The biggest difference between applying as an incoming freshman versus as a transfer is going to be the essays. This can be both good and not-so-good depending on your individual situation, which is one of the main reasons why it can be difficult to give catch-all advice for writing admission application essays.
Essays for freshman admission are typically left wide open — you’re given the opportunity to write about anything you’d like, whatever would most showcase you. The topic for transfer essays is much more narrow. In fact, it’s likely to be some variation of “Why are you transferring?”
Despite most transfer applications asking the same question, it’s still difficult to give hard and fast advice about how to write the admissions essay because every student’s story is unique. That said, there are three pieces of advice that are generally worth following.
#1: No Trash Talking
Regardless of how much you dislike (read: hate) your current school, don’t criticize or bad-mouth your institution. I know, I know, it feels right to disavow your current school before pledging your undying love for your new one, but it’s just not a good look.
For starters, you chose that school. Explain why you chose the school to begin with, whether it was because you thought you’d enjoy a small school atmosphere or because you were too nervous to travel too far from home—own it.
Speak candidly about what this situation has taught you about yourself, what you want out of your education, and how it will guide your future. Put a positive spin on it, if you will.
#2: Be Specific.
Simply saying “it’s not the right fit” isn’t quite enough in this situation. Your prospective college is going to want to know that you’ve put thought into this and know what you don’t like, so you can find what you do.
Explain the nitty gritty details. Bad roommate situation? Talk about it. You don’t want to get into the whole “he said/she said” ordeal, but there’s nothing wrong with explaining difficulties compromising and creating a civil environment.
There are so many reasons to transfer, ranging from simply being unhappy to a poor social situation to a change in academic interests. Wherever you land on the scale, be explicit in what you list as your reasons for transferring.
As a caveat to this, don’t put extra emphasis on non-academic stuff that isn’t necessary. It’s a good thing to mention that your living arrangements are difficult, but it shouldn’t take up more real estate than it’s due. You don’t even need to read the essay in full to tell whether something is overweighted — in the margins, put brackets around each set of reasoning.
You’ll want your tier to look something like this:
- Academics (rigor or major)
- Social Situations/Extracurriculars
You’ll want to make sure that the most real estate is given to the top tier—Academics—versus social situations/extracurriculars, which is considered a third tier issue. Focus on the main issue, but make sure to give the entire situation it’s due. It’s a hard line to balance sometimes, but as long as you stay focused and talk about what’s important, you’ll find the right balance.
#3: Earn Your Keep.
There was a bit of this involved in writing the incoming freshman application, but it needs to be more prominent now. You need to hold all of your college-thus-far successes up on a platter and present it to the prospective college like “here! And I can do even better with you!”
What’s going to make your experience at the new college any different than your current one? What will you add to campus culture when you get there? This part of your essay needs to be your College Dream With Extra Wisdom™.
Let's put all of this together now.
I can tell you what time it happened, when I realized that I needed to transfer colleges. It was 5:03 PM on Thursday the 21st of September. I’d been back at school for just over a month and I was avoiding the cafeteria, watching the same episode of Law and Order: SVU for the umpteenth time while mindlessly spooning honey nut Cheerios in my mouth.
It was this exact moment that I realized something so simple, but so profound. It was profound purely because it was a thought I’d never had before, not because it was revolutionary or because it would change the world or something, but because it changed my world.
It was only seven words: This place is everything I don’t want.
A month ago, at home, I was on the outskirts of one of the largest cities in the US. I was surrounded by writer friends and a constant stream of lively, thought-provoking (if sometimes inane) conversation about the use of clauses, the effectiveness of first-person versus third-person POV, and the age-old Oxford comma debate (pro-Oxford comma, just for the record). I had a potentially endless supply of opportunities for internships and jobs and adventures a 35-minute train ride away.
Here, the most exciting thing that had happened in recent history is that I’d put in an application for a job at a gas station 10 miles down the road because it was the only thing I could find in this small town. Here, all of those years in AP English are gathering dust with no honors program to put me through my paces, and no way to find someone to giddily gush over my absolutely ridiculous love for the underutilized interrobang punctuation mark. Here, my head is just filled with the ending "dun, dun" of the Law and Order theme song, reverberating in an empty mind that has nothing more (or better) to think about.
I want a more challenging curriculum. I want to be surrounded by ambitious students, joining clubs until I find the perfect fit for my passion, and applying for competitive internships to get real-world experience for my major.
For these reasons, and many more, I believe I will be a good fit for the Cappex University's Creative Writing program and am most excited to take advantage of the variety of classes available. In particular, I'm looking forward to taking ENG 304 Travel Writing with Professor McHenry. Her piece on exploring Lake Taupo and the Tongariro National Park in World Travel Magazine was so descriptive — sights, smells, touch, even taste — that I feel as if I've been to this place in New Zealand I hadn't even heard of until 13 days ago.
I may still end up eating Cheerios for dinner at 5:03 PM on a Thursday, but if I'm accepted into Cappex University, I know it will be because Cheerios was the quickest thing I could make and eat before running off to an event held by the literary magazine or because I want to eat them. It won't be because I literally couldn’t think of anything else to consume since all that was going on in my head was "dun, dun."
Applying to multiple schools is always a good idea, whether you're applying as a freshman or a transfer student. Note that much of the above example is usable, largely intact, for multiple application. The plug-n-play section is the second paragraph from the bottom and begins with "For these reason, and more more..."
For these reasons, and many more, I believe I will be a good fit for the [INSERT SCHOOL NAME][INSERT PROGRAM] and am most excited for [INSERT SPECIFIC OFFERING FROM SCHOOL]. In particular, I'm looking forward to [INSERT CLASS # AND TITLE] with [INSERT PROFESSOR NAME]. [INSERT SPECIFIC REMARK ABOUT YOUR AMBITIONS FOR USING THE CLASS, COMMENT ABOUT PROFESSOR, CLUB, ETC.]
Outside of that paragraph, the essay is fairly universal, which is the goal when writing answers to basic questions like these. Rewriting the answer to personal statements and the "why are you transferring?" question is unnecessary -- write a stellar piece and tweak it to fit the college or university you're submitting it to.
Having Trouble Getting Started?
Keep it simple. Just lay out the page as follows:
The same as for any essay, you’ll want to have an introductory paragraph with a catchy opening line. Use this as a chance to talk about your passion for your major and what made you choose your major. Try to make this opening paragraph as unique as possible.
Talk about why you chose your current institution. What drew you to the college initially and what you hoped to gain there.
Explain what you have realized since choosing your current institution. Whether it’s that you need to change your major, need to go to a school with more opportunities, or what-have-you. This is a great place to talk about your expectations versus the reality.
Now is the time to jump into what you see in your new institution that your current one hasn’t provided. Get very specific here — look at the curriculum, extracurricular classes, and events. Make sure whatever you name is still active. Explain how you want to participate at their institution. It’s never a bad idea to use the phrase “I will be a good fit for your institution because…”
Sum up and sign off. A nifty little trick to make a piece feel like it’s come full circle is to reference something from the beginning paragraph. Your ending can be short, sweet, and concise, expressing your hope to be a meaningful addition to their student body.
Tell your story truthfully and in an organized manner. Show off how you’ve grown, what you’ve learned, and how you’ll contribute to the student body. Get feedback from people you trust, and send off your applications.
If you’re craving some individualized guidance, schedule a consultation with a Cappex Admissions Advisor.