That intimidating college application essay is becoming increasingly important for transfer students. Nowadays more transfer essays are read and considered in the admission decision because admission as a transfer student implies that you have a major, maybe even a career, in mind and that you have taken coursework, done internships or worked in your major field. The college to which you are applying wants to evaluate your preparedness for that major and your commitment to completing your bachelor's degree in a timely fashion. So, what should you put in your essay; how should you prepare to present yourself in writing; and where can you go for help?These pages will give you some essay writing tips and lead you to other web sites or resources for more help.
First some shocking statistics
The admissions department at UC Berkeley will read about 20,000 application essays and Stanford will read about 16,000. Your essay should be a slice of you on paper. Your essay should not be trite ("I am motivated to succeed") or read like a resume list of your club and work accomplishments. Below are some tips for writing an essay that will enhance your application
Don't be gimmicky or artificial
Every admissions office has a story about receiving an essay folded into origami, or embossed on a five pound chocolate bar. These are not amusing at 11 PM after ten hours of essay reading. Instead, write an essay that sounds like you are talking to a favorite aunt or uncle. After reading your essay, the committee member should know something about your personality, your style and your values. Be careful when using humor. Your sense of humor may not match that of your reader. The best transfer essays I've read tell a story that only that writer can tell - about a personal accomplishment or a personal failure, or about a job or volunteer opportunity that lead to a major or career decision. Good essays are always quite personal without being sentimental.
Bragging or inflating your role or accomplishments is usually ineffective. Having someone else help you too much with your essay, or even writing it for you, is not a good idea. Some schools even have acronyms for these essays such as DBD ("Done by Daddy"). The best essays sound like they were written by someone your age. They have a 20 - something voice, or a 30 - something voice that is yours alone. They aren't so polished and smooth that they read like the work of a pro. After years of practice reading essays the admissions officers and faculty who make admission decisions are quite astute in picking out the student voice. Don't too closely follow the pattern of essays you find on the internet or in essay books. Use these for inspiration but start with a completely blank page when you compose your own. I haven't read a lot of good essays in those books anyway.
Be vivid, have passion
This is no time to write in generalities or in a broad sweeping style. Instead, use descriptions and adjectives galore. Tell a story that comes visually alive as well as intellectually alive. I know that this is not a creative writing assignment, but in March after an admissions officer has read thousands of essays, the one that stands out is the one that leaves you with a sense of place and time. Once at an essay writing seminar, I heard an essay from Stanford that told the story of a bowling trophy and what it meant to this person at a young age. It was so descriptive and evocative of feeling, values and youthful enthusiasm that to this day I remember it. Also, express your passion in your essay. It doesn't matter if you are pro-life or pro-choice, a Democrat or an Independent, the important thing is to have passion about something and present that in a way that doesn't negate the other side. Be passionate about your major subject or your career choice. Tell why you care so much. Show intellectual curiosity and the desire to learn and grow in that field. Mention particular faculty at that University you might like to study with. Be knowledgeable and committed to your passions.
Your essay should read like a short English paper about yourself. Start with a main idea and cite specific evidence to support your statement about yourself. A claim about your transformation into a superior student after languishing in high school might be proven by telling a specific story about becoming passionate about literature in your African American Literature class. Tell the reader what awakened your enthusiasm. Describe your feelings when you found your career or major goals. Where were you, did your priorities change? How did this decision affect those around you? Did you change jobs? Only you can write this story.
Your essay should have a clear beginning, middle and end. Coherence is important-don't wander off your topic. Make a clear point. Edit out sentences that don't support your thesis about yourself.
Have your essay edited for misspellings or grammatical errors. There is no excuse for presenting yourself in a negative light. Show the essay around for editing.
Avoid the big issues
Instead write about what you know. Your opinions about apartheid probably aren't nearly as interesting as what you experienced or learned on your internship working with children in the cancer ward.
Use the essay to tell the admission readers about:
1. Lapses in your education - what were you doing, why didn't you go straight through college after high school?
2. Learning disabilities that have affected your progress - how have you compensated?
3. Any other disabilities - such as illness or physical disabilities that have made higher education a challenge. Tell your story of overcoming these hindrances.
4. Disadvantages - economic disadvantage, immigrant status or family losses can make compelling stories if you concentrate on the positive aspects of overcoming your hardships. Everyone faces adversity but some are more successful than others in overcoming. If this is part of your own story, tell it.
This is your chance to fill out your personal story. The reader is looking to round you out and learn some personal details that will help them recommend you for admission. Don't make your story boring and dull. Be personal and lighthearted.
UC Davis Personal Statement
UC Berkeley Personal Statement (pdf)
Transfer essays are different because transfers are different! As we used to say at Georgetown, every transfer has a story to tell…and the essay is their opportunity to do it!
The most frequent essay question for transfer applicants is “Why do you want to transfer to X School?” This is a two-sided question. It’s asking not only why you want to go to X school, but also why the school you currently attend isn’t a good fit. There are two key points you always want to keep in mind when answering this question:
- NEVER, EVER slam the institution you are leaving. Even if you hate it with a passion and can’t understand why anyone would like it there, don’t be negative. That will be the kiss of death for your application. Be honest when you can, but be kind to the institution you are leaving. It is a good fit for some, just not you.
- Make a solid and specific point as to why X school will be a better fit. If you think Boston University was “too big” and “too impersonal” but are applying to transfer to another school equally as large, you can’t use those as reasons. The admissions officer ultimately wants to know why their school is a better fit and what you’re going to bring to the table.
In general, transfers are less predictable in their applications. They often have had a serious incident happen in their life and/or a scattered academic record. The essay is, therefore, an excellent vehicle for explaining anything that might raise red flags. If you have anything that will stand out as odd in your application—address it head on! Don’t let your application reader guess why you flunked four classes or why your high school transcript is a disaster even though you have fabulous SAT scores. Be honest, be genuine, and tell your story. Don’t whine and don’t skirt around answers. Take ownership, but also tell your reader why she should take a chance on you. Admissions officers love the comeback kid. If that’s you, tell your reader!
Generally speaking, at Georgetown we wanted two of the three following items to be decent in a transfer application: high school transcript, SAT/ACT scores, or your college transcript. If you did fabulously in high school and on your SATs, we might be able to attribute lower college grades because you hated the place (hence, your transfer application). Alternatively, we could understand higher SATs and decent college grades with lower high school grades, as you might be truly bright but were a slacker in high school. Two factors on the low end, however, is not ideal because it insinuates that you may not be well qualified and may end up having to transfer yet again, which is what an admission officer wants to avoid.
Finally, visit, visit, visit! The best way to be able to answer “Why do you want to transfer to X school?” is to have visited and be able to give a very specific answer. The application reader wants to know that lots of thought and consideration has gone into your transfer process and that you’ve really clarified what you need out of an institution.