you transferring?” This is where your research comes in.

“Whatever it is, you really need to be able to convince them that you’re coming to their college for a specific academic reason, not because you couldn’t get along in your past school. They want kids with community involvement, they want bridge builders, they want kids who are going to embrace the academics,” said Doe.

Finally, you will most likely be asked to provide recommendations.

“At least one letter of recommendation from a faculty member is asked by most transfer applications, so you need to get to know your professors early on your freshman year,” said Doe.

As shown by the statistics, many students don’t start and end at the same school, and that’s okay and often allows students to excel when they find their fit. However, take the time to make sure it’s the right decision. If you decide transferring is right for you, put in the work to do your research and strengthen your application, so you can feel confident in your journey to a new institution.