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The Transfer Student Organization board welcomes incoming transfer students with a virtual sign. (Photo from Transfer Student Organization)

Penn's transfer acceptance rate dropped to a historic low this year, following an unprecedented application cycle.

Penn made offers of admission to about 165 of the more than 3,500 students who applied to transfer to Penn this year, according to Associate Director of Undergraduate Admissions Sara Cohen, putting the acceptance rate at just under 5%. Those receiving acceptance letters in May had to make their decision to matriculate by June 1.

This year's acceptance rate dropped more than two percentage points from last year's rate of 7.8%. In 2019, the transfer acceptance rate was 5.9%, more than an entire percentage point higher than this year. 

Penn's record-low transfer acceptance rate pales in comparison to other Ivy League schools. Harvard University, for example, typically admits around 12 out of 1,500 transfer applicants each year, yielding an acceptance rate of under 1%, the Harvard Crimson reported. In 2020, Princeton offered admission to just 13 of 905 applicants — an acceptance rate below 2%.

Despite the record-low, Penn is the second-most popular Ivy League school for transfer students after Cornell, reflected by its higher admissions rate and large applicant pool.

Many transfer students cited the Transfer Student Organization as the one of the primary reasons they chose to commit to Penn. TSO, a student-run group of transfers "dedicated to providing academic and social support for its members," according to the website, organized information sessions, office hours, and virtual breakout groups to speak with upperclassmen mentors to help admitted students decide whether to enroll.

Rising junior Andres Mondragon, an international student from Lima, Peru, and an incoming transfer student from Temple University, was one of many students who benefitted from the TSO’s programming.

“Getting to talk to people and seeing that there are many people coming from a similar background as mine was really cool,” Mondragon said. “A board member from the TSO group is also international, so I got to ask her a few questions, and that was really helpful.”

Rising seniors Deepti Tantry and Lexi Brauer, co-presidents of TSO and transfer students themselves, said the TSO aims to offer a supportive community of people who understand the challenges of moving from a previous institution to Penn.  

In particular, Tantry and Brauer work with the executive board to facilitate TSO programming, including “small group dinners, transfer information sessions, and mentorship bonding events” during New Student Orientation, according to the TSO website. TSO also assigns all accepted transfer students with a mentor who previously transferred to Penn.

In addition to help from the TSO, accepted students commented that their application experience to Penn was smoother compared to some other universities. 

Emily Zhou, a transfer student and rising junior from Emory University, said that while with other universities it was challenging to find the transfer student information she was looking for, Penn’s website had everything she needed. Not only did the website have useful hyperlinks and graphics, it also contained statements from current and graduating transfer students at Penn, providing an inside look into Penn’s student body, Zhou added.

The timing of this year’s transfer application cycle – still in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic – also affected students’ decisions about where to apply. Mondragon, who had previously applied to Wharton in 2019, said that the pandemic was one of the reasons that pushed him to reapply this year, this time to the College.

“It was a hard period of time, and [COVID-19] affected both of my parents”, Mondragon said. “Things have changed so much because of the pandemic, and I reevaluated what I wanted to do.” Mondragon now is on track to pursue a mathematics economics major in the College.

In addition, Penn’s resources as a liberal arts institution drew students like rising junior Laura Santos, an incoming transfer student, to apply. After spending two years at a community college, Santos visited Penn and said she felt it would better support her interests in creative and journalistic writing.

“I saw that Carmen Machado is an artist-in-residence [at Penn], and that is one of my favorite Latina writers,” Santos said, adding that taking a course with Machado would be an amazing opportunity.

Tantry and Brauer also reflected on the benefits of entering Penn as a transfer student.

“As transfer students, we have the unique position of knowing what another university is like,” Tantry said. “Therefore, you come to Penn with a unique perspective on what you want out of your college experience, which allows transfer students to take advantage of all the amazing opportunities that Penn offers.”

Rising College senior Asaad Manzar, who serves as TSO’s vice president of finance fundraising, said that he is confident that TSO and Penn's administration will be able to provide the incoming transfer class a joyful and fulfilling transition to Penn this fall despite an ongoing pandemic.

“What is special about TSO is that we have our own built-in and tight-knit community,” Manzar stated. “[TSO] is so encouraging and supportive, and that is something that I really cherish.”