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On a Wednesday during my spring break senior year, I anxiously waited until 5 PM to open an admissions decision to one of my top choice schools. It was a bit of a reach for me, so I was hoping to get accepted but would have understood if I was waitlisted. (I also realized that rejection was an option but I was trying to stay optimistic.) I continued to check my clock anxiously while doing an AP Psychology practice test to pass the time.

Finally, 5 o’clock hit, and it was time to see if everything I had worked for for the past three and a half years was going to pay off. While experiencing a mini panic attack, I opened the online portal. “We regret to inform you…” I was rejected. Saddened by the news, I thought about getting up from my desk, going to my bed, and taking a nap to avoid facing the fact that I wouldn’t be attending that school. However, something compelled me to continue to read the letter. After the opening paragraph, I noticed the letter said something I didn’t expect: “Within the next few days, you will receive notification from the undergraduate college to which you’ve applied that you are being offered a transfer option. Please contact the college directly if you have any questions.”

Wait. What?

Going into the college admissions process, I had never heard of a transfer option before. In fact, opening that letter was the first time I had ever encountered it. While I emailed the admissions office frantically trying to gather more information, my father emailed me this article from the New York Times, which shed some light on my situation.

So what exactly is a transfer option?

A school will offer transfer options to students who they see as qualified to attend their school in the future, but they’re not qualified just yet; instead, they want to see these students excel at a different college or university for (typically) a semester or a full academic year before starting on their campus. Cornell University, SUNY Geneseo, and Middlebury College are among the many schools across the country that offer select applicants this option.

In general, students who accept the transfer option will have to go to another accredited two- or four-year institution (depending on the school), maintain a certain grade point average and take certain courses, and then apply with a special application. (See Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ outline as an example.) If all basic requirements are met and the student is in good academic standing with the school, it is pretty much – but not 100% – guaranteed that he or she will be admitted to the university. At the end of the four years, the student will graduate with a degree from the university to which they took the transfer option, not from both the transfer option university and the university he or she attended prior.

To take or not to take the transfer option.

In my opinion, I think that everyone who is offered a transfer option should take it. I got lucky and was admitted to my other top choice school, and finances worked out so my parents allowed me to attend it. Yet, I still accepted the option since there wasn’t a way to tell if I would end up loving or hating the school I am currently at. (For the record – I LOVE it!) For the students who are accepted to/attend another top choice, the transfer option is good to have as a backup in case they do decide to transfer.

For those students who decide that the transfer option school is the only school for them, it is good to know that there will only be one or two semesters spent at a different school. Just keep in mind that by doing so, it will be hard to make connections with others at the “stepping stone school.” Many will go into their first semester at college knowing they don’t plan on staying there, and end up making acquaintances and few good friends, since they don’t want to get too attached. As someone once explained to me, it is good idea not to go around advertising the fact that you are doing a transfer option, because that might drive people away as well. On the other hand, I have heard of many instances where transfer option students end up loving the school at which they spend their first semester or two and they decide to stay there for all four years.

One last thing…

Any student who is offered a transfer option should be proud. At the end of the day, it means that the school wants him or her, but it is just being cautious; the college or university is just making sure that the student will be able to thrive once he or she sets foot on campus. I know I was disappointed and anxious when I first received my decision, but in hindsight, everything worked out for the best.

To any student who received a transfer option – there is no need to worry! I am confident that things will work out in the end. As I (and many others) say over and over again, “Everything happens for a reason,” and while that reason might not be apparent at first, it will become obvious in the future.

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  1. Giselle on July 9, 2014

    Have you already transferred? If so, how difficult of an adjustment was it for you, if at all? Also, how did you go about telling friends at your previous school about your transfer option? I’m in the same boat as you were…

    • Grant Roth on July 27, 2014

      Hi Giselle! I ended up not transferring because I loved the school I was at. If by previous school you mean my high school, I didn’t go around parading my transfer option but if someone asked what happened with Cornell, I would tell them the truth. If you mean the school I ended up attending, I only told very very close friends. I didn’t want to make a big deal out of it and I wanted to focus on making friends and adjusting there, instead of counting down the days until I could leave.

  2. clairezhao1 on April 1, 2016

    thank you for this article this was solo helpful!

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