The transfer process is a lot like applying to college the first time. You need transcripts and teacher recommendations; there are far more supplements than you’d like, and the all-important college essay is still mandatory. So, in many ways, it’s the same. However, transfer essays are pulling double duty. In addition to showing schools that you are a great student, a community member worth coveting, and an overall stellar human being, you need to answer one more question: Why? Why are you looking to transfer? Why is where you are now not good enough?
My favorite transfer essay of the 2017-2018 college season starts simply enough:
“’Choose what you want to keep, but it must fit in no more than a suitcase and your gym bag. There’s a good chance nothing will be left of the house when we return,’ said my dad, interrupted by the voice of the Sheriff booming from his patrol car: ‘Immediate Mandatory Evacuation.’ They were forecasting a 15-foot storm surge from Hurricane Irma—and my house isn’t even 15 feet tall.”
Right off the bat, there are some big things going on. Not only does it start with dialogue, which is hard enough to pull off as is, but it starts with multiple layers. The Sheriff interrupting his father immediately ensures that the piece isn’t static or transactional. It isn’t a stilted back-and-forth; It’s woven.
The thing is, though, this isn’t an essay about a hurricane. I mean, it is, but that isn’t what is at its core. The student chose to weave a series of family circumstances that made staying close to home if not mandatory, a very tough and selfless decision together with his experience during Hurricane Irma. This provided a tool for illustrating the complexity and trauma of his experiences without the piece becoming bogged down.
So, it’s a conversation between two stories. One, a literal hurricane. The other a figurative one that the literal one helps to illustrate. This freed him from having to try to articulate feelings that can come off as forced when they have to be written in a format as condensed as the Common App Essay – and especially when the essay is also supposed to include what you want to achieve wherever it is you end up.
The student ended the first section of his essay with a simple line that cleanly closed a difficult narrative:
“Thus, my story is not one of why I’m choosing to leave, but rather why I initially chose to stay.”
In the second half of the essay, the student addresses what he hopes to accomplish after transferring. This section is heavily focused on academics, as it should be. He wants something from his college education that he isn’t currently able to access. And so, with things at home in order, he is ready to look for it elsewhere. It doesn’t come off as entitled or grabby because his circumstances and desires have been contextualized.
“Today, my family is stable, and my role has changed. I’m not required for daily support, and I have the opportunity I wanted as a high school senior. Not every storm has a happy ending, but I’m determined this one will by transferring somewhere where I can follow my passions. Mine is a launch delayed, not a launch denied.”
Each time I read this essay, I actually tear up a little, especially since this student was accepted to a stellar school where he will be able to study what he is most passionate about.
Being able to work with a student who has experienced enormous challenges, has risen to every occasion, who I respect as an intellectual peer, and who has something meaningful to say was a moving experience for me. Our students are outstanding because we only work with people that we believe have great potential, but this student takes it to a whole new level.
Over hours on the phone and much more writing on his own, he was able to produce more than an essay, or even a great acceptance, but an understanding of his own past experiences that I believe had a positive impact far beyond the transfer process.