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How to Write an Effective Transfer Student Common App Essay

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The path to a college degree is not as clear-cut as it has been in the past. Many students do not graduate from the same college in which they enroll their freshman year.

In fact, according to data collected by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, over one-third of college students transferred at least once over a period of six years.

If you find yourself a part of that statistic, now you know that you’re in good company.

There are a variety of reasons for transferring to a new school.

You may have decided on a major that is not offered at your current college, decided that your current college is not the right fit, or elected the increasingly popular option of starting out at a community college to acquire skills and save money.

Whatever your reason, transferring comes with the pain of having to apply for college again.

However, as a transfer student, you have the added benefit of firsthand experience on a college campus and a better idea of what you want and need out of a school.

This information is what the Common App essay for transfer students is all about.

How is the Common App Different for Transfer Students?

In case it’s been awhile, remember that the Common Application is a website which allows college applicants to fill out one application and send it to any of the 700+ schools that accept it.

Luckily, those colleges also accept applications from transfer students.

There are small variations between colleges.

For example, some schools do not require a transfer student essay, but you have the option of sending one anyway.

The Common App asks you to answer the following question in 250-650 words:

Please provide a statement that addresses your reasons for transferring and the objectives you hope to achieve.”  

Finding Balance in Your Essay: Reasons and Objectives

It’s important when planning your essay to think about how you will answer both parts of the above question.

If you’re a student who has decided to transfer for academic reasons, you may spend more of your essay discussing your objectives and why the schools you are applying to have a program that will put you on the path to your career goals.

However, maybe you are transferring so that you can be closer to a sick relative and take care of them while still fulfilling your dream of graduating from college.

In this case, you may want to balance discussing why family obligations are important to you as well as how the new school can support you in your future success.

Your own personal situation will dictate the balance of your essay.

Therefore, it’s important to be self-reflective and use your word count wisely to give colleges a well-rounded perspective about why you are choosing to transfer.

Reasons for Transferring: What to Include and What to Avoid

It’s likely that your reasons for transferring and your objectives are closely tied.

If that’s the case, you can definitely write about them in conjunction rather than clearly separating them in your essay.

Think about your reasons for transferring.

  • Did you plan this transfer ahead of time by starting at a two-year school?
  • Does your current school not meet your academic needs?
  • Does the school climate differ from what you were expecting as a freshman?

This last reason is definitely legitimate and, in the end, you have to make the right choices that will lead to your success and happiness in college.

To that end, be cautious in your approach when describing your reasoning. This is not the time or place to trash your current college.

Maintain a consistently respectful tone.

  • After every paragraph, ask yourself whether your writing evokes positivity and vision. Why?
  • Colleges don’t want to admit someone who is negative or gloomy — this would diminish their campus experience. 

If you find yourself turning the “reasons for transferring” into the likes of a Facebook rant, then you should consider shortening that section and focusing on your career objectives. 

Think of the future. Think of your dreams and ambitions.

Bring the Transfer Essay to Life

When discussing your reasons, be very specific.

Instead of writing that the college “didn’t offer the classes I needed to graduate,” you might write, “I decided at the end of my sophomore year that my true passion was education, and I would like to teach elementary school. However, my current college only offers master’s degrees in education, and I would not be able to obtain a license as an undergraduate.”

One strategy for uplifting your essay is to focus on what the new college has rather than to dwell on what your current one doesn’t.

Do your research.

If you’re having a tough time thinking of perks of the new college, go to their website.

Also, visit the website of the school newspaper and academic program in which you want to be a part. 

By doing this, you can select elements that appeal to you and fit in with your dreams.

  • Are there professors and other faculty members you’d like to study with?
  • Does the building in which the program resides have resources you’d like to utilize?
  • Are there alumni whose work you’d like to draw on add to?
  • Is the university in a location that provides resources for curious minds? Are there monuments, memorials, and libraries nearby? If you choose to write about this, make sure to frame these elements within your interests. Don’t simply write about what the surrounding environment has to offer.

Rather than writing that “campus life is boring and there is nothing to do,” you may say “There are limited choices for extracurricular activities at my school. Part of my reason for transferring is because I want to become more ingrained in the campus community by participating in activities such as…”

Not only does this strategy keep you from sounding gloomy, but it also demonstrates your dedication and excitement for joining a new campus. You want colleges to think that you’re going to contribute to their campus.

This strategy converts an essay with a negative tone to one that is positive and includes more information about you as a student.

  • Using details to paint a portrait of your future will also exhibit your ambitions.

Colleges love ambitious students because ambitious students become successful professionals. And successful professionals become generous donors. 

How to Sell Your Objectives by Sharing Your Passion

Obtaining a college education and deciding on a major is an extremely personal and complex decision.

When you discuss the “objectives you hope to achieve,” the enthusiasm and thought behind your choices should be evident.

Colleges want to know that you are passionate and excited about your future (as well as how they factor into your dreams).

Describe your goals in college and how accomplishing those will help you achieve your long-term career/life goals.

Add detail about the reasons why you are attracted to a new school, and why you chose this particular career path.

You might also consider questions such as:

  • How will you benefit the campus community?
  • How do you plan to help or improve your community or the world as a member of your field?  

While writing, don’t forget your audience. Admissions officers want to read about how you’ll benefit from and give back to campus.

Be an active player in your future. Show that you’re thinking about campus life in a larger context. 

If you are sending the Common App to only one college, it’s okay to use specific detail about that college in your essay.

However, if you are using the one essay to apply to multiple colleges, be careful. You do not want to send an email describing how you have always wanted to attend College A to College B. 

Conclusion: The Finish Line, Any Last Words

As with any college application, the essay is an opportunity to discuss anything about you that may not be apparent in the rest of the application.

After you have finished writing a draft essay, carefully go through your entire application to see if you have left out any important pieces of information.

If you follow the advice above, you will surely write a Common App transfer student essay that will wow and woo the college admissions readers. Happy writing!

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