Question: I am a sophomore honors student with great extracurriculars. My family must move to another state when the school year ends. How badly will this move hurt my chances of admission to highly competitive colleges?
Moving to a new school shouldnâ€™t hurt your admission decisions, andâ€"with a bit of foresightâ€"could even turn into a plus in the admission process.
The first thing you need to do is get your academic ducks in a row. That is, if you havenâ€™t done so already, you (or your parents) should contact the school youâ€™ll be attending next year and investigate the course offerings. If youâ€™re lucky, youâ€™ll be able to make a seamless transition from the curriculum youâ€™re following now to whatever is available at your new school, but this is not always the case. Here are some points to keep in mind as you review your new schoolâ€™s course listings:
Â·Find out what youâ€™ll need to do to get into the classes you want, especially if you are aiming for Advanced Placement courses or other upper-level offerings.
Â·Find out, too, if youâ€™ll be able to continue with the foreign language you are currently studying. Depending on what it is, it may not be available at your transfer school. If youâ€™re taking French or Spanish now, youâ€™ll probably be all set wherever you go, but if youâ€™re doing German, Russian, Italian, Latin, etc., your new high school may not have a similar program. If this is the case, you may want to think about studying a new language for your last two years of school, rather than stopping foreign language altogether (or consider continuing your current language outside of school). While college admission officers will be understanding if you tell them that your language-study was curtailed when you changed schools, theyâ€™ll be impressed if youâ€™ve taken the initiative to pick up a new language orâ€"better yetâ€"to pursue the one youâ€™ve already begun at a nearby community college or through an online distance-learning program.
Â·Check to make sure that the math and science sequences at your new school coincide with what you have now. For instance, if you are currently studying geometry and expect to take algebra II or trig or pre-calculus next year, ask if these classes are typically available to juniors at your new school. If youâ€™re already aiming for calculus as a junior, like the foreign language, youâ€™ll have to see if itâ€™s offered. You may find itâ€™s a senior class at your new high school, so you could have to make some schedule adjustments and be willing to join a class made up mostly of seniors.
Â·Science sequencing may be different at your new school as well, so thatâ€™s another area where you need to check to see what the typical junior options are and how they mesh with what you have already taken and what you hope to do in the next two years.
Â·Finally, if itâ€™s not too painful a thought, go out of your way to introduce yourself to your new teachers and administratorsâ€"especially the guidance counselorâ€"as soon as school starts. If your new school is large, chances are, you wonâ€™t be any more unfamiliar to the staff than the majority of your classmates who have been in that system since kindergarten. In a smaller school, however, teachers, students, and staff often know each other well by junior year, and youâ€™ll have some catching up to do.
When it comes to extracurricular activities, transferring in 11th grade can be tough. You may feel that youâ€™ve positioned yourself to take leadership roles in school clubs or to snare starting-line-up spots on school teams, and that youâ€™ll lose out when youâ€™re the new kid in town. Indeed, this is likely, but the silver lining to that cloud is that you may have a chance to pursue different activities that arenâ€™t available to you now or to hold leaderships jobs in organizations where the heirs-apparent at your old school were already entrenched (and werenâ€™t you!).
Likewise, depending on where youâ€™re moving, the new locale can offer you the opportunity to try hobbies and internships or learn about a different part of the country that you couldnâ€™t experience before. This, in particular, is where you can profit from your move at admission-decision time.
You will probably want to write a supplementary essay (or it might even be your main essay) explaining your transfer to admission committee members. You can use this statement to cite irregularities on your transcript (e.g., â€œI switched from German to French because German was not offered at my new school.â€) and also to point out that your ECâ€™s may have suffered because of the move. Make sure, though, that you donâ€™t take on a whiny, self-pitying tone. Humor can be a big plus here. For example, your supplementary essay could sound something like this:
I had just thrown my hat in the ring to be junior-class president and was zeroing in on a killer campaign slogan when my parents sprung the impending move on me, and my dreams of political power crashed and burned. I fleetingly considered running for the office anyway. With campus apathy as high as it was in my school, I figured that no one would even notice if I wasnâ€™t there to run the class meetings in September. In fact, I thought no one would notice at all until the gym was dark on prom night in May. It was a tempting concept, but I finally realized that it was time to say goodbye to my old life at [name of school] and forge a new one, hundreds of miles away from everything Iâ€™d ever known.
I decided thatâ€"if I was giving up my chance to be a student-government leader, concert master, and starting baseball pitcher (goals Iâ€™d worked half my life to attain)â€"I would just have to make my mark at my new school instead. There was bound to be some activity, organization, or team that would be ready to welcome any warm body including mine. Maybe I could even rise through the ranks meteorically and snare the chess club presidency by my senior September. If only someone would teach me to play chess!
Your essay could go on from there to talk about what you were able to accomplish in your new school and community. When youâ€™re finished, youâ€™ll have gently made your point that your familyâ€™s move required you to leave long-held ambitions behind, but that you approached your new experience with a positive outlook. (If there were things you were able to undertake or achieve in your new school, that wouldnâ€™t have been possible at home, be sure to say so. Admission officials will appreciate the ways you rose to the challenge.)
We hope these suggestions make you feel more optimistic about your move and its impact on your college plans. Itâ€™s hard to provide truly helpful advice without knowing more about you, the school and locale youâ€™re leaving and the new ones youâ€™ll call home.
Meanwhile, best wishes on your â€œnew life.â€ While the thought of starting over in a strange place can be daunting, just think of how good it will feel to clean out your room, unearth crate-loads of childhood artifacts, and haul a decadeâ€™s worth of â€œtreasuresâ€ to the dump!