Incoming Transfers - where is the "space" coming from?

Rather than hi-jacking a different thread - I’ve often wondered about the acceptance rate and number of incoming transfers to a college, e.g.:

So - if a college didn’t have the “space” to admit those extra 430 students as freshman, how can they suddenly accommodate hundreds more a year (or two) later?

Does it mean they lost an equivalent number of students after freshman year?
Does it mean they don’t have enough freshman housing, or space for the freshman seminars - but after the first year, things “spread out” and people might move off-campus - and they can handle many more upper-class(wo)men?
Is there a financial incentive, because they can cherry-pick full-pay transfers, and don’t have to invest into facilities (e.g., no guaranteed housing)?

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At our school, the transfers fill space from those who have transferred out or who are spending a semester abroad. They don’t increase the size of the classes.

I have also wondered this. It doesn’t always look like the rate of students leaving the school after freshman year (as deduced from the CDS) lines up with the number of transfers of school is taking.

Which means after one semester (when the semester abroad is over), the net population will have increased - and then repeat a similar increase at least one more year over any 4 year period.

They account for those who will be returning. We also have a program where students spend two years abroad.


Maybe it has more to do with lower division vs upper division classes. Lower division classes tend to be maxed out at many colleges, but upper division tend to have more space (depending of course on major). Transfer students would be presumably be taking lower division elsewhere, not impacting already overcrowded classes, then coming in only for the upper division which already tend to have more space (with some majors less popular/populous than others).


Are you just asking this re: private colleges? Because many public colleges including all of the UC and CSU system schools have transfers built into the plan. They take many more students halfway through once they are finished with prerequisites at community colleges.

Yes. William and Mary has a guaranteed spring admit for waitlisted freshmen if they take classes at approved community colleges or abroad. They have to meet certain criteria. I think schools have a pretty good handle on rates of attrition. But they want to keep the campus maxed.

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Frankly - I hadn’t even considered if/how things might be different for different types of colleges.
I “was wondering quite generically” :wink: .

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I’m honestly impressed at how the colleges seem to peg stuff like yield and enrollment pretty well most of the time. We hear about the cases when that goes wrong and housing/etc. come up short, but most of the time they seem to know approximately how the numbers will play out.


I do remember hearing that transferring into my own alma mater (a private college) was close to impossible — like acceptances of fewer than 10 or 15 students each year, if that.

So that almost sounds like some colleges have an “off-site deferral” approach. They can’t accommodate them as incoming Freshman, but will “let you in” once the dust has settled and students are “spreading out” over a wider course catalogue?

Cornell has offered applicants a Transfer Option (often referred to as TO on CC) for several years. I knew several students who have taken advantage of it, usually going to an in-state public for their first year to save $ and then transferring as sophomores. Here’s a good explanation: What is the Cornell Transfer Option? — TKG


Thanks, so it sounds exactly what I thought:

… due to first-year enrollment restrictions … we are unable to offer admission to many applicants who have shown outstanding academic potential.

They didn’t have enough resources/availability to fit them in as Freshman, so they push off the freshman year to CCs (or other college) until the course catalogue “widens” with the 2nd year. So at least they secure three years of tuition.

A mutual financial benefit.


I can’t speak generally but my understanding regarding Vanderbilt is that their “model” includes a large transfer class because the additional students allow them to offer more upper division classes. They have space for the new students because there is more housing on the main campus than the freshman campus plus a certain number of juniors and seniors are permitted to live off campus as well. Seems like a smart business model.


Many schools tightly manage their study abroad numbers, so that each semester roughly the same number of sophs/juniors/seniors are not on campus…so they can count on X number of students studying abroad any given semester. Schools that co-op also have openings due to those students being gone.

I agree with others who said many publics build in transfer capacity due to various articulation agreements.

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At many schools…a good number of the junior class do study abroad in the fall, and another group does so in the spring. This is likely accounted for in the overall enrollment at colleges….knowing there might be transfers in.

Some colleges have a “business model” where they enroll more students at the upper class levels than at lower class levels. The California public universities are structured this way based on the assumption that about a third of students graduating from them attended only as juniors and seniors, having started their college attendance at community colleges.

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Note that starting some frosh in the spring is a load balancing technique. If all students start in the fall, the fall semester will have greater enrollment than the spring semester, since a student who graduates one semester early or late will have one extra fall semester.

Of course, that pushes some of the “excess” fall enrollment to other colleges (community colleges, study abroad schools, special fall-only extension programs), since not all spring-start frosh will take a gap semester of no college at all.

Which, according to the guarantee, would not even be an option?