How To Transfer to the Ivy League

Transferring to the Ivy League is a great college application strategy – especially now during the COVID-19 era when there is so much uncertainty in higher education. Many of the Ivy League schools recruit transfer students to add diversity and enhance the numbers of students in particular majors – including those that were undersubscribed in the last admissions cycle.

This Article Will Discuss The Following:

  1. Eligibility and Deadlines for Transferring
  2. Community College Transfer to the Ivy League
  3. Easiest Ivy League School for Transfer
  4. Ivy League Transfer Rates

Institutional priorities often dictate the number and type of transfer students each Ivy league school enroll but demographic and other characteristics like a multicultural or rural background, international or citizenship status, athletic participation, and of course, legacy status can strengthen your application.

How To Transfer to the Ivy League

Transfer students have even more unique experiences that show intellectual and extracurricular depth, something the Ivy League admissions officials look for in strong transfer applicants.

Demonstrating valid reasoning for shifting from one college to another could include the following:

  1. An applicant or their family needs to relocate to another place
  2. Applicant and family find the tuition fees and expenses expensive
  3. The applicant wants to change majors not available at the original college
  4. Applicant is not fulfilled with the teaching, experiential opportunities, structure, or mentoring
  5. Current college just doesn’t feel like the right fit
  6. Athletic transfer
  7. Military transfer

Some students transfer because they are unhappy with their first-choice college. More strategic applicants decided to transfer after improving their academic profile because their high school credentials didn’t meet the requirements.

It’s important to be realistic when assessing your chances of transfer acceptance since Ivy League transfer rates vary greatly among the most selective colleges and universities. Keep in mind, the Ivy League consists of eight (8) northeast colleges and universities known for some of the highest academic standards and the largest endowments.

According to recent rankings, all eight (8) place in the top of the 2020 U.S. News & World Report National Universities ranking, including four (4) Ivies in the top five. U.S. News consistently names Ivy League schools as the best national university.

As of 2020, Princeton was named eleven times, Harvard twice, and two (2) Ivies tied for 1st multiple times. In the 2020 U.S. News & World Report Best Global University Ranking, three (3) Ivies rank in the top 10 internationally (Harvard 1st, as expected).

Eligibility and Deadlines for Transferring

With these high rankings and impressive endowments, transferring to the Ivy League might seem impossible. Still, the key to transfer into the Ivy League is to understand what they’re looking for in transfer applicants.

Deadlines for transferring colleges

Because there are significantly fewer transfer applicants than regular first-year applicants, if you have done well in your first year or semester – depending on the college’s residency requirements, it’s actually easier to get into the Ivy League as a transfer student.

At the Ivy League schools that even admit small numbers of transfer students, they want applicants who have completed at least one year of full-time undergraduate course work. Harvard, Yale, and Brown also specify that transfer applicants should not have completed more than two years of full-time coursework at another institution.

The Ivy League schools generally admit transfer students as sophomores. Most selective colleges normally grant between 45 and 60 academic credits to transfer students. It’s important for prospective transfers to know that most Ivy League schools do not allow students with bachelor’s degrees to transfer. Dual enrollment credit from high school doesn’t qualify applicants as transfers; these students apply as first-time students instead of transfer students.

Transfer application process

At Solomon, our admissions consultants know those transfer students are super busy with full academic course loads, research projects, and extracurricular leadership activities, all while acclimating to a new environment and culture.

We work closely with our clients to develop detailed timelines because transfer applicants have less support than during high school, where guidance counselors and parent involvement were higher.

The timing of the transfer process can be confusing, so if you’re applying to transfer to an Ivy League school, make sure to keep track of deadlines to ensure you have the opportunity to enroll for your desired academic year and semester.

Some schools like the University of California (UC) system have only one transfer deadline for the year. Generally, the deadlines are between March 1st and May 1st for the fall term and between October 1 and November 15th for the spring term.

Testing policies – especially now during the COVID era, can really vary from school to school. Some Ivies have fully test-optional to recommended (Princeton) to test-optional if you meet a certain credit requirement (more than 60 credits), to requiring tests regardless of how many credits you have accrued (Columbia) – especially if you’ve tested previously and have submitted scores to the school previously.

Transferring from a Community College

Community College Transfer to the Ivy League

Many elite institutions are building transfer recruitment plans focused on nontraditional or mature undergraduate students and community college transfers. While these demographics have not always been an institutional priority, highly selective colleges like the Ivy League are starting to value the contributions of these communities of students.

Transferring from a community college can give you an even better chance at admission to the Ivy League because everyone loves an underdog. Some community colleges even have special agreements – or articulation agreements with the Ivy League, stating specific goals for community college transfer admissions.

Along with the hundreds of community college students who transfer each year, approximately one-quarter of current college students who start at four-year schools will transfer at some point.

Easiest Ivy League School for Transfer

Not surprisingly, transferring to Harvard, Yale, and even Brown University are some of the hardest Ivy schools for transfer. The colleges attribute their low acceptance rate to high retention rates meaning that students return for their second year at a high rate, so there is less space for transfer students in the school’s total enrollment plan.

Less selective colleges outside of the top tier schools have lower retention rates so they may have more spots to fill the next year.

Cornell University

Based on enrollment data over the last three years, Cornell University is the easiest Ivy League school to transfer into. To be eligible for transfer, you’ll need to have good grades and decent AP subject tests – now that most Ivy’s have test-optional policies.

The Ivy League colleges are more interested in how you did your first year or semester in college than anything you previously did in high school (including your SAT or ACT scores). Some Ivy League schools allow transfer students to apply for both the fall and spring semesters, like Brown.

However, other schools, like Yale and Princeton, limit applications from transfer students to the fall semester only. Harvard and Princeton Universities both have transfer admit rates of 1% – virtually impossible admission rates versus those more aligned with their first-year admission rates like Columbia and Brown that have only a 1% difference between the two types of admission rates.

This is where strategic positioning can add an advantage to those already low percentages. See below for the published transfer enrollment data for each of the Ivy League.

Ivy League Transfer Rates

Ivy League Transfer Rate

Our Ivy League admissions consultants have assisted students in transferring to Ivy League schools, who were previously rejected while high school seniors. Presenting yourself as a mature and academically focused transfer applicant is critical for a successful transfer strategy.

Crafting your best, most inspiring, and compelling story, your unique narrative is the key to a successful transfer. It’s also a must to detail your reasons for wanting to transfer to an Ivy League college, beyond the increased prestige or more desirable location.

Since you’ll be leaving your networks and any connections to your first school when applying for transfer, your narrative must include multiple valid and passionate reasons for transferring to a new school, program, and even city. And getting a 4.0 or better in your first year is the icing on the cake. In the end, even transfer to a highly selective college like the Ivy League is still competitive.

At Solomon, our college admissions consultants will coach you on how to reflect deeply and critically assess your strengths, while also improving on your weaknesses, because leaving things to chance when transferring to the Ivy League just isn’t smart.


All of our blog posts are written by Former College Admission Officers who serve as members of our admission consultant team.

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