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Transfer Applicant Essay Sample

(Update: We’ve added another “why” transfer essay example with a detailed critique here.)

One of the most important elements in your transfer application is the essay on why you want to transfer to the college of your choice. Here, we’ll deconstruct a real-life transfer application essay by David, a student who is trying to transfer from Amherst College to the University of Pennsylvania. The essay was posted on About.com, which says that the essay is for the Common Transfer Application. However, this might be an error, because you wouldn’t write something school-specific for the Common Application. The essay was more likely written for the University of Pennsylvania Application Supplement for Freshmen and Transfer Applicants, which has the following prompt:

REQUIRED

Answer the essay question on a separate sheet of paper. (Do not exceed one page.)

Benjamin Franklin established the Union Fire Company, the Library Company of Philadelphia, the American Philosophical Society, Pennsylvania Hospital, and, of course, the charity school that evolved into the University of Pennsylvania. As they served the larger community of Philadelphia, each institution in turn formed its own community.

Which of the academic communities and social communities that now comprise the University of Pennsylvania are most interesting to you and how will you contribute to them and to the larger Penn community?

For freshman applicants, the prompt is straightforward. They just have to talk about a great academic and social community at Penn. The transfer applicant, however, must also explain why s/he wants to transfer to Penn.

We’ll work through David’s essay for Penn, paragraph by paragraph, looking at the good and the not-so-good.

Paragraph 1:

During the summer after my first year of college, I spent six weeks volunteering at an archaeological excavation in Hazor, site of the largest tel (mound) in Israel. My time in Hazor was not easy – wake-up came at 4:00 a.m., and by noontime temperatures were often in the 90s. The dig was sweaty, dusty, back-breaking work. I wore out two pairs of gloves and the knees in several pairs of khakis. Nevertheless, I loved every minute of my time in Israel. I met interesting people from around the world, worked with amazing students and faculty from Hebrew University, and became fascinated with the current efforts to create a portrait of life in the Canaanite period.

This opening paragraph works well because it follows our rule 3 for the college transfer essay: Be specific. It also follows the mantra for college essay writing: Show. Don’t tell. For the most part, he verbally creates a visual for the reader, helping us to imagine what it felt like to work at the archaeological dig.

Imagine if he had written something vague like, “I volunteered at an archaeological excavation in Israel and learned a lot from the experience. I worked with great people who taught me more about my field of interest, and I truly grew as a person. [More of the same fluff…]” This kind of essay doesn’t really tell admission officers anything. Don’t waste their time with filler statements.

To strengthen this paragraph, he could highlight his accomplishments by pointing out one concrete way in which he added value to the project. The college transfer essay is the place for you to make your superstar qualities shine.

Paragraph 2:

Upon my return to Amherst College for my sophomore year, I soon came to realize that the school does not offer the exact major I now hope to pursue. I’m majoring in anthropology, but the program at Amherst is almost entirely contemporary and sociological in its focus. More and more my interests are becoming archaeological and historical. When I visited Penn this fall, I was impressed by the breadth of offerings in anthropology and archaeology, and I absolutely loved your Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. Your broad approach to the field with emphases on understanding both the past and present has great appeal to me. By attending Penn, I hope to broaden and deepen my knowledge in anthropology, participate in more summer field work, volunteer at the museum, and eventually go on to graduate school in archaeology.

It looks like he took the effort to learn about Penn and its anthropology program. He clearly lays out the difference between the program at his current college and Penn, getting to the heart of his reason for applying to transfer to Penn.

This part could be improved by mentioning a particular course at Penn that exemplifies the aspects of the anthropology program that stand out for the applicant. What’s so special about the anthropology and archaeology courses at Penn? Don’t they have those courses elsewhere?

The line, “I absolutely loved your Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology” is not informative. Perhaps he let rule 3 (be specific) slip a little. An example of why he “loves” the museum would be helpful. He could also include one line about how the availability of the museum could specifically add to his anthropology education.

The last sentence could use some work. What kind of summer fieldwork (or fieldwork with which professor)? Although it’s great that he pointed out his desire to pursue graduate studies in archaeology, he could elaborate on how transferring to Penn could help him reach that goal.

Paragraph 3:

My reasons for transferring are almost entirely academic. I have made many good friends at Amherst, and I have studied with some wonderful professors. However, I do have one non-academic reason for being interested in Penn. I originally applied to Amherst because it was comfortable – I come from a small town in Wisconsin, and Amherst felt like home. I’m now looking forward to pushing myself to experience places that aren’t quite so familiar. The kibbutz at Kfar HaNassi was one such environment, and the urban environment of Philadelphia would be another.

This is a great paragraph, in which he follows our rule 2: Be honest. He is honest with himself as well as the Penn admission officers, in that he admits that there are reasons related to his social life and personal development driving him to apply to transfer. He’s also following our rule 1 (be mature) by exhibiting his understanding of himself and hope to leave his comfort zone. Also, he emphasizes another benefit of attending Penn—its urban setting, which greatly differs from the area around Amherst and what he’s used to.

Concluding paragraph:

As my transcript shows, I have done well at Amherst and I am convinced I can meet the academic challenges of Penn. I know I would grow at Penn, and your program in anthropology perfectly matches my academic interests and professional goals.

Though the essay doesn’t exactly end with a bang, his conclusion does its job.

Overall, this essay is a good one. Maybe we’re being too picky, but why not aim for the best when writing an essay that’s so crucial? Our transfer guide has real-life, successful examples and advice about the transfer essay from actual transfer students, so check it out!

(Photo: Ryan Neuls)

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In this post, we analyze an essay example excerpted from College Admission Essays for Dummies by Geraldine Woods to complement the example for the University of Pennsylvania that we’ve previously critiqued. The essay we’ll analyze here leaves a lot of room for improvement, though it has many positive aspects. We’ll tell you what you can do to write a much better essay and give you advice on how to approach writing a winning piece. If you want other examples, our book provides examples of successful transfer essays for Stanford, the University of Pennsylvania, and the Common Application.

The essay here includes reasons for transferring to a specific four-year school, Northern State. Many colleges and universities now use the Common Application for transfer applications, requiring transfer applicants to write a Common Application essay describing the reasons for transferring and to also write several school-specific supplement essays. The prompt for this essay wasn’t included, but it was probably for a school-specific essay. We’ll critique the essay as is and explain parts that might fit into the Common Application essay or a school-specific essay. We’ll analyze the essay one paragraph at a time.

Paragraph 1:

No, I am not homesick. I have friends. The work is not overwhelming. Nor has it interfered with my involvement in extracurricular activities. My first semester has been a time of transition as it is for most college freshmen. Making decisions regarding course selection, seeking advice from advisors, and utilizing time efficiently have all been part of the process, accomplished at a distance from the familiar support structures and cues of both home and high school. As a result, I have developed a greater sense of myself and my abilities, both academic and social. The experience has been satisfying. However, with all due introspection and now retrospection, I feel a change is necessary.

This opening is fairly weak because it is very general. I learned very little about this applicant from this paragraph, which could be entirely omitted to reduce the number of unnecessary words. Admission officers have many applications to read; there’s no need to burden them with excessive words. Some of the best Common Application transfer essays I’ve read started with a brief “a slice of life” anecdote, a short narrative that captures an episode in one’s life. If you decide to feature an anecdote in your introduction, create a vivid image (or movie) of a piece of your life in the reader’s mind. You would then have a hook. Other than including a short transition, avoid dragging this story into the next paragraph. Don’t make this episode the sole content of your essay. For school-specific essays, which often have a tight word limit, writing an anecdote might not be the best use of the limited space. Instead, consider writing one or two introductory sentences and then diving right into your specific reasons for wanting to transfer.

Paragraph 2:

Sociologist Lev Vygotsky believed that peers play a major role in an individual’s development and learning. The students and friends with whom I grew up were extraordinarily bright, competitive, and creative. In high school, discussions and opinions on almost any subject were spontaneous and interesting. At Central State, the small class size and the seminar formats have presented a great setting in which to learn. The highly motivated professors, who encourage participation, have been the highlight of my experience thus far. However, the level of student interaction has not been gratifying. Conversations concerning classroom topics and related materials have been limited. I have not been sufficiently challenged or stimulated by my peers.

This paragraph has an interesting topic sentence. Also, the applicant writes positively about her current school, citing, for example, its small class size and the seminar formats. Avoid sounding overly negative about your current school because you don’t want to badmouth any school. Despite its positive aspects, this paragraph lacks concrete details. Why is it that “the level of student interaction has not been gratifying”? What did the writer mean in stating, “Conversations concerning classroom topics and related materials have been limited”? Adhering to the word limit, make sure to reserve space for specific details that will help the reader understand exactly why you want to transfer.

Your Common Application transfer essay should include this type of information, especially if you’re not writing for a particular school. That is, if you’re writing a non-school-specific Common Application main essay, much of your essay will discuss why your current school isn’t your best fit. On the other hand, your school-specific “why” transfer essay must focus on the aspects of that particular school that align with your needs or the type of college experience that you seek.

Paragraph 3:

During my first semester, I have come to realize the influence a community has on my learning and growth. At Central State, the campus is active from around eleven in the morning until three in the afternoon, Monday through Friday. One Saturday in October, while walking to the dining hall, I realized that I was one of five people on campus. With the majority of undergraduates living in on-campus dorms, the campus of Northern State fosters a unique intimacy. The campus is lively throughout the day. Such activity creates a comfortable environment that promotes interaction and the formation of strong bonds between members of the community. Having experienced a year of college and dorm life, I am more aware of what is best for me. As a transfer student, I would appreciate this style of living even more.

The type of information in this paragraph is well-suited for a school-specific transfer essay. The writer has now moved from focusing on classes to discussing campus life. The statement, “One Saturday in October, while walking to the dining hall, I realized that I was one of five people on campus” provides clear imagery of a negative aspect of the applicant’s current school in terms of the applicant’s needs or desires. Brief examples should be included to show how Northern State “fosters a unique intimacy” and how it is “lively throughout the day.” To conclude this paragraph, the applicant writes, “As a transfer student, I would appreciate this style of living even more.” I wonder what she plans to do to take advantage of this style of living so that she can be more appreciative of it.

Paragraph 4:

Based on conversations with current students, it is my understanding that members of the Northern State community make it a unique place to live and learn. Many renowned professors choose to teach at the undergraduate level. Having the chance to interact with an instructor such as Avery Marks, whose passion and mastery of botany are unrivaled, would be quite an experience. The most defining aspect of Northern State’s faculty, however, is the manner in which they approach their role in influencing a student’s life. Professors, instructors, and advisors guide the student so that he/she can make independent decisions.

By the end of the paragraph, we still don’t know how “members of the Northern State community make it a unique place to live and learn,” but as you’ll see, she gives a clear example in the next paragraph. Here, the applicant includes interesting, specific examples to show that she knows about the school and has compelling reasons to want to transfer there. Mentioning a specific professor that you’re interested in would show that you’ve researched the school. If you plan to major in biology and you’re especially interested in plants, highlighting a professor who specializes in botany, as in this paragraph, would be appropriate, but avoid empty name-dropping. Your interest in, say biology or botany, should also be apparent in other parts of your application. The last sentence regarding student guidance does not seem to be substantiated anywhere in the paragraph or essay.

Paragraph 5:

Furthermore, the structure and aspects of Northern State’s residential colleges foster the formation of relationships. For the remainder of my undergraduate years I want to return “home” to a very close group of friends for nightly dinners and conversations concerning daily activities. The strong bonds that are formed within a diverse group of people who make up these individual communities create an optimal atmosphere in which to grow, socially and intellectually.

This paragraph, which emphasizes a unique aspect of Northern State, provides an example of information to include in a school-specific transfer essay.

Concluding paragraph:

All aspects of Northern State seem to enhance learning. Guidance from faculty members and challenges from peers within Northern’s close-knit community create a setting in which I can pursue current interests and discover new one while simultaneously discovering my future direction. This is the purpose of the undergraduate experience.

The best part of this conclusion is its brevity. I’m not sure what “this” refers to in the last sentence; many writing guides suggest that you place a noun after “this” to avoid ambiguity. Though every essay does not need to end with a “bang,” conclusions should be at least interesting. One strategy for writing a good conclusion is to tie it to the introduction, a strategy that could not be used in this essay due to its weak, general introduction.

Concluding words: Each transfer application is unique, and therefore, we cannot provide an exhaustive list of details and information that should be included. Use this analysis as a guideline for writing your Common Application essay(s)–whether you’re making it school-specific or not–and school-specific essays and try to critique your own essays in the manner we’ve done here.

(Photo: xelcise)

Here's the Full Story on Transferring to the College You Want

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