The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Looking to change schools? These top universities take the most transfer students.

Bruin Day, an event this spring for students transferring to the University of California at Los Angeles. (Photo courtesy of UCLA)
Placeholder while article actions load

Nowhere in the country is it easier to move up the ladder of higher education than in California. The Golden State is home to several prominent universities that accept thousands of transfer students a year, with UCLA the national leader among top-tier schools.

UCLA enrolled 3,167 new transfer students in fall 2014, more than any other school in the top 75 on the U.S. News and World Report list of national universities. The University of California at Davis ranked second, with 3,138, according to a Washington Post analysis of university data.

[See the Post analysis of transfer data, below]

Several other UC campuses and the private University of Southern California also were major transfer destinations.

At USC, a rare open door for transfer students

UCLA officials view recruiting transfers as core to their mission, not an afterthought. Their transfer pipeline accounts for more than a third of new undergraduates arriving at Westwood every fall. Most come from California’s vast network of community colleges. This influx to a school perennially ranked among the top 25 shows that there are many routes to a bachelor’s degree from an elite university. Starting as a freshman is not the only one. Starting as a junior is one of the least-expensive paths, especially for those who begin at community college and then get an in-state tuition discount.

“Students develop and mature academically and personally at different points in their life,” said Youlonda Copeland-Morgan, UCLA’s associate vice chancellor for enrollment management. “It’s not all about high school.”

As an anchor institution in Southern California, she said, “we have a unique commitment to ensuring that our campus represents the diversity of the state of California.” UCLA guarantees transfer students at least one year of housing, she said, and takes many other steps to ease their entry.

The top five transfer destinations, ranked by students entering in fall 2014, in the Post analysis were:

  1. UCLA: 3,167
  2. UC-Davis: 3,138
  3. Ohio State: 2,606
  4. Rutgers, New Brunswick: 2,541
  5. Texas A&M: 2,525

The analysis drew on responses to the Common Data Set questionnaire. Schools that did not release responses publicly were not included.

Another way of viewing the data is the share of students entering in the fall who are transfers. Here are the top five on that measure:

  1. UC-Davis: 37 percent
  2. UCLA: 35 percent
  3. UC-San Diego: 33 percent
  4. University of Maryland: 33 percent
  5. USC: 32 percent

Many private universities make little room for transfers. The analysis found that transfers accounted for less than 5 percent of new students entering 19 of the top-tier universities, including Harvard, Princeton, Stanford and several other ultra-selective schools. The most transfer-friendly school in the Ivy League was private Cornell, where 15 percent of new students, or about 550, entered via transfer.

Below is the full Post analysis, in a sortable chart. The columns show the current rank on the U.S. News list of national universities, the number of transfers entering in fall 2014, the number of new freshmen, the total of new students, and the transfer share of the total. An entry of “n/a” notes where data was unavailable. The chart will be updated if more data emerges.