Personal Finance

College acceptance rates for transfer students may rise due to coronavirus

Key Points
  • As many colleges and universities across the country struggle with low enrollment, undergraduate students interested in transferring midyear could benefit.
  • Before leaving one school for another, here are a few things to consider. 
What it's like to return to college during a pandemic
What it's like to return to college during a pandemic

If you are thinking of switching colleges, the coronavirus crisis could give you a leg up.

With a number of undergraduates sitting this semester out, and many international students unable to enter the U.S., some colleges and universities are well below their enrollment numbers for the 2020-2021 academic year.

"This has proven to be a boon for students wanting to change schools," said Christopher Rim, founder and CEO of Command Education.

"Many are taking advantage of the lack of competition, knowing that schools have too many openings and not enough enrolled."

More from Personal Finance:
Students argue distance learning should cost less
Colleges pass Covid-related expenses on to students
Will the pandemic force your college to go bankrupt?

Six in 10 admissions officials said they were "very concerned" about meeting their institution's enrollment goals for this fall, while another 30% said they were "concerned," according to a recent survey of college and university admissions officers by Inside Higher Ed.

More than three-quarters, or 78%, of colleges said they would increase recruitment of transfer students, the report found.

"These schools are also desperate for tuition dollars," Rim added. "If they can recoup half the year, they are going to do that."

These schools are also desperate for tuition dollars.
Christopher Rim
founder and CEO of Command Education

Rim said his office has been inundated with calls from eager applicants.  

"We're seeing a record-breaking number of students applying as transfer students to their dream schools," he said.

"We have twins who are currently at Northeastern who are interested in transferring to Stanford and students from Lehigh who are aiming to get into their dream school, University of Pennsylvania."  

For the first time, even students in their junior year are considering a switch, Rim said. "I have never seen this."

In order to apply as a transfer student, deadlines are typically Oct. 1 or Nov. 1 for the winter semester and March 15 for the fall of 2021. Applicants will likely need to supply their college transcript and letters of recommendation, among other requirements.

While transfer admission rates vary greatly, the nation's most selective colleges and Ivy League schools admit few, if any, transfer students in a typical year.

Last year, the transfer acceptance rate at Stanford University, for example, was 0%, according to the College Board.

This year, "the attrition rate will be higher than expected, it could have an impact on the acceptance rate for transfers," according to Eric Greenberg, president of Greenberg Educational Group, a New York-based consulting firm. 

While there will likely be more opportunities for transferring, there are considerations as well, Greenberg added.

The grass is not always greener

Finding the right college or university can be a very personal decision, which is made harder if you can't visit the campus or experience what the institution is like on a normal day.

Greenberg advises applicants to talk to upperclassmen to get their impressions of the school before the pandemic hit.

Further, if you are looking for a school that is in-person or hybrid because you don't like distance learning, it is important to remember that those conditions are not set in stone and may change throughout the remainder of the year.

In fact, many colleges and universities that started in-person are now reverting to remote as campuses become the latest hotspots for Covid-19. In other words, you could end up online at your next school, too.

Your coursework might not count

Find out from any school you might transfer to not just how many credits it will accept, but how many of those courses will be applied toward your degree.

Don't automatically assume your credits will transfer, Greenberg cautioned.

Because transfer students often lose credit for some coursework, it takes about three extra months to graduate, on average, than their nontransfer counterparts.

Transferring could cost more

If it takes longer to graduate as a transfer student, there will also be more tuition costs and student loans to consider.

As a general rule, financial aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, so the students that have already matriculated tend to have "first dibs" on aid dollars, making it harder for transfer students to get the assistance they need, Greenberg said.

With many families under financial strain due to Covid-19, that can, and should, play a role in decision-making.

Subscribe to CNBC on YouTube.