How to Write Best College Transfer Essay: Secrets, Tips and Tricks

If the college you wish to transfer to is asking for a transfer essay, you can rest assured that it’s something that can have a considerable impact on the admissions decision.

As a matter of fact, you should consider submitting one even if it’s optional — it can work to your advantage should admissions officers compare you with another applicant with similar qualifications.

Since it’s not uncommon for the acceptance rates for transfer applicants to be lower than the acceptance rates for freshmen applicants, writing a winning one can help you win an acceptance letter.

How to Start a College Transfer Essay

Because it’s the very first thing that admissions officers will read, the introduction of a college transfer essay is an opportunity for the transfer applicant to stand out from other applicants.

While there are many ways to start a college essay, only a few of them can deliver each time.

Let’s take a look at some of the most commonly used opening techniques that never fail to engage admissions officers, thus making the task of getting to know you through your college transfer essay an enjoyable endeavor:

writing college transfer essay

Open with an attention-grabbing sentence

The goal is to make admissions officers want to read the entirety of your transfer essay from the get-go. And that is why you should start yours with something that can get them hooked and curious enough right away.

Here are some examples of successful good openings from winning college essays submitted to Stanford:

  • I have old hands.
  • When I was in the eighth grade I couldn’t read.
  • I change my name each time I place an order at Starbucks.

Describe a moment without revealing much

Opening with an image-based description of a particular moment without explaining much gives the audience, the admissions officers, a sense that something important is happening, the full significance of which is yet to be revealed, which is why it can keep them from wanting to grab another college essay to check out.

The following is an example of a great college transfer essay that takes advantage of this effective opening technique:

Bowing down to the porcelain god, I emptied the contents of my stomach. Foaming at the mouth, I was ready to pass out. My body couldn’t stop shaking as I gasped for air, and the room started spinning.

Create an expectation and then give a twist

Nothing can surprise admissions officers more than reading a bunch of sequential sentences establishing things that create a certain expectation by the readers only to take them in a different direction entirely.

Check out this college essay’s opening that leverages the twist approach to its full advantage:

I am on Oxford Academy’s Speech and Debate Team, in both the Parliamentary Debate division and the Lincoln-Douglas debate division. I write screenplays, short stories and opinionated blogs and am a regular contributor to my school’s literary magazine, The Glue Stick. I have accumulated over 300 community service hours that include work at homeless shelters, libraries and special education youth camps. I have been evaluated by the College Board and have placed within the top percentile. But I am not any of these things. I am not a test score, nor a debater, nor a writer. I am an anti-nihilist punk rock philosopher.

What to Write About in the Transfer Essay

The things to talk about in one’s college transfer essay depend on the prompt chosen. But generally speaking, it’s a good idea for transfer applicants to focus more on their postsecondary experience thus far.

And because the essay is for transfer admissions purposes, it’s also recommended to discuss future goals at the target institution.

It’s the body that’s the longest part of a college essay. As a result of this, as the word limit permits, the transfer applicant has plenty of room to demonstrate his or her creativity and writing skills as well as reasons for switching colleges.

However, it’s a must that the right matter is discussed in the main part of the transfer essay.

There’s something transfer applicants have that first-time, first-year applicants don’t: a higher education experience.

As such, it’s just suitable and necessary for them to talk about theirs in their college transfer essay.

After all, when reviewing transfer applications, admissions officers want to get to know how much applicants have grown since high school.

Generally speaking, the following are some of the most fitting things to write about when asked to submit a transfer essay — most college essay prompts, anyway, ask transfer applicants to discuss them:

  • How you have grown from attending your current school
  • What your specific goals are at your new school

How to Conclude Your Writing

Depending on the approach or method of choice, a college transfer essay can be concluded in a number of ways. For instance, the students may return to the beginning or look forward.

Ending on an action or revealing the main point, if not disclosed in the introduction and main body as a part of the preferred style, are also options for closing one’s college transfer essay.

In some instances, it’s a much better idea to know the things to avoid at all costs as far as putting your transfer essay to an end. The general consensus is that the following are some bad ones:

  • Summarizing the essay
  • Stating the point of the essay even if it’s obvious
  • Opening the ending with cliché transitions
  • Extending the desire to get accepted to the college
college transfer

Tips for Writing the Best Transfer Essay

It’s important for admissions officers to know you beyond your GPA from your current college and test scores, which are required by many colleges and universities for transfer applicants to submit.

And that is why a transfer application essay is commonly a required material to include in one’s application other than the Common App or Coalition App essay.

Here’s a rundown of some dos and don’ts when it comes to writing a transfer essay so that you will find it even easier to remember the things to do to strengthen it and the things to avoid that can lower your admissions chances:


  • Do focus on what you have learned. Talk about what you have discovered about yourself and what you want in life as a result of your experience at your current college. Needless to say, you should consider discussing the changes in your academic and professional goals that your college experience thus far has caused.
  • Do point out the reasons for wanting to continue at another school. Of course, admissions officers at the college you are applying to would like to know why you want to switch schools. Remember to provide clear objectives and plans so that the school can have an idea of whether or not it could serve your needs better than your current institution.
  • Do mention the things you like about the new college. Demonstrated interest is not considered in the admissions process at many institutions. Still, a college would be interested to know what about it that you like. Is it the academic program? How about the research opportunities available? Or is it the summer internships offered?


  • Don’t bad mouth your current school. Avoid using your transfer essay as a platform for whining, enumerating everything you hate about the institution you are attending currently. However, there is nothing wrong in pointing out the obvious, as you will later find out in a couple of examples of successful transfer essays — so keep reading!
  • Don’t use your current school as an excuse for having bad grades. While it’s true that a terrible program, campus culture or roommate can affect your academic performance negatively, there’s always a workaround for a determined and hardworking student. You don’t want the college you are eyeing to suspect that you are lazy.
  • Don’t waste precious word count. Always keep in mind that it’s not just your transfer essay that the admissions officer at the college you are applying to will check out — they will, of course, also take a look at the rest of your application. To let them know you more, consider talking about things that are nowhere to be found in your Common App.

What Colleges are Looking for in Transfer Essays

According to the associate dean of admission at Hamilton College in New York colleges and universities are looking for the reasons why transfer applicants want to transfer.

She added that transfer essays are nothing like first-year essays that are more open-ended for the lack of the students’ postsecondary education experience.

True enough, a retired dean of admission and financial aid at Amherst College said that — still as a part of the same report — transferees should be more reflective about their educational goals due to their experience after high school.

Of course, different institutions have different prompts for transfer essays.

Most of them, however, want to see the very same things. And spearheading the short list is the transfer applicant’s future goals, both academically and professionally, and how transferring to the school can help in the achievement of those.

It goes without saying that the transfer applicant should be certain that the new school is a better fit for him or her than the current school. Being able to provide specific examples of why he or she deserves to be a part of the campus is also expected.

Otherwise, it’s not unlikely for the admissions officers to give any available spot to a more deserving transferee.

And to conclude this part of the post, here’s a 6-minute video of a college admissions reader talking about everything that any transfer applicant needs to include in his or her college transfer essay.

Two Transfer Essay Examples

It’s one thing to know how to write a good college transfer essay. But it’s another thing to know what a good college transfer essay looks like. And that is why in this part of this post I will give you a couple of examples of successful transfer essays, the kinds that won transfer applicants a much-coveted acceptance letter from their top-choice schools.

This first example is a transfer essay submitted to the University of Pennsylvania, in response to a prompt asking the applicant to state the reasons for transferring and the objectives he or she hopes to achieve using a minimum of 250 words:

My reasons for transferring are two-fold and equally important. Academics and campus life are arguably the most vital components of the college experience and these two areas at [current school] have been unsatisfying for me. My unhappiness at [current school] is rooted in the difference between my academic philosophy and [current school’s]. Based on my experience in class I feel like the educational emphasis at [current school] is on knowing and not learning. An example of this comes from my philosophy class in which one of the teacher’s most common responses to a question is, “let’s bracket that for now,” when the inquiry is not about something printed on the syllabus for that day. To me, this sort of teaching discourages curiosity and in a philosophy class, especially, a deeper discussion that strays from the lesson plan is what gives the class its significant and educational value. The process of learning is pared down to its most straightforward and austere so that the state of knowing can be achieved as soon as possible.

What I hope to get out of transferring is to find a school that fits my academic philosophy and believes that learning for the sake of learning is vital to a healthy education. My favorite part about classes is taking a long, winding, side-note-packed path on the way to knowing, and if we never get there it doesn’t matter because knowing isn’t the point of learning — learning is the point of learning.

As for campus life, the prevailing campus social culture has been disappointing to me. No one ever seems to tire of doing the same thing week after week and the students admit that none of the events they attend would be fun without alcohol. I prefer an environment where the sober experiences trump the drunken ones. The ongoing joke about extracurricular life is that all of the clubs and organizations are “drinking club with debate” or “drinking club with community service” and so in this manner. The students do their work so they can go out at night as opposed to doing their homework to learn something. The prevailing culture sets the tone for the whole school and creates an uninspired environment. I’d like to go to a school where the spirit is less unimaginative and more intellectually ambitious.

Both my academic and cultural concerns center on differing philosophies. The academic approach at [current school] is too pragmatic, especially given that I am a classics major, and the social life is too alcohol-centered for my liking. I’m aware that all college campuses have drinking and it is a part of college life, but I’m looking to transfer to a school where drinking is more a means to an end of socializing than an end in itself.

student finishing college essay

And now, this second example of a transfer essay submitted to the University of Texas at Austin was a response to a long prompt that basically ask applicants to talk about their current studies and future academic and professional goals:

I stood still, lost amidst a sea of towering figures. I felt the familiarity of being alone. Each time I change environments, it doesn’t come any easier. A broad-shouldered girl in a blue shirt asked accusingly me where I needed to be. Despite intimidating me at first, she turned out to be sweet and concerned for my well-being.

She took me to my classroom and introduced me to the other girls. They all seemed so different from me. My family left the United States when I was young, and during my ten years spent in India, I switched between three very different schools.

Accustomed to American schools that are relatively orderly and organized, it took time to adjust to India’s disorderly schools. Just as I started feeling comfortable with the unusual teaching methods of my new school, my parents transferred me to a more “cultural” school. With a total of seven students in the entire school, we learned in literal shacks.

My classmates were behind in their education and far below my grade level, so the teachers focused most of their time on them. I suffered greatly when I switched back into mainstream schooling. Now, it was my classmates who raced through their work. I was thrown, unprepared, into India’s rigorous education system. I struggled with constructing angles and balancing chemical equations. I had to work especially hard to make up for the time lost at my cultural school.

I made it through Tenth grade with extensive additional coaching. Despite my setback, I knew that I could do better. Through my classes, I began to develop an interest with the mathematical functions that power finance and accounting. My accounting teacher became my biggest inspiration. The way she related accounting procedures to current business crises convinced me to learn more. I started keeping up with companies’ corporate strategies and their effect on the economy.

Before my board exams, I completed additional work on my own and solved about 70 papers in preparation. The work ethic I acquired under her guidance is something that has stuck to me through the challenging times at community college. I continue to self-study with online courses offered on Khan Academy to further exceed expectations.

Additionally, my internship at the Pratham International School in the summer of 2016 gave me real-world experience with auditing and organizing financials. I applied my classroom and self-studying knowledge to help with vendor payment methods and profitable tuition pricing.

I also pursued an internship in the accounting department of The Home Depot. For the first time, I saw theoretical concepts come to life as I helped facilitate vendor payment methods and profitable product pricing. The chance to interact with higher-level financial managers gave me exposure to strategic decision-making and contingency planning.

I look forward to pursuing another internship and taking advantage of the connections provided by the McCombs School of Business. I hope the university will help connect me with fruitful opportunities to develop my business competencies. By participating in the Texas Stock Team and The University Finance Association, I can explore different interests and develop my network. I don’t have these opportunities at Houston Community College, and I don’t think any Texas university offers the unparalleled opportunities of UT. Doing research under award-winning professors like Laura Starks and Robert Parrino will give me a head start in the industry.

Like The University of Texas, I also want to transform myself and change the world. The past few months at Houston Community College have helped me realize that I need an environment with a limitless ceiling for growth. Since I have experienced many different educational environments, I have a good idea for what I seek while avoiding opportunities that may not be in my best interest. I bring a different perspective that will contribute to classroom discussions and be a valued addition to the McCombs community.

College Transfer FAQs

Before this post comes to an end, let’s answer some pressing questions many transfer applicants who are in the process of brainstorming for their college essay feel too embarrassed to ask:

Do all colleges require a transfer essay?

Not all institutions of higher education make a transfer essay a part of the admissions process for transfer applicants. However, many colleges do, including some of the most selective ones.

Some require transfer applicants to answer just a single prompt, while others oblige them to answer multiple prompts. Most prompts call for an explanation for wanting to attend the school.

Can you use a common topic for your transfer essay?

Admissions officers do not expect all transfer applicants to talk about never-before-seen topics in their college transfer essays.

Even a common topic can become fresh and exciting if the student discusses it from a unique perspective or gives it a surprising story arc. Needless to say, using an advanced or creative writing style can make any everyday topic new and exciting.

How do you cite sources in a transfer essay?

Compared to research and academic writing, a college essay, whether by a first-year applicant or a transferee applicant, is less formal. As such, using an established style of citing sources and providing a reference list is unnecessary.

The transfer applicant may instead cite sources casually in the essay, in practically any part where it will not disrupt the flow of thoughts.

How do you meet the word count limit?

Going past the word limit necessitates going over the transfer essay to eliminate any irrelevant details. Since brevity is an important component of a written piece, unnecessary words that clutter the submission should be removed, too.

On the other hand, sharing stories, feelings and insight by vividly describing them is a solution when struggling to reach the minimum word count.

What is a diversity essay?

A diversity essay is a supplementary essay some institutions of higher education or scholarships require that is focused on the unique identity, background, culture, beliefs or characteristics of the college applicant.

In most instances, a diversity essay is asked to be submitted as part of the admissions process where diversity is believed to be enriching for the campus community.

Recap: How to Write a Winning College Transfer Essay

In most instances, transfer applicants need to include a transfer essay in their application. There are recommended ways to open and close a transfer essay, such as the ones we talked about in this post, which can help increase one’s admissions chances — since transfer acceptance rates are generally lower, they need to ace every part of their application.

Transfer students, typically, have to talk about their experiences with their current school and their goals at the new school, which are things that admissions officers look for other than writing skill and creativity.

Take your time when writing your transfer essay because it’s an important component of your application.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the College Reality Check.

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