Let’s say it’s April of senior year. Hopefully, you have been accepted by your top choice university! Congratulations!
Once in a while, however, a student will end up very disappointed with the college admissions process results from a senior year of high school. So long as you pick your list of target schools and “safety schools” carefully, however, you should have at least a couple of college options even if they are not your top picks.
So let’s say that you have been admitted to at least one college, but that college is really not an enticing pick for you. What to do?
Identify Your Goals
What is it that you do not like about your admitted college? Does it not have an academic track or program in which you have an interest? If that is the case, it might be best to truly put on the brakes because you are unlikely to succeed at an academic program in which you have no interest. In this case, take time to thoroughly reassess other academic options and possibly consider taking a gap year before college.
On the other hand, is it a prestige issue? Did you simply want to attend a more prestigious school?
Regardless of your motivations to attend a different university, let’s carefully consider the options.
Option One: Delay with a Gap Year
In the United Kingdom and Australia, taking a gap year – a term for a “year off” before university – is very common. In the United States, gap years are less common, but they are becoming more popular. Students participate in many exciting and challenging opportunities during gap years, including travel and community service and work opportunities around the globe.
A gap year can be a good opportunity to demonstrate a deep commitment to community service or an independent intellectual endeavor and can give a student the opportunity to regroup and retry college applications. That said, a gap year rarely makes an enormous shift in the college admissions opportunities available to a student, so a gap year is unlikely to radically shift the admissions game.
A gap year does allow, however, for some breathing room and the opportunity to reassess college options, while simultaneously demonstrating growth and development as a future member of a learning community.
Option Two: Attend the University Where You Were Admitted with an Attempt at a Future Transfer
Transfer admissions are very common under certain circumstances. Some studies suggest that as many as 60% of students will transfer at some point in their undergraduate studies. President Barack Obama, who transferred from Occidental College to Columbia University, might be the country’s most famous transfer student!
That said, transferring to the most prestigious universities is very tough; some Ivy League schools take almost no transfer students. In addition, most colleges will insist on considering high school grades and SAT/ACT scores, so a chance at transfer admissions usually does not mean escaping a less than ideal high school transcript or lower than desired standardized test results from high school.
If you are bound and determined to try and transfer to a more prestigious college, by all means, go for it! But understand that you will need to earn great grades at your first college and find winning recommenders from among the faculty – and even then, transferring to a prestige college is still a crap shoot.
Additionally, consider any articulation agreements between your first college and other universities. Among the Ivies, for instance, Cornell has many articulation agreements with other less prestigious New York colleges to admit their students under certain circumstances. That said, consider carefully the fine print, because, in order to meet the terms of most articulation agreements, you need to meet many academic and other program requirements. Additionally, you may be limited in terms of the schools and programs to which you can be admitted at your desired transfer university.
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Option Three: Try to Love Your College and See Where Things End Up….
The third option is to – excuse the pun – just give your university the “old college try.” Assuming that you have an academic program there that appeals to your interests and future career goals, this may be the best option in many instances.
If you are looking for greater prestige, there is always graduate school: work really hard as an undergraduate and the graduate school possibilities should be stellar (and a subpar high school record will then be forgotten). If you really want to take a particular course of study with a particular professor at another university, consider enrolling for a semester or a year as a visiting student.
You might even study abroad at prestigious universities like Oxford or Cambridge. And you can always take a stab at the challenging transfer admissions route to a high prestige university confident that you have already made the very most of your current university.