Top Admissions Tips for Transfer Applicants

UC Berkeley Application Readers Share Their Insight on What Makes a Strong Transfer Application

Transfer students at UC Berkeley are diverse and come from all walks of life. We have transfers who are parents, formerly incarcerated, foster youth, reentry (25 years of age or older), military veterans, undocumented…the list goes on. Their experiences as nontraditional students is what makes them, and their application process, different from someone entering as a freshman.

We asked three Admissions Transfer Specialists to discuss the unique aspects of transfer students and share their tips about the application process.

Ricardo Avitia, Assistant Director, Transfer Specialist-Northern California
Ana Rafferty, Assistant Director, Transfer Specialist-Southern California
Henry Tsai, Assistant Director, Far North/South California and US Territories

How is applying as a transfer student different than as a freshman?

Ricardo: First, admissions requirements are different for transfers and freshmen. Beyond that, transfer students need to have a better grasp on what major they want to pursue. It is important that they speak as soon as possible with a community college counselor and identify which schools and majors they may be interested in. This way they can develop a plan of action that addresses their intended college admissions and major requirements.

Ana: Transfer applicants are required to come to UC Berkeley as a junior. This also requires that they have completed a minimum of 60 UC transferable units, have identified a specific academic interest, and have taken prerequisite courses which enable them to enter their major once here. Because of these requirements, a transfer student tends to be more focused and goal-oriented than an entering freshman might be.

Henry: Transfer students typically bring more of their life experiences to the application and can speak more clearly and with more direct examples. Besides that, their coursework is looked at a lot more closely, since they need to be prepared to hit the ground running once they get to campus. They only have two years to complete their degree, with much less flexibility than their first-year counterparts.

What makes a transfer application stand out to a reader?

Ricardo: Academic preparation. Beyond their unique experiences, what we are looking for is how prepared transfer students are to enter the university with junior standing and to successfully complete their degrees in two years. Completing most or all of their major prerequisites, as well as breadth requirements, before applying to Berkeley is a key factor in the admissions decision. A student can have a 4.0 GPA and all of the accolades in the world, but if they are missing even one required prerequisite, their competitiveness in the pool begins to diminish.

Henry: In regards to academics, to reinforce what Ricardo said, we usually love seeing a transfer applicant complete all of their major prerequisites prior to starting here at Berkeley. I also think it is pretty amazing what many transfer students do in addition to their academic pursuits. Usually transfer students have to work in order to support themselves and their families. Because of this, transfer applicants may not have as many extracurricular activities as a freshman applicant but will instead offer individual narratives and share the struggles that transfer students often encounter.

Ana: Transfer students should highlight aspects of their academic path, personal journey, and other experiences. To create a three-dimensional picture from a two-dimensional application, students should share a sense of self and have an honest discussion about their interests and passions.

What is a commonly missed opportunity you see on transfer applications?

Henry: Many students believe that work does not count as an extracurricular activity. Basically anything you do that is directly outside of academics is considered an “extracurricular activity.” This includes being a parent and or taking care of someone else. If you do not list these activities on your application, it reads as if you don’t have any activities; we don’t get the full picture.

Ana: I agree with Henry. Students may sometimes take things for granted and will not explain extenuating circumstances. Examples include: Listing a term of low grades without explaining that they had to work or became ill; working full-time and not addressing how that may have influenced their ability to get better grades or how they were able to successfully manage their time; not taking an important prerequisite and not explaining that it was because the course (even though listed on has not been offered for the last two years at their community college; or not fully understanding the process, and therefore, not taking the critical courses they needed.

Ricardo: Transfer students often times miss the opportunity to fully share those stories with us. To some students working 40 hours a week, taking a full load of courses, raising a family, and taking classes at multiple community colleges is normal. They’ve done these things for so long that they have been normalized in their life, and they don’t see the value in telling us about these experiences. While this may be normal to you, it is definitely not normal for the entire applicant pool! We want to hear those stories and learn about how you have dealt with these challenges. The challenge itself is good to mention to provide context, but ultimately it isn’t the challenge we are most concerned with, but what did you achieve as a result of that challenge. How did that experience affect you and how did it shape who you are? Those are the things we want to hear in your own, authentic voice.

What do you want transfer students to know about applying to Berkeley?

Ana: Much of what we do during the fall is to dispel myths about our process and reduce the intimidation of applying to a prestigious university. Students who have worked hard should feel empowered to reach for their fullest potential at a place that will give them opportunities to stretch themselves both academically and personally. We hope they decide the place is Berkeley!

Henry: Transfer applicants should know that we have three minimum requirements that they must meet in order to be eligible: 1) a 3.0 GPA by the end of the fall semester prior to transfer 2) all general education requirements completed, and 3) 60 semester transferable units completed by the end of the spring semester prior to transfer. Once those are fulfilled, we will continue to review the rest of their application. We commonly see students wait until their last semester to take a course that is absolutely necessary to transfer, such as a course for their general education (Reading and Composition, Quantitative Reasoning, or Language Other than English). If they do not do well, there is no more time for them to make up the grade. Students become ineligible even after they are admitted, and could have their admissions revoked. For example, we commonly see students save their one transferable general education math course until the very end. Since they had not taken math for many semesters at that point, they are ill-prepared to complete the course.

Ricardo: Attaining a Berkeley degree is possible for everyone! I’ve been an adviser to a number of transfers who started their college careers receiving grades of D and F or incompletes and withdrawals, and I watched them bounce back and earn more competitive grades. A student in this case may not have a higher-than-average GPA, but has shown tremendous perseverance, has an upward trend in grades, and a unique and compelling story they bring to the university. Just because you don’t have an above-average GPA, or just because you started your college career earning deficient grades doesn’t mean that you have no chance of being admitted to Berkeley. If students meet the minimum eligibility requirements, I encourage them to apply!

What is an application tip you would give to transfer students applying to Berkeley?

Ana: Do not be modest. Help us understand who you are, what you’ve accomplished and what you’ve learned from that journey. Write in your own voice and use concrete examples that illustrate the message you want to convey.

Ricardo: Be as thorough as possible in providing as much context and detail about yourself as you can. Beyond grades and coursework, students have a lot of control in how they highlight themselves and their stories to an application reader. Focus on those areas where you have the most control and make sure you are being thorough in getting your story across to us.

Henry: I agree with my colleagues. Fill out as much information as possible. Context is very important to our review process, and is often what sets you apart from other applicants. There are not many topics or types of stories that we have not heard of before. However, what makes your narrative unique is your perspective and your own reflections. The more reflective, authentic and honest that you can be, the more we as readers can get a better understanding of who you are.