Did you know that 1 in 3 students who enroll in either a 4-year or 2-year college will probably transfer at some point, according to a report issued by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.
If you are one of those students transferring colleges, application essays offer an invaluable opportunity for you to present yourself to admissions officers—and they are the one piece of your application over which you have total control.
Regardless of your grades, scores, or extracurriculars, essays give you the flexibility to show who you are and what you care about in your search for a new school. An original, thoughtful, genuine essay can delight and impress admissions officers. In an applicant pool full of transfer students with great grades and interesting college resumes, the essay could even be the one element that sets you apart from your fellow applicants.
College essays are an unusual genre: they are intensely personal, but have a specific purpose, an academic focus, and a specific audience. Your goal is to express who you are, but in a way that shows colleges that you are a good fit for them intellectually, emotionally, ethically, and otherwise.
As a transfer student, this idea of fit is even more important than it was the first time around: you’re already in a college, so why is this new school valuable and necessary for your education, and why are you a beneficial and instrumental addition to the student community there? What have you DONE in a specific academic area to show your depth as a scholar?
Remember, you’re not the only one seeking to transfer into a college you are targeting. Transfer applications are up and the number of students seeking to transfer is increasing.
OUR TOP TIPS FOR WRITING SUCCESSFUL TRANSFER APPLICATION ESSAYS:
- Use the main essay as an opportunity to show academic heft and focus. We worked with a young man who attended a strong liberal arts college in CA but he had an interest in poetry and couldn’t find professors to mentor him or rich enough course options in poetry. He transferred to Bowdoin College, which was a better academic fit. In his transfer application essay he wrote:After the rich depth of poetry and literature classes, discussion, and mentoring during high school, X College feels like a step backwards—there is no poet-in-residence, no class in Creative Writing, and scant students who share my interest in poetry. X College prizes its tight focus on economics, history, and government at the expense of other programs. The words “Lit Major” are spoken with a slight turn of the lip.
- Think of the supplemental essays as opportunities to share an aspect of your life that is missing from other parts of your application. Maybe you want to illustrate your sense of humor, your expertise in an additional area not highlighted on your resume or activity sheet, an unusual hobby you have, a difficult family situation, or a remarkable emotional or intellectual discovery you made.
- Plan for the “Why are You Transferring” essay question that appears on all transfer applications. Don’t diss your current school or say something about the social scene; instead focus on why the school isn’t a great academic fit for you.
- Make your essay memorable and unique. The essays that stand out are typically those that approach a subject from an unusual angle or follow a student’s interests from childhood by illuminating a specific vignette. Be concise and SHOW don’t TELL. As a transfer student, it’s in your best interest to write about something that has happened in the past year or so while you were in college.
- Organize! Decide exactly what qualities you want to stress then make sure your essay is structured to highlight these traits. Be careful, however, of writing a chronological essay. You might start there, but then go back and rework it so it’s not a mini autobiography.
- Be specific and concrete using details that will allow the reader a more vivid picture of who you are.
- Don’t choose a style with which you aren’t comfortable. Your reader will ‘smell a rat’ if your prose is pretentious or overly edited. Remain natural and write in your own voice.
- The best essays expand a small ‘slice of life’ into an essay. You may want to choose a specific moment or incident in your life that changed the way you think and explain how that change took place.
- Steer clear of clichés in both your essay topic and your writing. Focus on your academic interests and avoid the Outward Bound—“I made it up the mountain and didn’t die.” As a transfer student, your essays will be judged to a higher standard than your original college application essays. You’re a college student now, and your writing needs to match the standards of the school you’re applying to.
- Find your voice and hook your reader through a strong opening.
Consider our transfer admissions consulting programs for additional help! The transfer deadline for many colleges is March 1.
Need a little inspiration? Check out this sample transfer essay, and don't forget to check out our tips below! (And if you need help getting started on your transfer application essay, go here.)
“But Dad, I can do both!” I pleaded, doing my best not to raise my voice. He’d always been sure to remind me of the importance of a not making a scene.
“I’m sorry, bud. We just signed you up for baseball. The answer is no. No.”
“Dad, you don’t understand. I need to take painting lessons.” I tried to look as defeated as possible, hoping his heart would break just enough for him to agree.
“Yeah, well you said that about skiing and guitar too. Baseball is your top priority right now, and it’s going to stay that way. Besides, sports teach you how to work in a team. Painting teaches you...how to mix colors.” He turned back to the television and cranked up the volume, and I knew I’d lost this one. I retreated to the kitchen table to finish the jigsaw puzzle I’d abandoned moments before.
I couldn’t really argue with my dad. As a kid, I frequently bounced from activity to activity, often hurrying from one to the next. It wasn’t that I got bored with what I was doing—I just couldn’t wait to try something new. Everything was interesting and everything was fun.
In high school, I became involved in as many extracurricular activities as I could, getting elected to student council and playing varsity baseball, joining groups like the school improvement team, and yes, even the art club. I was intrigued by nearly every class I took, eager to dissect things in physiology or pick apart the ideas of Faulkner in American literature. I’ve wanted to be everything from an engineer to a chef to a professional baseball player. A friend once described me as a guidance counselor’s worst nightmare.
Years of searching, experimenting, and learning have brought me here.
When my classmates crossed the stage at graduation, it felt like nearly everyone knew which direction they were headed. Friends were moving across the country to pursue their dreams, and I couldn’t even figure mine out. I had a strong academic record and plenty of experiences to shape my application, but watching my friends leave for four-year schools with such determination reminded me of how lost I actually was. It was time to figure things out for myself.
Enrolling at a two-year community college gave me the opportunity to sift through different areas of study and find what worked for me. General education courses and a varied curriculum offered a wide lens through which I could see what different fields had to offer, and find a true fit. It wasn’t easy. I took classes ranging from applied sciences to ceramics, and—of course—I liked almost everything I tried! Then I took an anatomy and physiology course during the spring of my first year at ABC Community College, and it hit me. I realized that the medical field would allow me to help people while constantly learning, exploring different facets of the work.
After two years of studying, researching, and homework, I received an associate degree in pre-physical therapy, and I believe XYZ University is the next stop on my journey to achieve my dream.
It may have taken me longer to get here, and my path probably had a few more twists and turns in it than most, but every activity I begged my dad to let me do and every extracurricular club I joined complemented my course work and shaped who I am. XYZ University’s physical therapy program will lead me to the necessary bachelor’s and doctoral degrees I need to succeed in a profession I know will leave me fulfilled—and hold my interest—throughout my professional life.
What makes this a good transfer essay?
- You need to grab transfer admission counselors' attention right away, and that’s just what this essay does. Try starting with a bold statement or some interesting dialogue to draw your readers in. Remember: admission staff read hundreds and sometimes thousands of essays, so yours needs to stand out.
- He gives transfer counselors a glimpse at what makes him unique with just the right amount of detail. With a 500-word limit, you need to be succinct.
- Often, transfer students are asked to discuss what led them to changing schools. Like this student, you should address your reasons for transferring in a straightforward manner, without being defensive or negative. And you should address why you want to transfer into your college (or colleges) specifically, just like this student does.
- He also ends his application essay with a strong statement that ties into earlier themes, bringing the essay full circle to a satisfying conclusion.
- Finally, this essay is also good because of everything that’s not there: it is free of misspellings, it is an appropriate length, and there are no run-on sentences or lengthy paragraphs. And you can bet it was submitted well before the deadline! Meeting deadlines is crucial in the college application process, whether it’s the first time around or as a transfer. Even if your intended college has a rolling admission policy for transfer students, the earlier you submit your materials, the better.
Related: Find the right transfer college or university for you!
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