In contrast to other private universities, USC upholds transfer applicants, particularly those from community colleges, as an integral part of its admissions process. The nearly 1,500 transfer students bring diverse sets backgrounds and experiences that enrich the University’s academic environment to campus.
Though USC’s emphasis on admitting transfer students is commendable and should serve as a blueprint for other private institutions, the University still needs to make a concerted effort to prioritize first-generation college students and other structurally disadvantaged communities in the transfer admissions process.
In the 2018 admissions cycle, USC accepted 2,338 transfer applicants, 1,448 of whom enrolled at the University for the Fall 2018 semester. This pool of transfer applicants encompassed about 22% of students USC admitted during the cycle and just under 30% of the total new enrollees last fall. Forty nine percent of 2018’s class of transfer students comprised students from California Community Colleges. These 1,448 transfer student enrollees represent 330 different prior institutions.
Granted, comparable private research institutions have not prioritized transfer student admission as much as USC has. Last year, Stanford University admitted a total of 20 transfer students to campus, according to its admissions data. Although Stanford already admits fewer students each year than USC does, transfers only comprised 1% of Stanford’s admitted student pool — compared to the 22% admitted to USC. Ivy League schools are particularly stingy when it comes to admitting transfer applicants. Last year, Princeton University granted admission to 13 transfer applicants after two decades of not accepting a single one. Harvard, Brown and Dartmouth each enrolled fewer than 100 transfer students last fall.
Criticism of USC’s comparatively generous transfer admissions policy primarily stems from the fact that the University only admits a large pool of transfer applicants as a means of artificially deflating its first-year admissions rate — the only metric of selectivity taken into account by U.S. News & World Report and other high-profile college ranking publications. USC limits the number of spots designated for incoming freshmen and keeps about one-third of the available spots open for a large group of transfer students.
But a close look at the statistics reveals that admitted transfer students have qualifications comparable with the rest of the student body, demonstrating their potential to successfully transition into USC academic life.
The mean GPA of transfer student enrollees is 3.7 average for college-level course work. As a point of comparison, the mid-50% GPA of first-year student enrollees is 3.7 to 3.97 for high school-level course work. Although USC’s 24% admission rate for transfer students in 2018 was markedly higher than its 13% admission rate for first-year students during the same admissions cycle, the 24% transfer admissions rate is lower than the general admissions rates of Wake Forest University, Boston College and University of Rochester.
According to USC’s annual reports, transfer students thrive academically after they arrive at USC. The USC transfer student graduation rate is 92% — the same as the graduation rate of rest of the student body.
But the University’s divergent, paradigm-shattering transfer admissions process must aspire to carry a higher purpose than merely filling spots with academically competent students and lowering admission rates on paper.
USC can do more to ensure that the transfer admissions process lives up to the vision laid out in a Washington Post editorial by former USC President C. L. Max Nikias that the University should “[offer] a second chance to community college graduates” to render it “a place for the most talented, whoever they are and wherever they may come from, to come together and cultivate their strengths.”
The first-generation college student transfer acceptance rate has declined from 44% in 2013 to 28% in 2018. Legacy students outnumber first-generation students within the Fall 2018 transfer class, 30% to 28%. The primary function of USC’s transfer admissions process must be to provide opportunities for students who, due to socioeconomic factors or other extenuating circumstances, were not ideal candidates coming out of high school. With necessary reforms, USC can cement its status as a top-tier private research university leading efforts to reduce inequality and expand opportunity through transfer admissions.