How to Transfer to an Ivy League School

January 30, 2024

transfer to an ivy league school

If partway through college, you realize that a different school would be a better fit, this is by no means a failure on your part. There are many valid reasons why students transfer to different schools, including Ivy League schools. If you are considering a transfer to an Ivy League school (Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Princeton, Brown, UPenn, Cornell, or Dartmouth), it’s important to prepare, since getting into these colleges is no easy feat. Continue reading for possible reasons for transferring, Ivy League transfer rates, and some useful tips for the transfer application process.

Reasons for transferring to a different college or university

If you’re thinking of transferring to an Ivy League college, perhaps you’re finding that your current college or university is not challenging enough, or that graduating from an Ivy League school could increase your career opportunities. Aside from prestige, there are a number of other reasons why students might decide to transfer colleges. Here are some common ones:

A specific opportunity

Perhaps halfway through freshman year, you realize you want to pursue a major that your current college doesn’t offer, or a different university offers an opportunity to work in a specific lab or take on a prestigious internship that could help with your career. If your current college cannot offer you opportunities that fit with your long-term academic and career goals, it’s worth considering a transfer.

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Campus environment

Some students transfer because they desire a different campus environment, whether this means switching from a giant state university to a small liberal arts school, or moving from a college in a sleepy town to one in a bustling city. It’s important to study in a place that feels manageable, and this means something different for each student. Even if you seemed to like a college’s atmosphere when you toured the campus in high school, you are constantly changing, so don’t be too hard on yourself if your needs also change.

Mental health

Maybe you dread going to class, or maybe you feel lonely and uncomfortable interacting in social life on campus. It could be that you should explore other majors or try participating in different student organizations. If you experience mental health challenges (loneliness, anxiety, and depression, for example), you may also want to visit the school counselor or an outside mental health professional. However, the problem might also relate to the campus environment or available concentrations. Perhaps you are under-challenged by the coursework, or the social scene is just not right for you. If you just don’t feel good on campus, it could be worth exploring options elsewhere.

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If you feel lonely or alienated on your college campus, another reason could be that the school just doesn’t fit with your values. Perhaps you need a more diverse student body, or less Greek life, or a campus culture that reflects your political beliefs, to truly feel at home. Maybe you would feel more comfortable at a college with a religious affiliation, or alternatively, would rather attend a more secular institution. There’s no right or wrong answer—it’s important for many students to attend a college that aligns with their values.

So, how difficult is it to transfer to an Ivy League school?

Admissions statistics show that Ivy League acceptance rates for transfer students are generally lower than for freshman applicants. Especially at Ivy League colleges, very few spots open up for new students to enter. At UPenn, the normal undergrad acceptance rate is 7%, and the transfer acceptance rate is 5.2%. However, sometimes the numbers are a bit more hopeful for transfer applicants. At Columbia, the current undergrad acceptance rate is 3.9%, while in 2022, the transfer acceptance rate was 11.3% (though most years, it is under 10%). So, transferring can be pretty difficult, but don’t lose hope. Here are the statistics for each school, based on recent admissions statistics and ranked based on transfer acceptance rate:

Harvard University

  • Normal acceptance rate: 3.5%
  • Transfer acceptance rate: .86%

Yale University

  • Normal acceptance rate: 4.5%
  • Transfer acceptance rate: 1.6%

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Princeton University

  • Normal acceptance rate: 4.4%
  • Transfer acceptance rate: 2.9%

Brown University

  • Normal acceptance rate: 5.0%
  • Transfer acceptance rate: 4.1%

University of Pennsylvania

  • Normal acceptance rate: 5.9%
  • Transfer acceptance rate: 5.2%

Dartmouth College

  • Normal acceptance rate: 6.2%
  • Transfer acceptance rate: 7.3%

Columbia University

  • Normal acceptance rate: 3.9%
  • Transfer acceptance rate: 11.3%

 Ivy League Transfer Rates (Continued)

Cornell University

  • Normal acceptance rate: 7.0%
  • Transfer acceptance rate: 13.8%

What steps should I take?

While the process of transferring is somewhat similar to applying as a first-year student, there are some differences in how you should prepare. Because you are transferring for a specific reason, it’s important that you keep this reason at the forefront as you choose which Ivy League colleges to apply for and craft your written statements.

Begin the search

First of all, why do you want to transfer to an Ivy League school? Is it for a particular department or professor? A research opportunity? Check to see which schools have that special thing you’re looking for, and make a list of your top three or four choices. It’s not a bad idea to meet with an advisor or admissions consultant for guidance as you organize which schools you will apply for.

Understand the logistics

Since you will likely need to transfer credits from one institution to the next, as you search, make sure you have a clear understanding of the bureaucratic processes so you can graduate on time. Different schools have different policies for transfer students, from course credits to campus housing, so you may want to keep an organized spreadsheet on these factors.

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Consider retaking the SAT/ACT

Even though Ivy League schools are now standardized-test optional, it could be a good idea to retake the SAT or ACT if you think you will score in the upper half of the range for admitted students (for example, at Princeton University, the middle SAT range for math is 780-800 and for reading/writing is 760, so if you score lower than this, it may be wise to leave your scores out of the application).

Visit campuses

Once you have your top choices, if you can, visit the campuses to get a better sense of the atmosphere and community. These visits are a chance to tour the campus, sit in on classes, attend events, and chat with current students. Consider visiting schools even if they aren’t at the top of your list. How you feel once you’re on campus could surprise you.

Write updated essays

Your transfer application will include a personal statement (not so different from your common app essay) and school-specific supplement essays.

The personal statement is an open-ended opportunity to share your personality, strengths, and values. For this essay, applicants often focus on significant moments or extracurricular interests. Make sure to be genuine, write with clarity, and trust your intuition. Don’t try too hard to be “unique” (complex stylization and niche references shouldn’t get in the way of what you’re saying). Do write about what truly matters to you.

The school-specific supplement essays explain why you want to join a specific campus community. In these essays, you should essentially explain why you chose your current school and why you want to transfer to this one. Though the reason for transferring might be negative, challenge yourself to shine a positive light on the decision. Root your explanation in your values and true experiences. Try to be specific about the values and opportunities offered at this institution (though there are similarities across Ivy League colleges, there are also many differences—don’t let your essays become generic!) As with the personal statement, avoid theatricality and overcomplication.

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Provide letters of recommendation

Most Ivy League schools require two letters of recommendation, and it’s a good idea to choose professors at your current school who are most familiar with your work. Make sure that these recommenders can write from personal experiences about your coursework and achievements. When you ask for these letters, provide plenty of advance notice (assume your recommenders are very busy). In your request, include some information that will help them to write easily (attach an updated CV or alternative list of achievements, along with the specific application details).

If possible, take the interview

Some schools may contact you for an interview, most likely conducted by alumni. If this happens, do your best to take it. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, most of these interviews happen online, so you won’t need to travel far. These interviews tend to be conversational, and they provide an opportunity to fill in gaps, mentioning topics that weren’t included in your written application. Be sure to research the specifics of the university ahead of time and prepare a few questions for the interviewer. Though they’re great opportunities to let your personality shine and include some extra tidbits, these interviews are largely informational.

Remember to stay engaged where you are

So, you’ve decided to leave your current school. Maybe you have decided the campus environment and/or the courses are bad fits. However, it’s still important to keep up with your coursework and extracurricular activities at this institution, as best you can. Especially if you’re applying to transfer to a competitive college like an Ivy League, you will need to show evidence of excellent grades and clear contributions to your campus community, whether through student organizations or volunteer work.

How to Transfer to an Ivy League School – Final Thoughts 

While it’s difficult to get into an Ivy League school as a transfer (with a few exceptions, more difficult than as a first-year), if you know that an Ivy League would help you achieve your short- and long-term goals, it’s worth applying. We hope that this article has provided some useful tips on the specifics of the transfer application process. Check out these articles for more information on transfer admission rates and the eight Ivy League schools.