Difference Between Transfer and Freshman Admission Rates

Are you looking to transfer to the university of your dreams? It is essential to practically evaluate your chances of acceptance as transfer admission rates differ considerably among the nation’s selective colleges and universities.

For instance, transfer students have accepted a rate lower than 2% at Harvard, Stanford, Yale, Princeton, Caltech, and a few other highly selective schools. Also, great schools like James Madison, Hofstra, Elon, University of Georgia, and Southern Methodist University all sport acceptance rates above 60%. 

The numbers in the table mentioned below offer a sortable database of first-year students vs. transfer admission rates.


*Data is gathered from various institution websites and Common Data Set (CDS) forms.

After one point transferring from one school to another is a necessary choice for many students, but it does not come easy. You have to face obstacles. College transfer acceptance rates are lower than freshman acceptance rates, which indicates that competition is higher.

If you need to transfer but are not sure where to go, look at some of the colleges with the best transfer acceptance rates.

What Makes The Acceptance Rate Lower for Transfer Students

If you know why transfer acceptance rates are lower, it will help you better understand what schools you are looking for. You can discuss these concerns about transfer students in your essay, proving that you are a great candidate. You do not have to worry. It is 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 and many misconceptions about transfer students, it's only recently that colleges have begun to court them.

Earlier, several colleges assumed that accepting transfer students would lower graduation rates. But the truth is that transfer student who starts 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% never transfer. 

Transfer students usually take more time to graduate, which is often because they are not enrolled full-time—many take up jobs while in school. Another common idea among colleges was that students who attended community college instead of a four-year university right after high school did so because they were not prepared for a four-year education academically.

Research has shown that even top-scoring community college students do not move on to four-year schools, suggesting that it is not academic readiness but rather some other problem—money being one of the biggest.

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

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.

Reasons Why College Transfer Acceptance Rates Are Changing?

There are many reasons that colleges are now starting to accept transfer students at higher rates.

One big reason is that undergraduate enrollment has decreased, leaving more room for transfer students to take that remaining place. 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 bodies. Princeton admitted its first transfer students recently, which adds diversity to a college typically seen as white and wealthy.

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

How Many Transfer Students Get In?

Transfer acceptance rates differ among universities. 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, vital steps have been made to ease transfer students of all kinds.

Of all two-year college students who transfer, about 42% 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 slightly higher than the national average for earning a bachelor's degree within four years.

However, just 33% of students transfer within six years, lengthening their time in school.

It is necessary to note that things are improving. With programs designed to downplay the process for transfer students by implementing transparency about credit transfer, more financial aid, and more interest in courting these students, rates are improving overall.

Schools With 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 move to so that you can follow the school that best suits your needs—and have 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 minimal 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.

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. 

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 various programs intended to make the transfer process smoother, including guaranteed admission for students at many colleges.

Tips to Improve Your Transfer Acceptance Chances

This all information can help you better understand the transfer process. Acceptance is not just about your luck. With lower acceptance rates overall, you will need a highly smooth application to stand apart from others.

 1: Prepare Early

The first thing you can do is to start early.

If you attend community college, start to think about what schools you will want to transfer to and work with an advisor to develop an academic plan. If you are moving for other reasons, such as a program change or because you are in the military, start doing some research right away.

It is much better to do some unnecessary work in looking up school requirements than to realize your credits would not transfer. The earlier you start, the more time you have to create a transfer plan that will benefit you in the long run.

2: Coordinate With Transfer Schools

The simple way to transfer schools is to find a school that's part of an articulation agreement with your current college. So, what precisely these agreements mean? These agreements are already clear guidelines for what courses transfer and don't, eliminating some of the hassles and worry for you.

If there is no articulation agreement and your schools are not in contact with each other, then see whether your new school has a transfer department you can coordinate with.

Even if you are not accepted, contacting early 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: See Your Application as If You are a Freshman

It might seem that transfer students should have an edge in college admissions since they already have some experience, which is not valid.

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 are 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 are not the most crucial factor when transferring schools, but they are a great place to flesh out your application.

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 move to this school in particular? What you learned from your time in college, and what 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.