Cornell re-implements controversial "guaranteed transfer plan" ???

Hello, My D received the TO last week from Cornell. We do not see this offer as controversial at all for the student, but maybe it is for the initial school who would lose a student. However, this is such a business, and schools are gaming the rules to improve their yield and rankings big time. She intends on fulfilling the requirements to keep the option open because the requirements are classes she would take any way because her majors are similar enough at both institutions. However, she is having a phone apt. with an admissions counselor from Cornell to discuss AP scores and if that would affect placement and if it could affect her freshman year courses. For example, she received a 5 on the AP Bio exam. Does Cornell still want her to take the Intro. to Bio class with lab as a requirement for the TO? Maybe, maybe not. She will find out. If she had been accepted outright as a regular freshman, her 5 on that exam would’ve gotten her 8 credits at Cornell!

My D is very excited about attending the University of Pittsburgh, though, and has been given an acceptance to their P.A. program already. We all are looking at this TO as just another great option. If she chooses not to follow the P.A. track, then perhaps transferring would be something she’d be interested in pursuing. Otherwise, she’s got a great situation at Pitt.

The funny thing with this option is that her biggest concern - which is not a concern for us as her parents at all - is that she’d have to leave her friends that she’s made. And while that is valid she would’ve only know them for 8 months if she decides to change schools! And from what I have read, Cornell does have programing for the TOs and they stay in the same dorm. I do believe that no college wants any students to not make a smooth and healthy transition to their school.

For kids whose goal is Cornell All The Way, the TO is just an unconventional way for them to get there. For students like my D, it’s a fascinating option that she may or may not cash in on.

Interestingly, she was offered a spot in Case Western Reserve’s fall of 2019 class. But, unlike the TO, she would have had to take a gap year with NO CLASSES ALLOWED! She would’ve had to enter Case as a true freshman, just a year later. We were put off by a school defining what the gap year could or could not be. We like the TO offer much better. Nothing is on hold, so to say.

re #20: “And from what I have read, Cornell does have programing for the TOs and they stay in the same dorm. I do believe that no college wants any students to not make a smooth and healthy transition to their school.”

My D2 was a “regular” (ie not transfer option) transfer into the College of Arts & Sciences. They put her in a dorm that had a mix of upperclassmen, some transfer students, even some foreign graduate students I believe. It seemed more about them filling vacancies in dorm rooms where they occurred, not as part of some coordinated program. Other transfers she met were all over the place. The university held a couple “mixer” type events for transfer students at the beginning of the semester, and that was it.

But she came in for Spring semester. They might do more for Fall entrants, since most transfer students come in then. And block off dorm areas for them too, as was suggested, in the Fall, I don’t know. Also its possible they have some events just for Transfer Option entrants, I wouldn’t know. Also since almost all the TO students were into the contract colleges, the high concentration of them there might result in more opportunities for them to comingle.

At the end of the day these are just transfer students, so have the same challenges as transfer students anywhere. Although likely better than at some other schools, because there are relatively a lot of transfer students into Cornell, all looking to re-start a social life. It took my daughter a little while to establish a social circle and acclimate, though she is very social. But she wound up loving it there.

Here are more of my references.

I originally had some blogs in the list, so the CC editor rejected the post.

It took me awhile to figure out the offending references, hence the delayed post.


Human Eology



Arts and Sciences


Thanks @mastadon , we have not seen that Human Ec documents previously. Do you know how old it is? It says only 169 students got the TO offer in Human Ec. Curious if that is from this year.

@winky1 - the link header says 2017, that would be my best guess.

I find the attitude about this being unfair (to the student and other schools) to be nonsensical.

My son accepted the TO and it was very helpful to him to have guidance from someone at Cornell to help him select courses that would be most beneficial to him at Cornell, while attending another school. If he just went to another school on his own, with the idea of transferring later, as many students do, that is no more “honest” to the first school at all, just more difficult for the student. Cornell is giving resources to the student, in the form of guidance, so I am not sure how that can be unfair to the student. And all schools lose students to transfer. If the first school was something special, they would retain more students, nobody is forcing the TO candidate to transfer.

My son went to a very inexpensive public school which saved us some money, he got Cornell advising, and
his first school had a chance to retain an excellent student. But the advice he got from Cornell was more competent and helpful that from his own giant public univ. They deserved to lose my son to Cornell. And I am sure they filled his spot in their overcrowded classes with one of the thousands of applicants who wanted to transfer into his first school.
My son would not have his Cornell degree now without the TO, and he wouldn’t be enrolling in their grad school either.
Guess he deserved to be there, the Dean’s list and grades that got him into the grad school sure showed he belonged there with the freshman and other transfer admits.


In my opinion, your son definitely deserved to be there - just sooner.

The alternative to offering your son deferred admission through the TO was to offer him direct admission. This is what most schools do. I have now read through the various justifications for the TO program, and I have not found any that make sense. This suggests that the primary reason your son was offered deferred admission rather than direct admission was to inflate Cornell’s selectivity stats as well as improve its US News Ranking. (US News bases its ranking on the statistics of the class admitted in the fall).

Some would consider this unfair to your son.

Since deferred admission is one of the most effective means of optimizing rankings there are several other schools that have deferred admission programs. The difference in Cornell’s program (relative to most other programs) is that their program does it at the expense of other schools.

Some would consider this unfair to the other schools.

Now, after spending quite a bit of time researching the issue, I would say that my opinion aligns with @tomsrofboston and @Privatebanker.

Although I would question the ethics behind any of the deferred programs, I would consider Northeastern’s program, (which defers students by sending them to one of several specified study abroad programs for a semester), one of the least disruptive and more ethical programs.

I would consider Cornell’s TO program one of the most disruptive and least ethical programs.

re #26:
"The alternative to offering your son deferred admission through the TO was to offer him direct admission. "

From what I understand, this is not the actual alternative. The actual alternative is to somehow encourage more “regular” transfer applicants, of appropriate quality, to the contract colleges.

The university does not want to increase the size of the freshman class, for several reasons:

  • They are capacity constrained in the freshman dorms. There are only so many beds in North Campus which is where the university deliberately puts all the freshmen, so they can more easily mingle with each other.
  • The university has been generally trying to reduce, not increase, the enrollment in their freshman survey courses. Expanding freshman enrollment would be contrary to this objective.
  • The vast majority of these TOs have been issued by the contract colleges. It is my understanding that internally the contract colleges "pay" the endowed colleges, and vica versa, for courses their students take at each other's colleges. A lot of the survey courses and seminars that freshman enrolled in the contract colleges tend to take are actually taught in the Arts & Sciences college, an endowed college. So freshmen are not as profitable for the contract colleges as upperclassmen are.

New York State has been cutting funding to the contract colleges for years. These affected colleges wanted to offset this revenue loss, in part, .by adding tuition-paying bodies. But for the above reasons the addition needed to occur in in the upperclassman years, not as freshmen. One way to help get there is by issuing these guaranteed transfers. With requirements that the students wishing to transfer take a lot of these unprofitable intro courses at their first college, so relatively more ofl their credits thereafter will tend to be taken at their own contract college. ($$$$)

It’s about the money. The stats might change if those additional students entered as freshmen. But neither the university nor the contract colleges want them as freshmen. They want them as upperclassmen. Due to their monetary needs, internal accounting, and capacity constraints. Not due to somebody’s rankings.

The stats of all transfer students, Transfer Option or otherwise, at all universities, are not evaluated by US News. It is hard to find entrance stats for transfer students, anyplace. If Cornell just accepted more straight transfer students instead, which is more likely their actual alternative, those transfer students would be no more reported than the TO students.

There are 3 choices, outright denial, outright acceptance, and for Cornell, a third creative offering of TO.
If there are insufficient dorms for required on-campus living, insufficient funding for university wide courses funded by the contract colleges, that is unfortunate but there is no quick fix. Building housing capacity is a very long term effort, one that is under constant review. Raising funds, well that should be easy…alumni give give give to your contract college that helped you get an affordable top quality education in the past when funding from the state gov was better.
We did not have as large a discount, and having my son at another school did save some $.
To be honest, yes he would have preferred to go to Cornell as a freshman, and his own HS GC was astonished at the outcome (knowing my son did deserve to be there as a freshman… but then again lots of deserving kids don’t get what they want, one recent year our HS valedictorian was rejected from all ivies). So yes it was not ideal, but with grad school he’ll spend the same 4 years in Ithaca, come out with a 2 degrees, for the same cost that many spent on just an undergrad degree. So was it fair or unfair ? This is a glass half full/half empty argument.

Now if you want to argue that no university should accept any transfer students because US News does not appropriately account for transfer students, go ahead. But the institutions accept transfer students because they need them for revenue. They do not work for US News. It’s not their fault US News doesn’t properly account for transfer students.

And if it was truly just stats to game USNWR, they could have just admitted a larger fresh class with higher SAT scores…and no TO. I don’t think it’s that simple. But yes some colleges do game the system, and Northeastern has been accused of being one of the worst in that regard, yet held out as a good example here.

The stats may well be part of the decision, but I would think a program like TO would be more helpful to lower ranked schools trying to move up. A school already so high in the rankings as Cornell, is it really that hard for them to land kids with high SAT scores ? People post rejections with high SAT scores on this site every year.

@moneydad - I have seen your arguments posted on another thread. Here are my thoughts.

The notion of an Ivy League school that cannot afford to provide entry level classes to all of its freshman seems incongruous. (Note that Cornell has a $6.8B endowment)

The fact that Cornell has re-instituted the program in two of the endowed colleges is inconsistent with explanations that revolve around the state funded colleges.

The fact that large freshman survey courses cost less than smaller high level courses and the fact that all undergraduates pay the same tuition is inconsistent with cost/revenue based explanations. If Cornell’s internal accounting procedures don’t reflect actual costs, then that is unfortunate and should be fixed.

The fact that both SUNY Binghamton and SUNY Geneseo have a lower percentage of classes with more than 50 students than Cornell while having higher student teacher ratios and lower tuition is inconsistent with the notion of Cornell putting a priority on undergraduate class sizes.

The argument that Cornell has a limited number of freshman dorms and wants to keep all freshman together so they can mingle does not make sense. With the TO program, Cornell is effectively placing some of their freshman in dorms on the campuses of other colleges rather than the non-freshman dorms on the Cornell campus. This makes it much more difficult to mingle and introduces other social issues. The TO program has been in place for several decades, which is plenty of time to build new dorms.


paragraph #1: see comments on paragraph 4

Paragraph 2: I don’t know why the other two schools decided to join in. Maybe they were just finding themselves having to reject too many great students so they thought “hey, me too!” .But all the prior discussion back in the day of its past iteration,was about the revenue needs of the contract colleges. and if you read CC you will see that virtually all the TOs are into the contract colleges.

Paragraph #3 : The point is the contract colleges may pay lots of that revenue over to the Arts & Sciences college for freshman courses. The contract colleges want all the revenue for themselves. I have to admit this is an assumption I am making. based on how I know another university works. But it makes sense to me, given what goes on there. They have to make strict accounting of the statutory vs endowed expenditures, due to requirements of reporting to New York State.

Paragraph #4: Since your assertion is that Cornell students are spending too much time in large classes, wouldn’t you agree that the university might not, and also ought not, want to make this situation even worse???

Paragraph #5- They do want all the freshmen together on North campus. That was a change they made, deliberately, which was not the case when I attended. It was made to improve the freshman/ bonding experience.

Assuming there is even room on North Campus to build another dorm- and if there is, it would have to be pretty far out there- apparently they don’t want to spring for that. They have been busy building other things- eg the engineering graduate program in New York City. Maybe it would be different if they actually wanted more freshmen. But evidently they don’t. If they change their mind about that at some point they probably will build a new dorm.(Though I don’t know where that would go). But they don’t have it now. Of course if someone reading here would like to fund it for them, we can put that to the test.

It would indeed be better socially, for people who transfer, if they had spent that time at their initial college, and hence didn’t have to transfer. This is true for all transfer students, to all universities, not just those given a TO. But it would be worse for all the other new freshman, who were accepted outright, if their dorms were overcrowded and their classes were larger.

The TO students do have a worse deal than freshman admits in that regard. But it is up to them whether to transfer or not. Many students who are offered the TO do not ultimately choose to transfer. It is an option, not a requirement.

The alternative to the TO is not admitting more freshmen. It is admitting more “regular” transfer students. Because the university doesn’t want more freshmen.Those “regular” transfer students experience the same challenges of transferring as the transfer students who had TOs do. Probably the students the university gets from TO are stronger, overall, than what comes to them through regular transfer applications.

@Mastadon Cornell clearly wants all freshman together on North Campus, that is the only place they put freshman. They are building some new dorms to be open in 3 years, but Cornell has a huge housing problem, and they are constrained on how many freshman they can accept, in part due to their housing limitations.

yes… clearly if they wanted to they could spend millions upon millions to build housing for all 20K students… but they don’t see the value in doing that apparently

Thank you @miscparentname, I knew they’ve been renovating the older dorms, but I didn’t know about any new ones. I’ll have to go look at where they are going. I would think they would have to be in back of the North campus high rises, which would be pretty far away. But they are hopefully more clever than I am…

My other child went to another private school in upstate NY. The dorms were older and much more densely packed than Cornell. He was astonished when he saw the condition and size of the dorms at Cornell vs his own college. As a transfer student, my son was offered fantastic housing at Cornell. He had an orientation similar to freshman. I don’t think he had any huge disadvantage at all. Housing and food, Cornell is among the best out there.
Many other schools expanded the freshman class by changing a double to a triple…but charge the same R&B fees as Cornell. Sometimes better to offer what you can deliver at high quality or offer nothing at all until you can.

@monydad, the older dorm renovations won’t take place until they build the new sophomore village on North Campus, which will take years. My D lived in in an old, unrenovated dorm this year, and is unfortunately living in an even worse one next year - she has already been briefed by some upperclassmen on the insufficient heat and hot water, as well as the bug and bat infestations in her new dorm (which still costs the same amount of money as the suites in the fancy new buildings next door).

  1. @blevine, Cornell has also changed doubles to triples in some freshman dorms- another indication that they have no more room. This may not happen every year, but it has happened. There have been a lot of posts and complaints about it, in the years when it has been particularly bad.

  2. @Pattatty, I had read that renovations were planned to older dorms such as Balch and Dickson, but some of the new housing has to come in before they can do that work. So I guess that’s what you mean. I read that some of the new housing was planned to be available in 2020.
    FWIW it’s not like they haven’t done anything. Housing improvements have happened. Three new dorms were built on North campus in 2000-2002 in connection with the initiative to put all freshmen on North Campus.The entire West Campus “U-Halls” dorm complex, where I lived freshman year, were torn down in 2003-2007 and replaced with the current “residential campus” buildings complex for upperclassmen housing. That was a huge project. There will always be worse-condition dorms, and some people will be stuck living in them… But on the bright side, some of the worst housing there has been considered to be the most fun, so hopefully your D won’t find it all bad.

If the suites you are referring to are in the high rises, FWIW those buildings might be in physically good condition, but on the other hand they were originally built as upperclassmen housing and are very anti-social. Or at least that was my experience, years ago.

@monydad, my D is having too much fun to complain - It’s only me that’s upset, probably since I’m paying the bills :). The suites I was referring to are in the new West Campus buildings. My D will be in one of the “gothics” which is sorely in need of renovation, yet costs the same as rooms in the new buildings.

On the issue of transfer housing, I saw on another thread that Cornell is over-booked for transfers and may be putting them in temporary housing until rooms open up. Something about “quintuples” in the first-year dorms. Yikes.