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Take Control of Your Transfer Essay

Your transfer essay gives insight into your character and self-awareness in ways an academic transcript simply cannot. And, yes, admission officers read them!

For many transfer students, the thought of writing an admission essay is daunting. “How important is it?” “How much should I share about my past educational experiences?” “What should or shouldn’t I include?” These are questions I often receive as a transfer admission counselor—and it makes perfect sense that students would have them.

You are re-entering the admission process with the unique advantage of having been through it before. You have filled out applications, collected recommendations, submitted transcripts, and written essays. You have experience attending college classes and know the ropes. You may even have a copy of your old admission essay that you are considering using again. After all, does the admission committee truly pay attention to the essay when making their decision?

As a transfer counselor, I can tell you: yes, we pay attention! Your transfer essay gives insight into your character and self-awareness in ways an academic transcript simply cannot. While academic transcripts tell admission committees about a student’s historical success based on letter grades, less quantifiable traits such as focus, drive, personal experience, determination, and work ethic can be gleaned from an essay.

Depending on the institution to which you are applying, your application can be judged on a multitude of things. At my school, Chatham University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, we use a holistic application review process employed by admission committees at many other institutions all over the country. A holistic review means we look at every document submitted by the student and make an evaluation based on his or her individual background and experience. As a transfer student, this gives you a unique opportunity to showcase your educational history and aspirations. It’s a chance to paint a bigger picture of your academic background, give context to your other accomplishments, highlight areas where you excelled—and perhaps explain times when the road might have been bumpy. Your application and essay can help the admission committee understand why you are choosing the school and why you want to study your major (if you selected one).

Of course, as they say, it’s often easier said than done, and many students wonder how they can write an admission essay that stands out and highlights the unique strengths they possess. And it may be tempting to submit a graded writing sample to fulfill the essay requirements at schools permitting students to do so. But before you reach for your most recent academic paper, consider what you may be giving up by opting for the pre-written piece.

As a transfer student, you are looking to transition to a new learning environment, and the college to which you are applying will want to know your reasons for transferring. An academic paper will not shed light on this. Instead, you’ll leave the admission committee wondering about your rationale behind switching schools. A personalized essay gives you the chance to explain your educational journey and help the admission committee determine if the school is a good fit for you.

It all starts with understanding yourself and your goals. Are you looking for a school that offers a more competitive program in your major? Are you looking for a different major altogether? Are you struggling at your current institution? The admission essay is the perfect opportunity for you to explain these issues and your goals.

When evaluating application files, I have encountered students with low GPAs and I’m left wondering if there is more to the applicant’s story than a few low marks. While I will call you to find out more, not every admission counselor can take that extra step. And though we love to see well-researched papers that received favorable grades, I would prefer to read a thoughtful essay describing the obstacles the student faced and how he or she overcame these barriers to succeed. Knowing how your application will be evaluated can also help you make an informed decision between writing the essay or submitting an academic paper.

However, in some cases you may not have a choice, and you may be required to respond to one of the essay prompts provided. Just remember: even though you are writing about a given topic, think of ways to personalize your answer within the context of the prompt. This is still an opportunity to include experience and knowledge you have gained during your previous college courses and how that knowledge is going to benefit you at your new institution. If you’re interested in law, discuss your experience resolving conflict during a past internship. If you’re looking to enter the field of biology, share a story about a lab experiment you had worked on that you successfully completed.

If you would like to give more background than you think the prompt allows, consider submitting a personal statement. It can accompany your essay as a supplemental piece and include information that perhaps doesn’t quite fit in the essay itself. Additional supplemental writing can also enhance your application, and many applications will give you space to include such things. For example, students who apply to our creative writing program often submit samples of poetry or short stories that best display their work.

Ultimately, each school’s application process is different, and your application strategy should be adapted to meet the needs of the institutions to which you are applying. Familiarize yourself with the required documents and suggested materials each school requests. You will want to check with the institutions to find out if they accept supplemental writing pieces and documents, and if so, in what capacity.

Any action you take that will make you stand out will truly benefit you as an applicant and help the admission committee understand your work ethic, passion, and dedication to their university.

Do’s and Don’ts for Your Transfer Admission Essay

  • Do read the guidelines, length requirements, and prompts thoroughly before beginning your essay—then be sure to adhere to them!
  • Do brainstorm the potential of each prompt and how it could best enhance your application, and decide on one that highlights the strengths and unique contributions you could bring to a university.
  • Do discuss your reasons for transferring so the admission committee can understand your motivations.
  • Do work with the transfer admission counselor at the school(s) you are applying to in order to make sure your application is as competitive as possible. (This is one of my favorite parts of being a transfer admission counselor!)
  • Do mention past educational experience gained in and out of college, such as work training, military involvement, or other unique endeavors. Some schools may be able to award credit for prior learning experience!
  • Don’t include personal details beyond those that directly affect your educational performance and would matter to an admission committee. If personal factors influenced your reason for transferring, contact your admission counselor to discuss them individually.
  • Don’t submit an essay that has not been edited. Work with academic advisors, tutors, and counselors to make sure each part of your application is well written and free of errors before submitting it to a university.
  • Don’t submit an essay that is more than one year old. As a current college student, your writing level has improved since you first applied. Show off your enhanced skills with a newly constructed essay.

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