The graduate school application and selection process is complex and confusing. Even if you manage to navigate it in an informed and organized fashion, you may find yourself, a year or two later, working within a program or department that just isn’t right for you.
Here’s some advice that I can offer to prospective grad school transferees, based on my experience with changing graduate programs mid-degree.
1). Identify what you are trying to fix by transferring grad programs.
Maybe your program is boring you, or you no longer feel motivated to pursue a career in academia. These are legitimate problems, but transferring to a different graduate program won’t necessarily solve them.
Don’t put lots of time, money, and effort into transferring graduate schools if really what you need to do is to consider leaving academia altogether.
On the other hand, if your specific interests have changed, your potential advisor has departed, or you’re now a more competitive applicant than you were when you first applied to graduate school, transferring may be the right choice for you.
2). Don’t apply to “safety schools.”
If you’re seriously considering transferring graduate programs, that likely means you’re already at a kind of “safety school.”
Apply only to other programs offering a significant step up from your current program, one that will be worth the switch.
3). Make the most of your time at your current program.
Let’s say you’ve decided to go through with your applications. You’ve got one foot out of the door at your current program. You may feel like you’re just killing time, but that’s only as true as you choose to make it. Use the opportunity to:
- Take an elective instead of a difficult core requirement that may not transfer to a new program
- Reduce your course load and get some experience adjuncting at a local community college
- Submit your writing sample to a conference or journal.
Whether you end up leaving your current program or not, your time is valuable and not to be wasted.
4). Look into advanced standing at new programs.
The schools to which you’re applying likely have different policies regarding awarding “advanced standing,” the transferring of credits to students with previous graduate experience.
If two schools admit you, whether one school will accept 20 transfer credits and the other will offer none could be a deciding factor. Each transfer credit that a new institution accepts is like a gift of time and money.
5). Don’t burn bridges at your old school.
Maybe you have a very low opinion of your current graduate program. This should go without saying, but be tactful when people inquire about your departure. You don’t owe others a long and in-depth explanation of your motives. This is especially important if your current program is one that will be worth completing if you end up not transferring to another one.
6). Learn from your mistakes before you transfer.
What went wrong the first time you applied to graduate school?
Were you disorganized, causing you to miss deadlines? Did you not have enough input from others on your writing sample? Did you apply to programs that looked good online, without seeking adequate information from students who actually have attended them?
Much of the graduate school application process is out of your hands, so do whatever you can to improve the factors that are under your control.