So you’ve decided to transfer or, at least, to apply. Welcome to an enormous club. According to a 2015 report by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, more than a third of college students transfer, and nearly half of those who transfer will go on to transfer at least one more time.
In many ways, transferring is a do-over of the college application process. From asking teachers for recommendations to ordering test scores, to navigating the Common App, it looks a whole lot like ‘take one.’ But it is nowhere near the same. One of the main reasons why it’s so different lies in our favorite part of any application: The Essay.
In high school, you probably had in-school college advisors, English teachers, parents, friends, and busy-bodies bugging you for a look at your essay. It’s not uncommon for entire weeks of English classes to be dedicated to perfecting story structure, and we’ve seen more than our fair share of parent-applied red pen. Transferring is different. You don’t have the same support system, and you don’t even have the same objective.
The purpose of a standard college essay is to reveal something about yourself that isn’t shown elsewhere in your application. It’s a place to be creative and to think outside of the box. We’ve helped students write screenplays, poems, and braided narrative essays that all show something about them that is unique and different. Weaving together German sayings and scenes from a surgical suite might get a student into Brown ED (spoiler: it did), but you don’t have as much room to play in a transfer essay.
You still have only 650 words, but there’s a lot more to say. Instead of telling a story, you need to answer a question: “Why do you want to transfer?”
Here are our three top tips for writing an transfer essay that is strong, thoughtful, and that will get you into your dream second-chance school.
The number one trap that we see kids fall into is whining. They complain about their classes, they complain about their teachers, they complain about their classmates and the social life and the fact that the ninja warrior major isn’t as robust as they expected it to be. They spend most of their essays complaining about what their current school is not, rather than addressing what they hope to get out of being somewhere else.
Whining in your transfer essay is like complaining about your boss to your potential future boss in an interview. It never looks cute, it never goes well, and it’s a major red flag that screams, “This kid is difficult.”
Now, venting is good. It’s healthy, and we fully support it. But do not put it in your essay. Instead, write the complaints down onto real paper with the real pen, process them, talk through them with friends or family, and then put that piece of paper aside (or burn it if you’re feeling dramatic) and don’t put those things into your common app essay.
Acknowledge and Advocate
While your essay isn’t the place to complain, it is essential to recognize where your current school isn’t meeting your needs. However, this should be framed in a forward-focused way. Rather than writing that the physics department was terrible, write about how your passion for physics has only grown, and you want to be somewhere that can offer a more intensive course of study.
This is all part of acknowledging why you are looking for a change. Maybe what seemed important to you when you were 17 and first applying to college isn’t what’s important to you now. That’s ok (and a good reason to transfer). Acknowledge it, and then look towards the future.
Also, keep in mind that you are advocating for yourself in your essay. If you struggled in your transition to college or had to deal with personal or family crises that challenged your academic success, the essay is a good place to nod towards those struggles while not making the whole application about them. Focus on how you’ve developed and grown thanks to any bumps in the road.
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In all seriousness, though, you need to write well. You aren’t in high school anymore, and the admissions office will be holding you to college-level standards. They expect you to have developed as a person, as a student, and as a writer, so trying to rework your original college essay is a terrible idea. Your essay should show how you have developed not just in the content, but also in the structure. You may have to answer the “why transfer?” question, but that isn’t an excuse for treating it like a Q&A. There should be a story, narrative, and no stupid grammar errors.
Bonus Tip: Start Early
Strong essays take time, and the pressures of college makes them take even longer.
Don’t wait until the last minute to get started. Need help? We’ve got your back.