Majority of Transfer Students Come From High-Income Backgrounds, New Data Reveals

The latest data from Common App also reveals that first-generation students only make up just over a third of transfer applicants.
1 min read

Share this Article

  • Only 6% of transfer applicants during the 2021-22 academic year came from ZIP codes in the lowest-income neighborhoods, according to new data from Common App.
  • About 74% of transfer applicants during the same year were from overrepresented racial/ethnic groups.
  • Equity gaps in transfer applicants suggest persistent problems with access, affordability, and awareness.
  • Of more than 253,000 transfer applications received by Common App, the majority were to public or selective institutions.

Transfer students overwhelmingly come from high-income backgrounds, according to the latest data from Common App.

During the 2021-22 academic year, 56% of the more than 112,000 transfer applicants came from ZIP codes in the wealthiest neighborhoods across the U.S.

By comparison, just 6% of total transfer applicants came from ZIP codes in the lowest-income neighborhoods.

Number of Transfer Applicants by Income-Level in 2021-22

But it's not just wealthy students who account for a disproportionate number of students applying to change schools.

Non-underrepresented minorities — or students who are not Black or African American, Latino/a, Native American or Alaska Native, or Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander — accounted for approximately 74% of transfer applicants in 2021-22. Meanwhile, just over a fourth (26%) of underrepresented minorities were transfer applicants during the same year.

Continuing-generation students also make up a large percentage of transfer applicants. In 2021-22, they accounted for 65% of students looking for transfer. First-generation students made up the remaining 35%.

Percentage of Transfer Applicants by Type of Student in 2021-22

The number of first-generation students looking to transfer has remained relatively stagnant over the last four years. Since 2018-19, it has increased by only 3%.

The number of continuing-generation students, however, grew by approximately 12% between 2018-19 and 2021-22.

The equity gap between varying groups of students looking to transfer may be due to a number of factors, including affordability, accessibility, and awareness.

Until students from low-income households and underrepresented minorities are given the tools to make transferring to a new institution possible, they will continue to account for a small percentage of transfer applicants.

This may also have significant impacts on the number of low-income and underrepresented minorities who are able to increase their socioeconomic mobility through higher education.

Common App found that more than 40% of its transfer applicants had a history of attending a community college before applying through its platform.

Because community college students tend to be disproportionately Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) and low-income, if these students are unable to make transfers that could aid them in completing their educational journey, the equity gap in higher education will only persist.

Where Transfer Applicants Are Applying

The most popular institutions among transfer applicants during the 2021-22 academic year were public flagship institutions and highly selective institutions that admit less than 25% of first-year students.

Transfer applications to selective institutions accounted for just under a third (30%) of the more than 253,000 applications Common App received during the year.

By comparison, less than a quarter (23%) of all transfer applications were to institutions that admit 75% or more of first-year students.

Percentage of Total Transfer of Applications by First-Year Selectivity in 2021-22

On average, applicants sent in about two transfer applications compared to first-year applicants who tend to apply to six colleges or more.