Is possible to apply to a PhD psychology program, and if accepted, then transfer a year later to another program that is higher in ranking?

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  • It may bear repeating that there is really no notion of "transfer" between grad programs in the U.S. That is, you'd need to (re-) apply to the other program, and hope to be admitted. The fact that you'd been accepted to the other one already gets you almost nothing, certainly not automatic admission. Commented Feb 15, 2018 at 22:29

2 Answers 2


It might be possible, but I would not recommend it unless there are very special circumstances. For example, if your advisor is moving institutions, it might be appropriate to follow them if you have their backing.

The higher ranking program is going to wonder why you were unable to complete your studies at the original institution, and will question your ability to play well with others. They will have many, many applicants that are as qualified or more qualified than you that lack the uncertainties you will bring ("will they stay?" "why did they leave?" "are they being totally honest?"). Further, there is almost nothing you will be able to accomplish in your first year of graduate school that will distinguish you to the point that a school that originally rejected you will suddenly want to drop everything to have you.

Two more pieces of advice: first, the ranking of the school you do your graduate work at matters less than your choice of advisor and ability to thrive in the lab you join.

Second, if you feel like you need more experience or to improve your resume to get into the school you want, you will be much better off getting a research job for a year that is not part of a graduate program - this is very common, and will not be looked upon as strange by an admissions committee. Changing universities after a year will.


In theory, your PhD application should be your "last stop."

The idea of transferring to a better program might work if you "woke up" late in your academic career, say in your master's program or the senior year of a bachelor's program. Then if you get "top grades" in the first year or so of a middling PhD program to overshadow worse grades earlier in your academic career, that might enable you to transfer to a better program.

My own experience, and that of several of my PhD classmates was the opposite; that if you get into the best program warranted by your earlier grades and can't "hack it," the transfers are "downward."

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