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How to Write a College Transfer Essay (With Examples)

By Lisa Freedland

Lisa Freedland is a Scholarships360 writer with personal experience in psychological research and content writing. She has written content for an online fact-checking organization and has conducted research at the University of Southern California as well as the University of California, Irvine. Lisa graduated from the University of Southern California in Fall 2021 with a degree in Psychology.

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Reviewed by Bill Jack

Bill Jack has over a decade of experience in college admissions and financial aid. Since 2008, he has worked at Colby College, Wesleyan University, University of Maine at Farmington, and Bates College.

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Updated: January 26th, 2024
How to Write a College Transfer Essay (With Examples)

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, over 1.2 million students are enrolled in college as a transfer student. Students may transfer for a variety of reasons ranging from academics to athletics to geography.

If you are in the process of transferring colleges it’s likely that you will have to write a personal essay as part of your transfer admissions process. Ultimately, there’s no one way to write a college transfer essay. Everyone is unique, and this individuality should shine through in your essays.

However, there are some recommended things to include, and even a real example essay that was used to successfully transfer college! In this post, we’ll help you write a powerful transfer essay so you can tell your story to the admissions committee.

Jump ahead to…

College transfer essays: The do’s and don’ts

Before we start, we want to cover a few basics do’s and don’ts about what your transfer essays should be about.

Do:

  • Elaborate on how your current school has helped you progress towards your goals. Positivity is always a good thing!
  • Research your prospective school (e.g. specific classes, organizations, opportunities) for why you want to go there.
  • Make sure to follow the standard/correct essay format! Transfer essay prompts may vary from college to college so you should make sure that you’re answering the exact question.

Don’t:

  • Use up your limited word count by listing negative aspects about your current school. Instead, focus on how it has helped you grow, but how another school could further help you develop your interests/passions 
  • List a group of random classes or opportunities available at your new school. Mention opportunities you’re (genuinely) interested in that relate to your goals and passions – make sure you’re telling a story through your essay.
  • Copy your initial admissions essay (the one that you used when applying to colleges in high school) – you’ve changed a lot during your time in college so you will want to write a brand new essay.

What is the goal of the transfer essay?

Potential transfer students should know that not all colleges and universities require transfer essays, so when in doubt definitely check-in with the college in question for clarification. For the purposes of this article and the sample transfer essay, we’ll be using this prompt:

Please provide a statement that addresses your reasons for transferring and the objectives you hope to achieve. 

Most colleges will be interested in learning why you want to transfer and how transferring will help you achieve your goals. However, specific prompts will vary from college to college, so you should definitely pay attention to the specific prompt you are asked to respond to.

Some of the common questions you’ll come across include:

  • Why did you choose your current school?
  • What are your main reasons for transferring out of your current school?
  • How will your transfer school help you accomplish your goals?

Below I’ll break down how to respond to each of these questions and include an example from a successful transfer essay.

Also see: Can you transfer into an ivy league school?

Why did you choose your current school? 

To answer this question, you’ll have to go back in time when you were in 12th grade and selecting your college. Did you choose the college because it had a program you liked? Maybe you really wanted to take classes with a specific professor? Maybe you thought you wanted to attend college in a specific part of the world? Whatever the reason you should lay it out in the most factual way possible.

Here’s how I responded to this question:

Just like Jeopardy, Criminal Minds is also a show that I have watched from a very young age, and one that I continue to watch quite regularly. Being exposed to this interesting world of FBI profilers for so long inspired me to want to dive into the world of psychology myself. Due to this, I originally chose the University of Wisconsin, Madison for its amazing psychology program, and because I wanted to try something new. Being from California, this “something new” came in the form of watching snow fall from the sky, seeing cheese curds being sold in all the grocery stores, and simply living somewhere far away from home.

Also see: How to write a 250 word essay

What are your main reasons for transferring out of your current school?

This is always an important question for transfer admissions officers: why did your current college not work out? We recommend that students be as honest as possible and stick to the facts (as opposed to simply complaining about your current school).

Students have very different reasons for changing schools, which often depend on what type of school you’re transferring from (a 2-year or 4-year). While many community college students transfer because their plans did work out and they’ve accomplished what they wanted to at their school, those transferring from four-year universities often do so for less positive reasons (which was my experience).

If the situation at your college didn’t exactly pan out as you thought it would, you should also try to talk about some of the ways you are making the most of the situation. This shows the admissions officers that despite the less-than-ideal circumstances, you have continued to learn, grow, and contribute to your community.

Here’s how I accomplished this:

Arriving in Wisconsin, I got exactly what I wanted: an amazing psychology program and the experience of being somewhere quite different from the place I called home. My classes were interesting, my professors were helpful and caring, and experiencing the first snow was quite exciting. However, as winter progressed, walking back from class everyday under the progressively gloomier sky seemed to be a cruel reminder that I was no longer in sunny Southern California. While eating dinner in our many dining halls, I always viewed the wide array of food available: quesadillas, Chinese food, burgers, even pecan pie. The food was all delicious, but going day after day without even seeing Korean food once made me miss those fun dinners with my family. Back at my dorm, my “home away from home”, it started to feel like anything but being at home.

To feel more comfortable where I was, I decided to pursue things I liked, and that I was familiar with. My passion for psychology led me to join the university’s Psychology Club, where I was able to learn about recent revelations within the field of psychology, furthering my interest in the subject. 

Why do you want to attend the transfer school?

Going through the admissions process as a transfer student is interesting, because you have learned a lot about yourself and your preferences at your first college. This should provide you with a great perspective on what you are looking for next.

The two major things you’ll want to accomplish when answering this question are why the transfer college in question is a good fit for you and how it can help you accomplish your goals as a student.

Specificity is always more ideal here so you can show that you have spent some time thinking about what you want and also how the new college fits.

Here’s how I did this:

I plan on using the knowledge I gain in psychology, either from organizations or classes, to help people. I want to one day apply this knowledge to research, to discover possible methods to help the people suffering from the psychological problems I study. Alternatively, I hope to use this knowledge as a criminal profiler, using my understanding of psychology to narrow down pools of suspects. 

To be able to accomplish either of these, I need to develop a much deeper understanding of both people’s motivations for the things they do as well as of the many psychological issues people face. For these reasons, I am very excited at the prospect of exploring and enrolling in the classes offered by USC’s Department of Psychology. In particular, Psych 360: Abnormal Psychology would be an amazing introduction to psychological disorders and their causes. Psych 314L: Research Methods would then help me put this knowledge about disorders to good use by teaching me how to properly conduct research and find possible solutions for people’s problems.

College transfer essays: an example

Here we go! Throughout this article, I’ve shown you my college essay divided into sections, and now’s time for the full thing. I can honestly say that this essay had a 100% success rate! Without further ado, here is my full college transfer essay (and prompt):

Prompt: Please provide a statement that addresses your reasons for transferring and the objectives you hope to achieve. 

I wake up from my daily after-school nap to realize that it is already dinner time. As I walk downstairs, I smell the delicious fragrance coming from my mom’s samgyetang (Korean ginseng chicken soup), one of my favorite meals. Soon enough, everyone sits down to watch the newest episode of Jeopardy, a tradition we’ve had going on for as long as I can remember. As I take that first sip of samgyetang, and miss yet another geography question on Jeopardy – and wait for my family to inevitably tease me about it – I feel at home, like I am somewhere that I belong. Wherever I go, I hope I can encounter that same warm feeling.

Just like Jeopardy, Criminal Minds is also a show that I have watched from a very young age, and one that I continue to watch quite regularly. Being exposed to this interesting world of FBI profilers for so long inspired me to want to dive into the world of psychology myself. Due to this, I originally chose the University of Wisconsin, Madison for its amazing psychology program, and because I wanted to try something new. Being from California, this “something new” came in the form of watching snow fall from the sky, seeing cheese curds being sold in all the grocery stores, and simply living somewhere far away from home.

Arriving in Wisconsin, I got exactly what I wanted: an amazing psychology program and the experience of being somewhere quite different from the place I called home. My classes were interesting, my professors were helpful and caring, and experiencing the first snow was quite exciting. However, as winter progressed, walking back from class everyday under the progressively gloomier sky seemed to be a cruel reminder that I was no longer in sunny Southern California. While eating dinner in our many dining halls, I always viewed the wide array of food available: quesadillas, Chinese food, burgers, even pecan pie. The food was all delicious, but going day after day without even seeing Korean food once, it made me miss those fun dinners with my family. Back at my dorm, my “home away from home,” it started to feel like anything but being at home.

To feel more comfortable where I was, I decided to pursue things I liked, and that I was familiar with. My passion for psychology led me to join the university’s Psychology Club, where I was able to learn about recent revelations within the field of psychology, furthering my interest in the subject. I plan on using the knowledge I gain in psychology, either from organizations or classes, to help people. I want to one day apply this knowledge to research, to discover possible methods to help the people suffering from the psychological problems I study. Alternatively, I hope to use this knowledge as a criminal profiler, using my understanding of psychology to narrow down pools of suspects. 

To be able to accomplish either of these, I need to develop a much deeper understanding of both people’s motivations for the things they do as well as of the many psychological issues people face. For these reasons, I am very excited at the prospect of exploring and enrolling in the classes offered by USC’s Department of Psychology. In particular, Psych 360: Abnormal Psychology would be an amazing introduction to psychological disorders and their causes. Psych 314L: Research Methods would then help me put this knowledge about disorders to good use by teaching me how to properly conduct research and find possible solutions for people’s problems. With so many opportunities available at USC, I hope to not only help others feel more comfortable, but to find a second home for myself after all.

And that’s it! This essay touches on all of the tips listed above, and should serve as helpful inspiration as you begin your writing. Hopefully, it gives you an idea of how to integrate everything you should mention in a cohesive essay. With that, I wish you good luck with your college transfer essays (and applications)!

Don’t miss: What looks good on a college application?

Additional resources

If you finish your essay and still have questions about the transfer process, consider checking out these Scholarships360 resources:

Key Takeaways

Key Takeaways

  • Explain why you want to transfer, what you need that you are not getting at your current school, and why you chose your current school to begin with
  • Always present things in a positive light
  • Share how the transfer school will help you achieve your goals and why you are a good fit for the school
Key Takeaways

Frequently asked questions about writing college transfer essays 

How are college transfer essays different from regular application essays?

At their core, college transfer essays have a lot in common with regular college application essays. They are both opportunities to showcase your potential, your passions, your story, and the plans you have for your future at the school you’re applying to.

That being said, there are some circumstantial differences between transfer essays and regular application essays. Transfer essays are a great opportunity to showcase what you’ve accomplished at your current school and how it’s helped you to hone your goals and skills. You can talk about the lessons you’ve learned at your current school and build upon that to demonstrate why these experiences have led you to believe you would be even more successful at the school you’re hoping to transfer into.

So, the main difference between transfer essays and regular application essays is that transfer essays build on your experience of already having completed some college. Use your experience at your current school to pitch yourself as a candidate to your desired school.

Do all schools require transfer essays?

Not all schools require specific transfer essays. Some schools will have transfer students fill out just the same application as incoming freshmen would. That being said, most college essays touch on a student’s ambitions and experiences. Since you have already attended college for some time, your experience and skills have changed. That means that as a transfer student, even your regular application essays should reflect the fact that you are transferring. Try to fit your time so far in college into your essays even if there is no specific transfer essay.

Can I reuse my old college essays for a transfer?

It’s not a good idea to reuse your old college essays as transfer essays verbatim. That being said, it is a great idea to use them as inspiration and a solid base for your new essays. Since your circumstances have changed in the time since your first applications, you’ll want to update these essays to reflect your time in college and the lessons you’ve learned. 

Plus, with a year (or more) of school under your belt, your writing will most likely have improved. Use your new skills to maximize your chances of admission!

What should you not say in a transfer essay?

It’s very important to maintain a positive tone and focus on possibilities and ambitions in a transfer essay. Students who are transferring because they are dissatisfied with their current school may be tempted to voice that dissatisfaction, but it is best to keep it out of your essays.

Think about it from the perspective of an admissions officer. Will reading about how unhappy you are at your current school make them any more likely to admit you? Especially since all of these essays have word limits, any complaints about your current situation are only taking up valuable space that you could use to discuss your potential and ambitions.

So, instead of airing any grievances about your current situation, try to explore the ways that your intellectual or personal goals have changed in your time at school and how your new school will offer a great fit for you.

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