by Mr. Robbie Shields


QD Alumni Illustrate that Transferring Brings

Opportunities and Challenges 


Donald Trump and Barack Obama don’t have much in common. Although both have served as US presidents, they don’t think alike, act alike, or even look alike. But you might be surprised to know that educationally, they do have something in common; both transferred universities. Barack Obama started his studies at Occidental College in Los Angeles and then transferred to Columbia University in New York where he studied Political Science and English Literature. Donald Trump began his education at Fordham University in the Bronx but transferred to the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, where he studied Economics. 


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President Donald Trump and former President Barack Obama talk on the East steps of the US Capitol after inauguration ceremonies on January 20, 2017, in Washington, DC. Robyn Beck | AFP | Getty Images

While much about Messrs Obama and Trump is unique, their decision to transfer universities is actually quite common. According to the National Student Clearinghouse, a US-based nonprofit dedicated to gathering and analyzing educational statistics, roughly 1/3 of all students at US colleges and universities transfer.[1] Though the percentage of transferring students in the UK, Australia, and Canada is significantly lower, it is a possibility. In this post, we’ll look at the pros and cons of transferring, while also hearing from some QD alumni who transferred and are willing to share their experiences. 

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Graph taken from Inside Higher Ed article “More than a Third of College Students Transfer”



Benefits of Transferring

Changing schools can bring many benefits. A fresh start at a new school can be rewarding, especially after you have a better understanding of what you want out of your education. We spoke with QD alumni who either chose to transfer or are currently considering it, and here were some of the reasons they listed:


1. Academic Interest or Experience

Sometimes students find that the academic experience at a school doesn’t fit as well as they’d hoped. This may be because a school doesn’t offer a specific course of study. Alina Wu, an alumna from the class of 2019 indicated that she chose to transfer from an art school to a more comprehensive university (Emory, UMich, or NYU) because she wished to take more science and humanities courses which her previous school didn’t offer. Max Hu, also an alumnus from the class of 2019, is seeking to transfer into Duke University or Harvey Mudd College, partially because he “wanted to study more hardcore engineering and my current school doesn’t have the engineering school.” 

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Class of 2019 Max Hu

For other students, they wish to transfer not to study something new but for a more suitable academic environment. Iris Yu, an alumna from 2019, shared her experience at a large American state university and why it motivated her to apply to Northwestern University and Emory University. “My college is a public university and so there is a huge number of students. The student to teacher ratio is pretty high, and there are limited chances for us to reach the professors” Yu said. “Since most of the classes in public schools are big classes with hundreds of students, professors will ask students to find TAs (teaching assistants), so I didn’t have a chance to communicate with some of my professors.” 

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Class of 2019 Iris Yu

Students may find that for various reasons the academic environment at another institution better fits their preferences. This can relate to a major, minor, or concentration, as well as class size, resources, or undergraduate research opportunities. Regardless, if you find that you are unsatisfied with the academic experience at your university, explore options that would allow you to better accomplish your goals. 


2. Prestige

Some students wish to transfer to enhance the prestige of the university they attend, feeling that graduating from a top ranked university will result in better career prospects. Vincent Ru, a QD alumnus from the class of 2017, mentioned that this was a consideration he made when transferring to NYU. “I’d say branding was the top reason” Ru said in a recent conversation. “My career interest in finance needs strong networking and branding” and hence he elected to move to NYU. 


Changing can be particularly important for careers that relate to certain industries. Some of the most famous companies conduct “targeted recruitment,” favoring applicants from certain institutions whose curriculum, reputation, and traditions align with their hiring needs. A recent report by Investopedia indicated that when big bulge banks are recruiting for positions in investment banking, between 60-80% of hires come from target universities (which include NYU)[2]. Consequently, if you have a specific career goal that is better served by attending a higher ranked and more prestigious university, it may merit considering transferring. 


3. Location

A major reason many students choose to transfer schools is because of a desire to change locations. Perhaps you started your studies in a large urban environment, but later decided you prefer to be in a more intimate, small community. Alternatively, perhaps you started in a smaller community but have determined that you like the energy of a city. Regardless, location can be a great driver in the decision. 

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Class of 2018 Candice Li

QD alumna Candice Li (2018) said that for her, the location of the first university she attended was too relaxed and that she wanted something different. “The lifestyle in California is too chill and casual for me” Li said. “I prefer places that have a more historical background…and as an artistic person there aren’t many resources in San Diego.” This sentiment underscores the importance of considering multiple aspects of a university experience when choosing a university. While most students pay the most attention to ranking or reputation, you should also pay close attention to the surrounding community and the overall experience when choosing a school. 




Although transferring schools can bring great benefits, it also comes with significant challenges. By electing to leave one school and go to another, you’re forgoing the benefits that come with continuing to establish yourself in a community. Additionally, there can be other drawbacks that come with transferring. Some of these challenges include:


1. Social Adjustment

During the first year of university, many lifelong friendships are made. Everyone is new and many bonds are built from the freshmen experience. Additionally, many universities structure new student activities predominantly toward first-year students. As a transfer student, you may feel that many people have already made friends and have routines and it can be harder to fit in. There are still plenty of opportunities to get involved, but it may require you to be more assertive. 


2. Delayed Graduation

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Class of 2018 Tracy Zeng


Each university structures their curriculum differently. As such, a common frustration experienced by transfer students is that many of the courses they took at their first university don’t count towards specific degree requirements at their new university. However, if you are considering transferring, there are ways you can mitigate this challenge. Tracy Zeng of the QD class of 2018, transferred from one school in Ohio to Ohio State University. When asked about transferring credits, she “it’s better to transfer in state since lots of courses may not be accepted at out of state universities.” She also suggested students consult the website transferology, a popular website that tracks how courses have transferred between institutions. Even when transferring between universities in the same state, students should prepare that some delay may occur from loss of credit, particularly if transferring between credit systems, such as transferring from a US university that follows the quarter system to one that follows the semester system.

For students who wish to change countries, or transfer within the UK system, the process can be particularly challenging. Former QD College Counselor Peter Carlisle, a graduate of the University of Edinburgh, mentioned that “transferring in the UK can be tricky as UK schools usually do not accept credits from other courses (i.e. majors). So, if a student wishes to transfer, they either have to start from year one or, possibly, transfer into the exact same course (i.e. Biology to Biology) and hope that some credits will transfer.” 


These challenges often result in transfer students taking longer to graduate and thus spending more in tuition. If you feel that transferring is the right decision, be prepared that it could add time and cost to your degree. 


3. Loss of GPA

Beyond experiencing frustrations with loss of credit, transfer students are often frustrated to learn that their GPA doesn’t transfer. Typically speaking, the school you’re transferring to will reset your GPA when you start. Ultimately, this probably won’t have much impact on your direction and career. But you should know that in terms of your acceptance into certain honor societies or how the school ranks you within your class, they will only evaluate you on your performance at their school.  



Advice for Transferring 


Because of these challenges, many students who considered transferring elect to stay. Often students find that many of the frustrations they experience in their first year at university are natural feelings of transition. Additionally, if you are already fairly certain that you wish to attend graduate school, you may feel satisfied getting a different educational experience simply by attending a different institution for graduate school. 

Transferring universities is a big decision that requires just as much care and analysis as choosing your first university. Here are some tips QD alumni gave when asked what advice they’d share about their experience. 


1. Be clear about your reasons for transferring

Students considering transferring schools should have a clear rationale as to why they are choosing a new university over their current university. Understand that if you are feeling dissatisfied, homesick, or lost, particularly in your first semester, that this is a natural part of the college transition. Before considering transferring, ask yourself if you’ve done everything you can to remedy your dissatisfaction. But if already done this and you elect to transfer, make sure you can articulate why. Iris Yu advised students to “evaluate whether the current university is suitable for you and what do you think you’ll receive at a new university.” 


2. Be prepared for balancing the workload

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Class of 2019 Eva Chen

Just as freshman applications take time, so too will transfer applications. Writing personal statements, completing applications, securing letters of recommendation from professors, and other application requirements are time consuming, which you’ll have to balance while keeping up you’re your studies. Eva Chen, a QD alumna from 2019, shared her experience, stating that “it’s definitely difficult to balance between academics and social life as I have to write essays at the same time. In most situations, these essays are due while I was having midterms.” Consequently, when planning to transfer, make sure you set aside time to put forth your best work and submit all the materials on time.


3. Don’t quit working

There is a tendency when you think you’ll be leaving a school to quit putting forth the same energy or effort. Don’t make this mistake if transferring schools. There are a few reasons why this is particularly important. First, just as applications to top universities for freshmen admissions are competitive, so are applications for transfer admissions. If you quit working and earn poor marks you probably won’t gain admission to your desired school. Moreover, most universities will require a “C” or higher to transfer credit. So, students who fail to earn strong marks not only hurt their chances of admission but also may extend the amount of time needed to complete the degree. Finally, you need to continue to impress your professors as they will be critical to your application process. QD alumna Ingrid Wang shared her experience transferring to NYU, mentioning that “[m]any schools require transfer students to have two recommendation letters from college professors (not from high school teachers) who know the student quite well.” Consequently, students should always make a priority of getting to know their professors and excelling in all classes. Candice Li added that students should maintain a strong GPA and have consistent interaction with professors, as they can be potentially great resources for further knowledge in a field and serve as a positive letter of recommendation.


In short, transferring universities is a substantial decision that shouldn’t be made lightly. Many benefits can stem from changing schools, but it’s not without sacrifice. If you are a QD alumnus and thinking about transferring universities, please contact for more information.