In a university that boasts seven undergraduate colleges, students are neatly sorted into their collegiate home before even arriving to Cornell. But for students who decide their academic interests lie beyond their chosen school, an internal transfer means that isn’t a permanent assignment.
To Sabrina Wong ’21, who was originally undeclared in the College of Arts and Sciences with intended majors in English and economics, the process of transferring into Applied Economics and Management was “competitive.” Applicants need a high G.P.A., a strong personal statement and related extracurricular activities, among other things, she said.
“You also need to have good, concrete reasons [for switching your major.] It’s a pretty big decision, and admissions wants to see a responsible person who has done their research and reached out to relevant people,” Wong said.
“That actual process itself is like applying to college all over again. You have to really really want it to keep track of all the deadlines and writing samples,” she added.
Molly Smith ’21 switched from being undeclared in the College of Engineering to food science in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
To internally transfer, she had to meet with several advisors, from both her old and new intended majors and fill out a comprehensive application, noting, like Wong, that one has to demonstrate genuine interest in the major, either through classes or activities.
“I couldn’t get into a food science class before I applied, so I ended up doing research in food science. Admissions officers want to see that you like the major you are going into, not just that you hate your current major,” she said.
According to Smith, a successful application depends on a combination of factors. Personal statement and being in good academic standing in the home college matter. Since internal transfers may be behind in their new major, they also have to show how they plan to catch up to graduate on time, by taking extra classes during break or using transfer credits.
The academic trajectory of Grace Bichler ’22 took a more unconventional turn. Switching from environment and sustainability studies to history, Bichler said the personal statement is one of the most critical application components.
“Though I came from a STEM major, both freshman writing seminars I took were related to history in some way,” she said. “In my personal statement, I wrote about those classes and experiences I have had and how since I was little, I had been really interested in history.”
As for Jaylen Keith ’20, who was undeclared in the College of Arts and Sciences before transferring into electrical and computer engineering, “taking the right classes and maintaining a certain G.P.A.” is the most important.
“After taking some of the classes that freshmen engineers take, I decided that I want to do an engineering major,” he said. “Though I applied for internal transfer the second semester of sophomore year, I already decided freshman year, very early on, that I wanted to switch my major.”
The process for transferring to each college can vary considerably. While all students looking to transfer must fill out the same internal transfer application, which asks applicants for a 600-word essay on why their “academic or career goals have led” them to “pursue an internal transfer,” some colleges have more requirements than others.
For instance, while the College of Arts and Sciences requires that potential transfers have at least a 2.7 G.P.A., AEM notes that most of its successful applicants have “at least a 3.3,” in addition to also asking for a resume and supplemental transfer application.
Acceptance rates for internal transfer vary by college and program and depend on the unique applicant pool each semester, explained Florencia Ardon, program manager and advisor at the Office of Internal Transfer and Concurrent Degrees.
“More than thinking if it is easy or hard to transfer into a major, it is very important that students reflect on whether they know enough of their target major to be sure they want to transfer to that major, first of all,” Ardon told The Sun in an email.
“Then, students need to see whether it is feasible, i.e., will they finish on time and do they fulfill the requirements?” she continued. “The process is definitely holistic and all components are taken into consideration.”
All four students are happy with the decisions they have made; they have also learned and matured through this experience. For instance, Smith learned to be true to herself and follow her passions.
“A lot of people thought that I was switching out of engineering because it was too hard for me. But I was switching because I didn’t have any interests,” she said. “I was not backing out and being weak. I was just doing what I like.”
Wong, on the other hand, learned “a lot about independence, taking control of one’s life, and making big decisions and acting upon them.”
“That in itself is the whole point of college,” she said.