The Transfer Essay: What's Your Story?

by
Director of Admissions, Grove City College

As you consider transferring colleges, you already have stress. Now add the anxiety of writing the transfer admission essay...

Where do you even start? Do you take the application essay you wrote for your current college and tweak it for the new one? Do you start from scratch? (Who has time for that?) Do you ask your mom to help you write it so you can finish your homework and reading for that next test? (I would not advise that option.) Will the school even read it?! (Yes! Yes! One thousand times, yes!)

In all seriousness, how do you get started on your transfer essay? Keep reading to find out.

Tell me your story

As the Director of Admissions, I can assure you that your transfer admission essay will be an important part of your application. A college will not ask you to write an essay if they do not plan to read it, assess it, and use it to determine if you are a good fit for their institution.

There are two key considerations that every college will have when reading a college application essay (whether it’s for a transfer student or not!):

  1. Are you a good fit for my institution?
  2. Is my institution a good fit for you?

The answers to these questions will be exposed when one of my admission counselors or I read your essay. Therefore, my top recommendation for you as you write your transfer essay is to simply tell me your story…

First steps

Your first step should be to do a quick two-minute exercise. Take out a piece of blank paper or click on that Notes app on your phone and write down three of your strengths. This may prove to be difficult for you—we all hate bragging about ourselves, but instead of thinking about what you believe your strengths are, think about what others have complimented you on. If you have been called a leader, then think about what it was you did to receive that compliment and write that anecdote down along with the strength. Continue until you have at least three strengths determined and three anecdotal examples to go along with those strengths.

Your second step should be to get to know the institution(s) that you are applying to. You can do this several ways, but the first and easiest is often to simply visit the “About” page on a school’s website. For instance, if I visit Grove City College’s “About” page, I will see descriptive words like faith, freedom, vision, and liberty. If I want to impress this college in my essay (assuming I identify with the college and how it identifies itself), then I would try and incorporate these values—maybe even those very words—into my essay.

Another way to get to know the school is by visiting the campus. Sit in the student union and listen to the conversations going on around you. You get to know the culture well when you visit the campus. Again, assuming you identify with and want to attend the institution, you should also incorporate into your essay your experience with the campus’s culture and how you see yourself fitting in.

Your third step in writing a successful transfer essay is to understand the college’s essay prompt. Depending on the institution to which you are applying, your essay topic may vary wildly. For example, if transferring to Brandeis University, you may be prompted by, “You are required to spend the next year of your life in either the past or the future. What year would you travel to and why?” Or if you’re applying to Kalamazoo College, you could be asked about your life as a child: “Let’s go back to a time when learning was pure joy. Please tell us your favorite childhood book and why.” Stanford University asks simply, “What matters to you and why?”

Sense a common theme in these essay prompts? In short, they are all attempting to get to know you better. They want to draw you out in your essay. What are your hopes, joys, sorrows, achievements, goals, and dreams? Why do you want to transfer to this institution? Some colleges may even use a visionary to draw your inner visionary out. In the University of Chicago’s prompt, they tell you that Winston Churchill believed “a joke is a very serious thing” and to share with them your favorite joke and explain it without ruining the punch line. In every one of these examples, the idea is to get you to think about who you are and what you want to share with that college. Sometimes they ask you to dig deep, and other times they merely want to know more about what makes you tick.

Now that you know what the college is asking of you in the prompt, your next step is to begin writing. You have thus far written down three strengths (including anecdotal stories to back up those strengths) and visited the campus and/or the college’s website to learn more about the institution and how it identifies itself. You should now also have the essay prompt. What does it focus on? Does the college want you to read their mission statement, do they ask of you more than one question, or do they ask you to reveal something of yourself? No matter what the prompt, make sure you are paying attention to every word. Your essay should answer the question and its nuances completely—while keeping all of my previous considerations in mind.

You may still be asking, but how do I start? What is the school really looking for? Allow me to reveal the answer to that question: there really is no right answer. The ultimate goal of a college application essay is for the school to get to know you better and determine if you’re a good fit and vice versa. As a transfer student, admission counselors want to know why you want to transfer to their institution specifically. This should free you up to get creative and also feel comfortable in answering the essay prompt in a way that will truly showcase who you are and what you would bring to the institution.

Practical steps

For some practical steps to begin writing, I always recommend starting from the basics. Use the five-paragraph essay format. It is easy to follow and will keep you on target and on topic. As a reminder, the five-paragraph essay format looks like this:

Paragraph 1: Introduction/thesis
Don’t forget to start with an attention-grabbing opener! Then give the reader a broad introduction and list what you will write about in your body paragraphs.

Paragraph 2, 3, and 4: Detail paragraphs/body
Each paragraph should support your thesis and should not introduce additional topics. Your paragraphs should follow the same order you listed in your opening. These paragraphs are great opportunities to use those three strengths and anecdotes we determined in our earlier exercise!

Paragraph 5: Conclusion/ending
Give a “wrap up” of the essay and restate your thesis. Lastly, give the essay some closure. Usually for a college essay you should end with how you believe you will be bettered by your attendance or how the school will benefit you while you are there (see earlier considerations that colleges look to).

You don’t have to leave your essay in this format, but this is a terrific exercise to get something down on paper. Then edit and tweak the essay until it is ready to be sent to the institution.

Final steps

I want to finish by giving you some final steps to complete and thoughts to consider before you send your essay to your intended transfer institution. Making sure your essay is the best reflection of who you are and what you want the college to know about you is imperative.

Consider these five things…

  1. Have you been original? Have you written your essay in a way that allows you to become three-dimensional to the reader? Have you painted a mental picture with your answer to the essay prompt that allowed you to jump off the page?
  2. Have you included enough detail? If your essay is so general or vague that it could be sent to any college or university in the country, then you go back and try again. Include specific aspects of the college as well as yourself.
  3. Have you allowed yourself enough time? Is your deadline far enough ahead of you that you have sufficient time to write, revise, and edit? If not, you have not given yourself the proper time to ensure accuracy and a well-written essay.
  4. Have you asked someone else to read and edit your essay? Make sure you do, and also provide the prompt along with your essay. Ask your editor to read the prompt and then your essay, looking to see if you have fully answered the prompt, as well as catch any grammatical/spelling errors or incongruous tone.
  5. Have you told your story? Your story is unique, incredible, and worth telling. Make sure you and your qualities and strengths stand out. Your future college should be reading an honest and forthright portrayal of who you are—and who you hope to become.

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