How the Trojan Transfer Plan offers some students an alternative path to admission at USC

Alexis Francel tells of her background with the Trojan Transfer Plan and how the program adds another dimension to the USC experience.

Too many of us know the feeling: surviving that lengthy college application season and anxiously checking the mailbox every day for the iconic red envelope.

USC was my dream school. It was everything I ever wanted. As I write this for Annenberg Media, you might be surprised to hear that I was one of the many that didn’t get the infamous red envelope, but a small white envelope containing my rejection letter. I threw it away before realizing at the bottom of my rejection there was a fine print. “Your eventual enrollment at USC is of great interest to us, so I invite you to consider the Trojan Transfer Plan…”

Like others in my situation, I later received an email detailing a path to my future enrollment at USC with something called the Trojan Transfer Plan.

The Trojan Transfer plan is an invite only alternate admissions route, often referred to as the TTP, where students are guided through the process of transferring into USC.

The current circumstances surrounding college culture from the college admissions scandals and the length of a student’s experience at USC raises the question, does the program devalue the student’s admission?

The plan takes place over the span of one year where students can choose to study at a junior college or university within the United States, or study abroad at one of the universities that USC has partnered with such as John Cabot University in Rome or Richmond the American International University in London.

While the offer may seem perfect, the transfer student’s path to admission requires more than completing a year away from USC.

Students need to complete a certain number of units while earning a grade point average of at least 3.6 with no grade below a C. Students must also formally reapply to USC.

Alexis Handler, a rising senior at USC, spent her first year of college participating in TTP through studying abroad in Rome.

“I chose to go abroad because I was ready for something new,” Handler said. “I wanted to take a risk and experience something out of my comfort zone because I’ve learned that often, we grow the most from the challenges we learn how to navigate.”

Although the program does not guarantee admission, many students who participate in it have heard that once you’re in the TTP, you are almost guaranteed acceptance. They often tell their friends they’re going to USC after studying abroad.

Unlike other transfer students, TTP students are assigned an admissions counselor who remains in contact with them throughout the year to help guide students through their first year and ensure they are taking transferable courses.

I recall asking my admissions counselor about my chances of being accepted into USC and scouring pages like College Confidential and Reddit to see for myself. Everything I read told me I was practically already admitted.

The official TTP form from USC states that admission is not guaranteed. In fact, when signing up for the program you must sign a box stating that no matter how you perform you understand you can still be denied admission.

“This is a path to admission, not a guarantee of acceptance,” reads a statement on The American International University’s website. “USC typically finds a space for each student who submits a suitable application, avoids misconduct, and meets the conditions specified above. Those failing to meet all of the conditions above will be considered, but there is the possibility of being declined.”

One TTP student who asked to remain anonymous due to the stigma surrounding the program said many of her friends who were also TTP students didn’t meet the GPA requirement while studying abroad but were still admitted. She suggested that the key was that instead of receiving admission for the fall, they were offered admission in the spring.

Many questions have been raised about the fairness of the program, considering the high rate of legacies admitted to the program and the release of the new Netflix Documentary Operation Varsity Blues which revealed that more students were wrongly admitted to USC than any other college indicted in the FBI investigation.

A large misconception about the transfer process is the program being only offered to legacies who apply. The program can be offered to any student, but being a legacy student does increase your chances. While USC doesn’t explicitly release the acceptance rates for TTP members, USC announced 34% of the accepted transfers were legacy students in the 2020 - 2021 transfer student profile and admission information.

One anonymous user on College Confidential said “not all legacies are offered TTP, as I can attest. My legacy son was just rejected. I’m not sure why admissions is saying that but we will be reaching out to them to clarify.”

The Office of Admissions said that although the Trojan Transfer Plan is a helpful program, all of the information TTP students receive is also available to normal transfer students.

Most importantly, the Office of Admissions included this statement to Annenberg Media about the fairness of the program: “TTP students are held to the same standards as all transfer applicants. The same information and services provided to TTP students are available to all prospective transfer students throughout the year...TTP students usually comprise about 20-30% of each year’s transfer class.”

Although these recent events placed the fairness of the program under scrutiny, the emotional toll this program takes on students is often overlooked by the university and other students.

“Initially, getting to USC was really hard,” Handler said. “Frankly, it’s when I signed up for therapy again. Being a new student is difficult anywhere, and more so, transferring into a school where everybody else already has experienced the things that are new to you is so unbelievably hard.”

Students described part of the difficulty of transitioning is the lack of acknowledgement on campus. Information given by the university about the program on its website is limited and students often find it difficult to talk to other students about the program unless they are already a part of it. Given the obscurity of the program, some students who are a part of TTP tend to keep the title hidden, choosing to simply omit the information.

“When I introduce myself, I tell people, oh, I studied abroad my first year,” said Scott Korinke, a senior who transferred in their sophomore year. “I don’t say I was in the TTP program. I think that’s part of the reason why there’s that stigma.”

Many other TTP students declined to share their experience all together, fearing people may look at them differently. One said that she has worked hard not to be known as “that TTP girl.”

I understand this sentiment entirely and have plenty of experiences of my own. Any time I misunderstand what someone is saying to me or say something that doesn’t make me sound very intelligent, my friends will say “Alexis your transfer is showing!” Although it’s a joke, it does point out the stigma surrounding the program.

Many students don’t want to acknowledge the title for the fear of devaluing their hard work before getting to USC. I speak from experience: while studying for my first year at my local community college, I took the equivalent of almost two years of courses in one year just to get the chance to call myself a Trojan.

Despite the perceived “leg up” from other transfer students, many TTP students still put in an immense amount of work with the hopes of getting to go to their dream school.

“I also know that myself and others worked just as hard just an extra year of doing so to get to call ourselves Trojans,” Handler said.

Although some students evidently hide this piece in their USC journey, others have decided to fully embrace the program.

“I don’t think that someone should feel like they’re not like a full USC student, because looking back on my journey it’s a very USC specific’re with USC students the whole time and you have USC counselors from the start,” Korinke said. “So I know that taking it means you are really a part of USC and you’re on that path, so don’t feel like you’re at all being shortchanged by the offer or that’s not as good as the original.”

Despite many of these students finding their place on campus, they have recently encountered yet another hurdle — time.

With the global outbreak of COVID-19, USC’s campus was shut down last spring, sending thousands of students back to their hometowns. Current juniors who participated in TTP only had one complete semester on campus before being sent back home.

With so much lost time, is following the Trojan Transfer Plan really worth it?

In the midst of the negativity, some TTP students were positive and still found the value in having a slightly different experience than their fellow classmates.

“I remind myself of the experiences that I got that other students didn’t or have yet to,” Handler said. " I was able to go abroad. I still got to experience one of everything on campus. I have more time. It is what it is and I am lucky where I am.”

The TTP students who have a more positive attitude about the program emphasized that the experience is whatever you make of it.

“I never thought of myself as really getting short-changed because I really did love my first year a lot,” Korinke said. “I thought there were pretty awesome experiences for the first year. So, yes, I couldn’t spend as much time in L.A. as everybody else, but I don’t feel super shortchanged or anything.”