Do Top Grad Schools Admit Applicants from Less Selective Colleges?

Question: I am a freshman at a public university that is not very selective. I never got spectacular grades in high school and was the athlete who was "too cool" to study. I ended up with a 3.5 GPA and was admitted here with a full-tuition scholarship for four years. Now that I'm in college, I've put great effort into my studies and have a perfect 4.0 GPA. I like biology, and I think I want to go on to get my Masters. My concern is that, by attending a middle-of-the-road state university, I will not be accepted by a good grad school. Should I transfer to a better college?

Congratulations on your outstanding college record so far. You can certainly apply to transfer to a more selective college, if you so choose. Your best bet, however, would be to wait until next year to start the application process, with the aim of transferring as a junior. That way you would have three semesters of college work under your belt before application deadlines which would maximize your chances of admission to a highly competitive school. This would also enable you to keep costs to a minimum by staying where you are for as long as possible.

BUT ... there is really no need to transfer if your objective is to attend a top graduate school. Grad school admission committees--just like undergrad admission committees--value "diversity," and thus they like to see a range of undergraduate colleges represented in their incoming class. You may find that it will be beneficial (as well as cheaper!) to stay where are so that you can be a "big fish in a small pond." Keep up the good work you've done so far, and also ask your professors about research and internship opportunities, either during the school year or over the summer. Look for ways to get involved in extracurricular activities and, especially, to take on campus leadership roles.

Having strong credentials at your undergrad college is much more important to the grad-school admission folks than the prestige of the college you're attending.