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.
by Emily Dauenhauer
Director of Undergraduate Enrollment Marketing, Sacred Heart University
The transfer essay is your chance to introduce yourself to your dream school. As with your first college essay, there are certain strategies that work and others that should be avoided in order to make a lasting impression. But one simple question can be your main guideline: why are you applying to this particular school?
A clear, concrete answer to this question should be a large part of a transfer student’s application essay. “Why do you want to come to this school? That’s the primary thing transfer admissions officers want to know,” says Cara Jordan, Director of Transfer Admissions at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut.
The application essay also provides transfer students with the opportunity to take responsibility for less-than-perfect grades, recognize academic challenges, and explain the steps they have taken to conquer them.
“Certainly, you don’t want to use your essay to spotlight weaknesses, criticize another school, or in any way be defensive or negative,” Jordan says. “But when appropriate, the essay can be an effective way to show your character, your ability to take ownership of your actions, and your determination to succeed. The essay is a wonderful tool, because it allows you to tell your own story in your own words.”
And like a first-time, fresh-out-of-high-school college application essay, it should paint a picture of who you are, Jordan adds. For most transfer students, this picture is significantly different from what it was just one or two years before. “Transfer students generally have a clearer, more concrete picture of what they want out of their lives and where they want to be,” Jordan says. “They’re older and have experienced more, and they’ve had the chance to find out what college is like and whether a certain type of institution works or doesn’t.”
Related: More transfer essay and application advice
What admission counselors look for
“Transfer students generally have a very specific reason for wanting to leave one college and attend another, and that’s what I want to read about in the application essay,” Jordan says. “A student can share other information with me as well, but that ‘why’ must be included somewhere. I want to see why the student believes he or she and Sacred Heart are a good match.” (And though these examples may be specific to one school, they reflect elements relevant to any transfer essay!)
One of the 3,488 full-time undergraduates who enrolled at Sacred Heart in fall 2011 conveyed that information particularly well. Transferring from a local community college, the student expressed in her essay her desire to be part of a diverse student body and taught by experienced professors invested in students’ success. “The staff and students I met during my campus visit showed me the potential Sacred Heart students have to achieve and succeed. It seems to be a real partnership, with teachers who are truly interested in helping their students meet challenges and be the best they can be. For me, a business major, it was also impressive to see that many of the adjuncts who teach at Sacred Heart’s John F. Welch College of Business are not just well-respected instructors, but well-respected leaders out in the business field,” the student wrote.
Available majors, social environment, internship opportunities, and class size are all common reasons that lead students to leave one school for another. In their essay, transfer students should explain these or other reasons as clearly and concisely as possible, taking advantage of the opportunity to show what they have learned about themselves and the kind of college they believe is right for them.
Related: Find scholarships for your intended major
For the application essay and all aspects of the college or university application, transfer students also need to be sure to follow directions exactly: stick to word counts, submit all requested materials and information, meet deadlines, and pay close attention to details.
The latter is especially important, Jordan says, because transfer admission officials generally pay close attention to details about each applicant too. She pointed out that although the National Association for College Admission Counseling says as many as one in three students enrolled in a two- or four-year college or university will at some point transfer, most school admission officials are able to give potential transfer students more personalized attention than first-time undergrads, since the overall volume of transfer applications is lower.
“It’s nice, because it gives admission officials like me the chance to really look at and meet each applicant and make sure we’re a good fit,” Jordan says. “Most transfer applicants have already proven they can do college-level work, so for many applicants, it’s a matter of determining whether they’re right for [the school], and whether [the school] is right for them. Successful college transfers occur when both sides communicate clearly, fully, and honestly. And from the student’s end, the transfer application essay is a big part of that.”
Do’s and don’ts
Transfer essays should also serve as examples of your best work and should follow general college application essay/personal statement do’s and don’ts, including the following:
- Keep your focus narrow. You only have a few hundred words to tell a memorable story and show who you are. Focus on a single point or thesis.
- Be specific. Develop your main idea with specific facts, events, quotations, examples, and reasons. Avoid clichéd, generic, and predictable writing by using vivid details. What concrete examples from your life can you include to distinguish yourself from other applicants?
- Write first, edit later. The first objective in writing anything is to get it on the page first. Then you can go back and edit. Trying to edit as you go interrupts the process of getting your ideas out of your head and onto the page, causing you to lose your thoughts and forget what you were saying.
- Remember the “show, don’t tell” rule. Be descriptive when writing. Use all of your senses and fill each paragraph with details. It’s specifics that will grab the attention of admission officials and give them something to hold onto—and remember you by.
- Put words in people’s mouths. Dialogue, used appropriately, always makes an essay more interesting.
- Start your essay with an attention-grabbing introduction. A compelling anecdote, quote, question, or engaging description will often capture admission officials’ attention.
- Proofread several times. Typos and spelling or grammatical errors are a sign of carelessness. Also, don’t rely on your computer’s spell check program. Many software programs don’t know the difference between “there” and “their,” “its” and “it’s,” or similar words.
Related: College Application Essays: What Really Works!
- Write what you think admission officials want to hear. They read plenty of essays like that. Be yourself. Surprise them. Give them something unique.
- Write a résumé or focus on information listed elsewhere in the application. If you do this, you’ve wasted the opportunity the essay affords and offered nothing new.
- Make things up. Dishonesty shows.
- Summarize yourself in the introduction. Remember that you’re telling a story that describes who you are, not introducing yourself at a party.
- Include information that doesn’t support your thesis. Stick to the main idea you want to get across.
- Try to impress your reader with your vocabulary. Simple language is generally the best and most effective. Plus, it’s easy to misuse thesaurus-generated synonyms.
- Do it alone. Give your essay to a mentor and/or guidance counselor to review your work—preferably someone who knows you well, who may be from your hometown or high school—both for errors and content. Friends and family can be helpful as well.
- Rush. Give yourself the time needed to thoroughly work through the brainstorming, writing, and editing processes.
Related: Warning! These College Application Essay Ideas DON'T Work
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