Transferring High Schools – Impact on College Admissions (2024)

Disrupting your child’s high school education is not a move that any parent takes lightly, particularly if they are happy—both academically and socially—at their current school. A disjointed educational experience is far from ideal, but there are plenty of situations where a) it is absolutely necessary for the parent or b) it will be beneficial to your son or daughter. In some instances, a parent may be moving due to a job opportunity, a change in economic circumstances, or post-divorce. Alternatively, the catalyst for the move may be to find a superior academic environment for your child. No matter the impetus for your decision to transfer high schools, the following college admissions-related considerations should be taken into account:

1) Class Rank

This is mostly applicable to high-achieving students who are competing for the title of valedictorian, salutatorian, or a place inside the top 10% of their high school class (often an important marker in elite college admissions). There can be other important markers as well. For example, the University of Texas at Austin automatically admits in-state students who finish in the top 6% of their class. According to the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), 38% of colleges consider class rank to be important in their evaluation process—most elite schools are in this category; another 34% consider it to be of “limited importance”.

If your child’s new high school ranks (only about 50% of American high schools do), you will quickly find that there is no standardized policy for incorporating transfer students into the mix. Many high schools will allow new students to rank once they complete four semesters at their institution. This means that students transferring in the middle of junior year (or later) would be ineligible to receive a ranking. Other high schools’ polices delineate that to be included in the rankings, you need to complete your entire junior and senior year in their building. You will also find schools that only require three semesters attendance to gain a ranking. Suffice to say, policies on class rank greatly vary and, if your student is a high-achiever with a stellar academic record, investigate the written policies on this matter offered by any prospective high school.

2) Extracurricular Activities

When applying to competitive colleges, extracurricular activities are undoubtedly a critical factor, but not always in the way that most students/parents believe. The number of activities in which your student is involved and the breadth of those activities is, in reality, actually of very little importance. This is because highly-selective colleges are not looking for Renaissance Men and Women with a broad spectrum of talents, but rather those who direct their time, talents, and passions to one, two, or three core activities. Displays of leadership, talent, and commitment rule the day.

Given this reality, transferring schools can prove a challenge, particularly if your child is a junior or senior. Like in any organization, high school clubs and activities often require that you “pay your dues,” climbing the ladder of leadership over time. Even a student is a deeply involved with a number of activities at their old school—Model U.N., school newspaper, debate club, robotics team, student government, etc., there are no guarantees that they will be able to hop on a similar leadership trajectory in a brand new environment, competing against peers with more established roots. In areas like orchestra or athletics, the switch can potentially be a bit easier. Even if coaches or band leaders are loyal to players/musicians to whom they have years-long relationships, talent will usually quickly rise to the top. The same goes with areas such as chess or math and science competitions, where talent can be quantifiably measured and is difficult to suppress.

3) Transfer of Credits/Prerequisites

Unlike with transferring from one college to another, very rarely will a high school student encounter any difficulty getting his or her previous coursework “accepted” onto their transcript. The only trouble can come from meeting specific prerequisites to take advanced courses, or the order in which the classes are offered. For example, the order in which students take chemistry, physics, and biology can vary from school to school. Typically, the solution is easy enough—a student just takes a given math or science course with a different grade level at their new school (e.g. a junior takes a sophomore biology class).

Moving to a new state can pose issues in terms of meeting the local graduation requirements. States like Pennsylvania, Colorado, and Massachusetts leave high school graduation requirements up to the districts which can make even intrastate transfers challenging—PA alone has 500 public school districts. Differences between state mandates can be consequential. For example, California and Washington only require three years of 9-12 English while the other 48 states require four. Students in Illinois and Connecticut must complete two high school social studies courses, but teens in New York and Texas must complete four. This is only something to note, not something to fear; the worst case scenario is that your child may have to take two courses in one subject area to make up the credit shortfall at some point prior to graduation.

4) Involve Your Guidance Counselor

Coordinating a move requires some basic circuitry. First you want to connect with your child’s old guidance counselor, their future counselor, and then you want to make sure that those two connect with each other. The better the “wiring” between all parties, the better the communication will be, and the likelier it is that a smooth transition will occur. Make sure your son or daughter sits down with their current counselor to review their future schools’:

  • Course descriptions of future classes
  • Class rank and grade weighting policies
  • Prerequisites for taking AP/IB/honors courses
  • Graduation requirements (by subject)

Counselors are phenomenal resources, but they are also ridiculously busy and their departments are often seriously understaffed. The onus will likely be on you (or your student) to schedule meetings with them and seek assistance. Taking the initiative on the front end, pre-move, can save many headaches down the road.

5) Try to Avoid Mid-Year Transfer

Of course, in the case of unavoidable life circumstances that can necessitate a move on short notice, a mid-year transfer can be done successfully. However, we do recommend avoiding this situation if at all feasible. Even if your teen’s new teachers are flexible and welcoming, it can still be quite challenging to pick up high school content, particularly in an advanced or honors course, midstream. If you move, for example, in mid-December, your child could be required to take midterm exams without adequate preparation. If their new physics teacher moves at a far quicker pace than their instructor at their previous school, this could put your teen at a significant disadvantage.

College Transitions’ Final Thoughts

There are plenty of situations where a high school transfer can work out beautifully and a student may immediately find the new pastures greener. In other cases, the acclimation process can include a good deal of struggle as you work to overcome a series of challenges. While transferring to a new high school is challenging for everyone (see every teen movie and YA novel ever), there are an additional set of challenges present for high-achieving students who are aiming for the most competitive colleges and universities. Timing, careful planning, and doing one’s homework can all mitigate most of these obstacles, ensuring a transition that, if not seamless, is at least minimally disruptive.

Transferring High Schools – Impact on College Admissions (1)

Dave Bergman

Dave has over a decade of professional experience that includes work as a teacher, high school administrator, college professor, and independent educational consultant. He is a co-author of the books The Enlightened College Applicant (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016) and Colleges Worth Your Money (Rowman & Littlefield, 2020).

Transferring High Schools – Impact on College Admissions (2024)

FAQs

Transferring High Schools – Impact on College Admissions? ›

The good news is that, on its own, transferring high schools won't have any negative impact on your college applications. Colleges understand that transferring schools is a common occurrence, and many times the student doesn't have control over if it happens (such as if your parents decide to move).

Does transferring high schools look bad on college applications? ›

How might transferring affect college applications? If you're transferring in junior or senior year, you might be concerned that the move may negative impact your college applications process or even your admissions. Transferring high schools has no negative impact on your chances of college admissions itself.

Does high school affect college admissions? ›

The fact is, the coursework you choose in high school can greatly affect your odds of acceptance when it comes time to apply for college. Here are some positive aspects to focus on while you're in high school. First, you can increase your overall knowledge.

Do transfer students get into college easier? ›

At most highly selective universities, the transfer admission rate is lower than the overall admission rate for high school applicants. There are, however, exceptions.

How do transfer students stand out to colleges? ›

Consider the following tips.
  1. Finish general education requirements. Take courses that fulfill general education requirements at both institutions. ...
  2. Earn high grades. ...
  3. Befriend your professors. ...
  4. Take advantage of your school. ...
  5. Enjoy the extracurricular activities and opportunities that are offered. ...
  6. Find a job.

Is it bad to transfer your senior year of high school? ›

Is senior year too late to transfer high schools? No, it is never too late to do something better for yourself. If you are not thriving as an upperclassman, junior or senior year is the time to make a change. Logistically, you'd want to transfer at the start of the school year.

Why do colleges not like transfer students? ›

Transfer students often don't have advocates or receive the advice high school counselors provide to seniors. They usually don't have the legacy status of their parents like some applicants coming out of high school. And transfer students don't count in the college rankings.

Do colleges care about which high school you went to? ›

A high school's reputation does matter to America's elite colleges. The rigor of a high school's curriculum does matter. If a high school only offers 2 AP courses and isn't on the IB curriculum, well, that's a good indication the school isn't all that competitive.

Do colleges know which high schools are harder? ›

Luckily, most colleges, particularly the best and most selective colleges, are well aware of the “difficult” level of your high school. College admissions officers often receive a profile of your high school in conjunction with your college admissions application.

Do colleges look at quality of high school? ›

Good grades, a challenging high school curriculum, standardized test scores, extracurriculars, and a strong essay are a few key factors admissions officers assess.

What is the hardest college to transfer into? ›

Transfer (vs. Freshman) Acceptance Rates

For example transfer students are accepted a rate lower than 5% at Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Princeton, Caltech, and a handful of other highly-selective schools.

What is a good transfer GPA? ›

A good transfer GPA is 3.8 (which is the average transfer GPA) and above. However, the minimum GPA is 2.5. The GPA requirement differs from college to college. Top tier colleges demand the average and above.

Is it harder to get into college as a freshman or transfer? ›

Generally, if the college has an articulation agreement with a community college, transfer students have higher chances of being admitted than freshmen applicants. Transfer students are usually guaranteed admission as long as they keep a minimum GPA.

How to increase chances of being accepted as a transfer student? ›

Tips to Boost Your Chances of Admission as a Transfer Student
  1. Take rigorous courses required by your major, and do as well as you can. ...
  2. Satisfy the general education requirements for your transfer college. ...
  3. Identify professors who appreciate your work in courses related to your major.
Nov 18, 2020

How do I make my transfer application look good? ›

How to Prepare a Strong Transfer Application
  1. Choose the best time to make a change.
  2. Be impressive. The most important part of a transfer application is your college transcript. ...
  3. Get involved. ...
  4. Do your homework. ...
  5. Don't complain. ...
  6. Recognize the reality.
Jan 4, 2018

What matters most in a transfer application? ›

What Do Colleges Look for in Transfer Students?
  • Grades. The first thing you should know is that college transfer acceptance rates are lower than freshman acceptance rates. ...
  • Test Scores. ...
  • Credits Completed. ...
  • Course Completion Ratio. ...
  • Intended Major. ...
  • Essay/Personal Statement. ...
  • Letters of Recommendation. ...
  • Prepare to Apply Successfully.
Mar 16, 2022

Does transferring schools look bad? ›

Refrain from assuming that moving from one college to the other can make your resume look awful. Especially if you have a good reason for switching colleges, potential employers won't think of you badly. If you are thinking about moving to another college anytime soon, don't stop reading now.

Do colleges look at high school reputation? ›

A high school's reputation does matter to America's elite colleges. The rigor of a high school's curriculum does matter. If a high school only offers 2 AP courses and isn't on the IB curriculum, well, that's a good indication the school isn't all that competitive.

Do colleges know if your high school is hard? ›

Further, college admissions officers typically read applications regionally. Thus, the officer who reviews your application will likely be somewhat familiar with your high school. Usually, admissions officers know which classes are relatively easy or hard.

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