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How to transfer into Harvard or Stanford from your safety school

by John

Transfer application to Harvard, Stanford, and other Ivy League schools

Okay let’s talk today about how to transfer to an Ivy League school.

There are a few scenarios: either you applied to some Ivy League schools and didn’t get in, or you didn’t apply but realized you made a mistake and now you’re a freshman and you realize you would like to attempt a transfer application to a top university.

There are only a few reasons why I think you should transfer to another school:

-You’re very unhappy at your current school because you don’t feel academically challenged or you don’t feel like there are sufficient resources and opportunities
-You weren’t making enough friends and were deeply unhappy socially and think it won’t improve over the next 3 years

What’s important is that you should thoroughly think about why you want to transfer colleges before you do so. It’s a serious commitment, and if you’re unhappy at the transfer school you could theoretically transfer again but at that point it’s highly unproductive for your own career interests.

Now let’s get into how you would actually maximize your chances of transferring into Harvard or Stanford:

The first thing you want to do at your current school is to start an organization/club.

You need to do this because it immediately shows that you’re very interested in leadership and taking risks and doing big things.

Since transfer applications are due your very first semester at your current university, you don’t have much time to join an existing club and become its president.

In addition, it’s important to join a few clubs that relate to your high school interests, so if you were very passionate about foreign languages I would continue to participate in the Japanese club or the Latin club but a much easier and faster way to really demonstrate that you’re on a great trajectory is to start a club your freshman year.

The second thing is you absolutely must get a 4.0 GPA or something very close that first semester.

This is because if you don’t demonstrate that you can excel academically at a safety school, your chances of getting into a top school like Yale or Princeton is zilch.

In your freshman year most of your classes are fixed, so you won’t have too much choice about what classes to take. Regardless, you absolutely must do what is necessary to get straight A’s and preferably A-plusses in some courses.

This actually relates to my third point which is that you need to get to know one or two freshman year professors extremely well. Not only will this help you because they can write you a very great recommendation when you transfer schools, but building that relationship will also help you get top grades in their courses.

My guess is that your teacher recommendations weren’t incredibly strong in high school since you were rejected by an Ivy League college, so getting to know a freshman year professor is even more important now.

Here’s exactly how you do it: at the beginning of the semester, after class or even before class, introduce yourself to the professor and make sure they know who you are and what your name is.

Sit in the front or close to the front and participate as much as you can by asking questions and making comments. After a few weeks I would recommend showing up to an office hour.

By going to office hours you’re able to really build a relationship with the professor and when you’ve showed up to a few office hours and you’ve shown that you’re capable of doing high-quality work, I would offer to take the professor out to lunch. Invite them to a meal in your dormitory cafeteria.

By moving the interaction away from office hours and from class you’ll be able to build a better personal relationship with the professor. Do this at least twice, continue to perform extremely well in the course and get top grades, and you have a professor who will be willing to write you a very strong recommendation.

The fourth thing I would do is to visit your target schools if it’s convenient and not too expensive for you to do so.

I mentioned repeatedly in both my admissions guide as well as this blog that visiting schools and demonstrating interest is a key factor for borderline candidates.

If you applied to the college before and have already visited this isn’t necessary, but if you either haven’t applied or you haven’t visited, I would highly recommend you make a campus visit.

On the visit, put your name down to show your attendance. Talk about some of these experiences in your transfer application.

There are very few transfer spots at some of the top schools. In fact on occasional years, some schools won’t even admit people off their waiting lists and correspondingly very few people off of their transfer application list.

By demonstrating interest you greatly increase the chances that they’ll pick you because they want to be confident that any transfer student they accept into an already overcrowded class will accept the offer.

Finally and this is an extremely important point, make very good use of the summer after high school graduation.

Because transfer applications are due the fall of your freshman year, you won’t have much time to build a strong record at your safety school. One of the biggest opportunities to strengthen your high school record is to do something after graduation.

I would recommend the typical themes like traveling overseas for work or service projects, starting a company or doing a high profile internship at a corporation or startup.

Simply do something interesting that relates to your passions and to the experiences that you have had in high school. It’s absolutely mandatory that you keep yourself busy during the summer months.

Now the last point. If you already applied to, let’s say Wharton, and you are rejected or waitlisted the first time, I would really think hard about completely restructuring your application to show a different set of skills and a different story than the first time.

If you use the same strategy with broadly similar essays and broadly similar extracurricular experiences, the result will probably be broadly the same.

I would rewrite my essays and I would focus on something very different than what you did the first round. I would also tell a very convincing story about what has changed in the last 6 to 12 months since you first applied to Wharton that makes you a suitable candidate now.

All of the above – getting a 4.0 GPA, having an outstanding professor recommendation, visiting the campus, and starting a club in college, will really help differentiate you. But more than anything, you need to make sure that the stories that you’re telling and the picture of your candidacy that you’re painting in the Transfer Application is different this time around.

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