Tips for Writing a Winning College Transfer Essay

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The essay for a college transfer application presents students with challenges that are quite different from a traditional admissions essay. If you're thinking about transferring, you should have specific reasons for doing so, and your essay needs to address those reasons. Before you sit down to write, make sure you have clear academic, personal, and professional goals in mind to explain your desire to change schools.

The prompt for the 2019-20 Common Application for transfer makes this clear. Unlike the regular Common Application, the transfer application has a single essay option: “The personal statement helps colleges get to know you better as a person and a student. Please provide a statement discussing your educational path. How does continuing your education at a new institution help you achieve your future goals?” Even if the school to which you are applying does not use the Common Application, the prompt is most likely similar. The school will want to know how the transfer fits into your educational and career goals.

The tips below can help you avoid common pitfalls.

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Give Specific Reasons for Transferring

A good transfer essay presents a clear and specific reason for wanting to transfer. Your writing needs to show that you know well the school to which you are applying. Is there a specific program that is of interest to you? Did you develop interests at your first college that can be explored more fully at the new school? Does the new college have a curricular focus or institutional approach to teaching that is particularly appealing to you?

Make sure you research the school well and provide the details in your essay. A good transfer essay works for a single college only. If you can replace the name of one college with another, you haven't written a good transfer essay. At selective colleges, transfer acceptance rates are extremely low, so a generic essay isn't going to be good enough.

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Take Responsibility for Your Record

A lot of transfer students have a few blotches on their college records. It's tempting to try to explain away a bad grade or low GPA by putting the blame on someone else. Don't do it. Such essays set a bad tone that is going to rub the admissions officers the wrong way. An applicant who blames a roommate or a mean professor for a bad grade sounds like a grade-school kid blaming a sibling for a broken lamp.

Your bad grades are your own. Take responsibility for them and, if you think it's necessary, explain how you plan to improve your performance at your new school. The admissions folks will be much more impressed by the mature applicant who owns up to failure than the applicant who fails to take responsibility for his or her performance. This doesn't mean you can't mention extenuating circumstances, but you do need to own up to the way in which you dealt with those circumstances on the academic front.

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Don't Badmouth Your Current College

It's a good bet that you want to leave your current college because you are unhappy with it. Nevertheless, avoid the temptation to badmouth your current college in your essay. It's one thing to say your current school isn't a good match for your interests and goals; however, it's going to sound whiny, petty, and mean-spirited if you go off about how terrible your college is run and how bad your professors have been. Such talk makes you sound unnecessarily critical and ungenerous. The admissions officers are looking for applicants who will make a positive contribution to their campus community. Someone who is overly negative isn't going to impress.

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Don't Present the Wrong Reasons for Transferring

If the college you are transferring to requires an essay as part of the application, it must be at least somewhat selective. You'll want to present reasons for transferring that are grounded in the meaningful academic and non-academic opportunities afforded by the new college. You don't want to focus on any of the more questionable reasons to transfer: you miss your girlfriend, you're homesick, you hate your roommate, your professors are jerks, you're bored, your college is too hard, and so on. Transferring should be about your academic and professional goals, not your personal convenience or your desire to run away from your current school.

Clearly personal issues often motivate a college transfer, but in your essay you'll want to emphasize your academic and professional objectives.

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Attend to Style, Mechanics and Tone

Often you're writing your transfer application in the thick of a college semester. It can be a challenge to carve out enough time to revise and polish your transfer application. Also, it's often awkward asking for help on your essay from your professors, peers or tutors. After all, you're considering leaving their school.

Nevertheless, a sloppy essay that's riddled with errors is not going to impress anyone. The best transfer essays always go through multiple rounds of revision, and your peers and professors will want to help you with the process if you have good reasons to transfer. Make sure your essay is free of writing errors and has a clear, engaging style.

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A Final Word about Transfer Essays

The key to any good transfer essay is that it be specific to the school to which you are applying, and it needs to paint a picture that makes the rationale for the transfer clear. You can check out David's transfer essay for a strong example.

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Grove, Allen. "Tips for Writing a Winning College Transfer Essay." ThoughtCo, Aug. 25, 2020, Grove, Allen. (2020, August 25). Tips for Writing a Winning College Transfer Essay. Retrieved from Grove, Allen. "Tips for Writing a Winning College Transfer Essay." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 24, 2023).

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