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The Transfer Essay

For many, the most difficult part of the application process is writing the admission essay, and trying to decide on a topic when everything around you seems so uncertain can get stressful. You made it through once already--and this time, it should boast even greater rewards.

For many, the most difficult part of the application process is writing the admission essay, and trying to decide on a topic when everything around you seems so uncertain can get stressful. You made it through once already--and this time, it should boast even greater rewards.

Nothing beats the excitement of sending your last college application to the admission office, a sigh of relief that months of recommendation letters, transcripts, and essays are finally over. A few months later, you're accepted and heading off to a new campus. Transferring can be an overwhelming process, and while you're going through the admission cycle again, the feeling of completion you got from finishing up your applications the first time around can fade pretty fast.

Do you need an essay?

When you’re certain which schools you want to apply to, check out their transfer application requirements. They often differ from freshman admission, but the process as a whole is pretty similar. For many, the most difficult part of the application process is writing the admission essay, and trying to decide on a topic when everything around you seems so uncertain can get stressful. Fortunately, there’s no reason to freak out. You were able to make it through once already, and you can do so again—and this time, it should boast even greater rewards.

Start by finding out if you even need to submit an essay. Transferring is a multi-step process, and staying organized is important. Knowing if you need to write an essay early on will help you keep a strict calendar of deadlines. Some universities may not require an essay—but as more and more students are deciding to begin school at community colleges, the transfer student pool has increased over the years and schools are becoming more selective in the admission process for transfer students. If done well, the essay can be the most powerful and compelling part of a your applications.

If you find the school you are applying to does not require an essay, but offers suggested topics or says that they will consider optional writing pieces, it’s in your best interest to put in the extra time to complete one. At schools where essay submission is voluntary, a sample of your writing that provides insight into who you are and why you’re seeking admission can only help your application. It will also force you to sit down and reflect on what has brought you to this point.

How important is the essay?

The weight of the transfer essay in the admission process varies from school to school. The number one thing transfer admission counselors want to know is the reason you are transferring. Without exception, transfer students have specific and substantial reasons for wanting to leave one college to attend another. The application and college transcript does not provide enough data about the student’s journey that led them to this decision.

Essentially, the essay is a tool used to paint a picture of who you are, framed by your experience. Rather than simply saying you had a negative experience at your current institution, take advantage of the opportunity and explain why. Talk about what led you to your current position, and where you see yourself going. Admission committees will want to know why your experience was not what you expected and why that may change at the new institution. Was the social environment not right for you? Did you want to change your major to one your current school does not offer? These are all questions that committees will ask while reviewing a transfer application.

The essay also provides students with the opportunity to take responsibility for any blotches on their transcript. Rather than putting the blame on someone else, taking responsibility for your grades shows strong character and a sense of ownership. The admission committee will be more impressed and have a better understanding of your academic background if you provide a basis for your record. In the end, it could help determine your admission to your school of choice.

The essay can also help in awarding academic scholarships. The writing sample you submit may be considered in both the admission and competitive scholarship selection processes. In addition to your academic background, counselors are interested in your personal character. Your admission essay provides you with the opportunity to “personalize” your application, and admission committees can learn about your leadership skills and character. At many schools, students can earn scholarships from more than just their grade point average—extracurricular activities and leadership qualities can play a huge role.

Writing the essay

Now that you know the purpose of writing your transfer essay, knowing what to include and what to exclude is the next step. Often applicants worry too much about how to balance creativity with the facts. The essay should give a very informative picture of you. It’s an opportunity to tell your story, in your own words. Be genuine and clear. You want your readers to understand your essay. If you use obscure terms needlessly, they won’t be impressed.

One way to write a solid essay that makes you stand out is to take the writing process step-by-step, piece-by-piece: start by analyzing the prompt, plan a thorough outline, write the piece, and edit it thoroughly. The end result will be a carefully rehearsed, insightful essay that makes you proud. Take advantage of being able to share something with an audience who knows nothing about you and is excited to learn what you have to offer. Brag, and write the story about you that no one else can share!

“When I began the transfer process, I was completely bombarded by the amount of things that I had to do,” says Megan McNeill, a graduate of Emerson College who transferred into the Boston school after spending a year at Monroe Community College in Rochester, New York. “I originally intended to write an essay about my greatest role model, but I quickly changed topics. I realized that it was best to write about what was on my mind. I organized my essay as an explanation of where I have gone and where I am going; past, present, and future.” McNeill used her essay to discuss her academic record, important and life-changing experiences, and how admission to Emerson would put her on a course to success. “I tried to tie everything back to Emerson, I wanted them to see that I was already invested in their campus, regardless of whether or not I was admitted.”

Once your essay is complete, it is a good idea to have an additional set of eyes review it. A sloppy essay that’s scattered with mistakes is not going to make a good impression on anyone. Typos, misspellings, and grammatical errors will be interpreted as carelessness or just bad writing. Don’t just rely on your computer’s spell check, because it could miss some errors in your essay. If you remember any advice, make sure you revise, revise, revise your essay!

Admission counselors know that writing doesn’t always come easily to everyone. While it is very important to make sure that your essay is well written and free of mistakes (remember all those revisions?), what you say often outweighs how you say it. No committee is going to review your essay and expect a dissertation; it’s more important for it to come from the heart and present cogent ideas.

So maybe that first go around with applications was just the primer to your transfer admission. Look at the bright side: at least you’ve got a little experience this time.


Admission essay tips

Here are a couple of steps for writing your college application essay from Lori Greene, the Director of Undergraduate Admission at Loyola University Chicago:

1. Ease yourself into the process.
Take time to read the question being asked. The question is the single most important consideration because it is the bridge from preparation to writing. Read the question clearly and make sure you understand what is being asked of you.

2. Get your creative juices flowing by brainstorming all possible ideas you can use to address the essay prompt.
Believe it or not, the brainstorming stage may be more tedious than writing the actual essay. The purpose is to flesh out all of your possible ideas, so when you begin writing you know and understand where you are going with the topic.

3. Map out what you’re going to write and where it’s going to fit by making an outline.
After you brainstorm, you know what you want to say, but now you must decide how you’re going to share the story. All good stories have a beginning, middle, and end. Shape your story accordingly, and ensure that it is written in your own unique style. 

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