How to Write a College Transfer Essay

Student in colorful sweater writing his college transfer essay with a blue pen on a desk
September 5, 2023


Reviewed by:

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 02/23/23

If you’re considered switching colleges and want to learn how to write a college transfer essay, read on.

There are multiple reasons to transfer colleges: you weren’t able to get into your top choice in your first round of applications, you want to change your major, or maybe you just have the world’s worst roommate. 

Whatever your reason may be, you should know the transfer process can be lengthy and will differ from your original college applications. For instance, now that you’ve completed some postsecondary education, your undergrad grades will be considered more than your high school GPA. 

Additionally, you’ll have to write a college transfer essay to introduce yourself to the committee and explain why you’d like to join their school. This essay tends to be the hardest part of transfer applications. 

If you’re unsure of where to begin or how to write a successful college transfer essay, this guide has got you covered!

How to Write a College Transfer Essay

Here is a breakdown of how to write an impressive college transfer essay:

How to Start the Transfer Essay

Your introduction is arguably the most important part of your essay because it’s the first paragraph the committee will read. Accordingly, it has to be intriguing enough to urge them to continue reading. Many students start their essays with a statement or story that relates to their reason for transferring.

A safe way to begin your essay is to share a specific principle you have about education that is rooted in an authentic experience.

Maybe you’ve always valued hands-on learning and have a famous story about taking apart your dad’s favorite replica aircraft and putting it back together to learn how it works.

Or, maybe you had a sick relative whose experience in and out of the hospital made you appreciate scientific experimentation and discovery, leading you to pursue medicine at a research-intensive school. 

Regardless of your educational principles, ensure you use a memorable experience to share it. Immerse the readers into your narrative so they feel more connected to you and your words! Here are some tips to keep in mind when writing your introduction:

Reconsider Using Famous Quotes 

While there have been successful college transfer essays that used quotes as their opening line, you should avoid overused quotes. If you’re beginning your essay with the phrase “knowledge is power,” it’s time to revisit your list of motivational quotes. 

If you’re set on opening your essay with a quote, choose one that the committee hasn’t heard before and think outside the box! You could choose a quote from your favorite book, a show, or movie. An even better way to assure you use a unique opening is to quote a family member or friend! 

Maybe your mother always told you to stand up for yourself and that “if someone hits you, you hit them right back!” This seemingly unrelated quote could be used to explain how you’ve always been your biggest self-advocate and fight hard to have what you want, including a high-quality education. 

Forget the Theatrics

You don’t have to choose a story with a nail-biting hook or dramatic ending. Your story doesn’t need to involve a near-death epitome, a tragic loss, or a heroic save. Keep it simple! 

By that same token, don’t use exaggerated or false stories just to prove a point. The admissions committee will see through this and will dock you points for being ingenuine. 

Explain Why You Chose Your Current School

Once you’ve written an attention-grabbing introduction, the next step is to explain why you chose your current school. Perhaps the school boasted its Socratic teaching method that allows students to take charge of their education. Or, it offered a program of specific interest to you. 

Regardless of your reasons, you must include them in your essay to then explain how your expectations were not met. This part should be fact-focused. Be succinct and list the reasons you chose your current school over others.

Explain the Reasons You Want to Transfer

Once you’ve recounted the reasons you chose your current school, think about the reasons you decided to leave it. A large part of learning how to write a college transfer essay is knowing what not to say! While you want to remain honest, your answer should revolve around the education you received at your school.

Here are some questions to ask yourself as you write this part of your essay:

  • Did your program/institution live up to all of your expectations?
  • Did you receive the education and support you hoped for?
  • Were there enough opportunities for intellectual, personal, and professional growth?
  • Are you closer to achieving your career goals after attending your current school?
  • What’s missing from your education? What makes you hesitant to stay at your current school?
  • Have your career plans changed? Can your current school offer you the resources you need to pursue this new path?

Even if you’re transferring because your roommate never washes the dishes or you’re trying to escape a clingy ex, the admissions committee won’t be interested or amused by these reasons. 

Focus on the positives of your school but explain how they fell short. Perhaps the Socratic teaching method you hoped for fell short of equal dialogue and was more of a typical lecture. Maybe you had a eureka moment in an elective that made you want to switch into a program that your current school doesn’t offer.

On the other hand, your current school may have already fulfilled the role it was meant to play. For instance, you may have chosen your current school to stay close to home and care for a sick family member or to take general courses to boost your GPA. 

Explain how these goals were fulfilled and now you’d like to move on to the next stage of your education. No matter what your reasons for transferring are, you’ll need to provide concrete examples to support your claims. Share specific experiences that led to your decision to transfer schools.

This part of your college transfer essay can be tricky. You’ll want to provide concrete examples of how your current school fails to meet your expectations without badmouthing it. To find this balance, avoid making these mistakes:

Placing Blame

Don’t blame your current school for failing to meet your expectations. 

Explaining how the professors were monotonous robots with no enthusiasm for teaching, or that the class sizes were far too big to feel connected to your mentors will make you seem too critical. 

You want to phrase your issues in a way that still sheds a positive light on their curriculum and community. In essence, you want to follow a “it’s not you, it’s me” type of explanation! You should explain how your current university offers great resources, but not the best ones for your personal aspirations. 

Throwing In the Towel

You should also mention the ways you tried to make the best of your situation at your current school. Even though you ultimately realized your school couldn’t offer you the education or resources you need, you should demonstrate your determination to make it work. 

If your main issue was the lack of connection between you and your professors, you could share how you attended office hours regularly to have more one-on-one conversations. Demonstrate you tried to remedy your issues before deciding to transfer. This will show maturity, perseverance, and adaptability!

Explain Your Academic and Career Goals

This next part of your essay should be tied to what you’ve said previously. Think about your academic goals and what your plans are for the future. 

Here are some questions to guide this part of your essay:

  • Where do you hope your education takes you? 
  • What will your education be used for? 
  • What grades do you hope to receive? 
  • What program will help you achieve your career goals?
  • What kind of mentors do you believe will help you achieve your academic and career goals?
  • What school-based extracurriculars will aid you in your aspirations?

Use these questions to figure out what your specific academic and career goals are. 

Explain Why You Want to Attend the Transfer College

Using the ideas you brainstormed from the previous sections, you want to focus your attention on explaining how your academic and career goals will be best met through your transfer college. 

Research your transfer college well and provide specific reasons you want to join. Go deeper than simply retelling the school’s main values. Focus on the type of education it provides, the school community and environment, and unique educational offerings, such as a particular program, teaching method, or experiential learning opportunities.

This part of your essay should be tailored specifically to your transfer college. If you can plug in any college name and use the same essay, you’ll need to add more details and continue working on it. 

Take Responsibility for Any Hiccups

Another factor to consider when discussing how to write a college transfer essay is taking responsibility for any shortcomings. If you’re transferring colleges and have low grades or otherwise unfavorable aspects on your application, you should hold yourself accountable in your essay.

Do not blame your current school for your low grades. Even if you had a poor experience that made it difficult to excel, your grades are ultimately your responsibility. Explain how you will improve in your transfer school and the steps you’ve taken to become a stronger student. 

How to Conclude the Transfer Essay

Overlooking the conclusion of your essay can make what would be an amazing essay a good essay. Considering schools are highly selective with transfer applications, especially Ivy league schools, a good essay is unlikely to win you any points with the admissions committee. 

Imagine your essay as a circle. To complete the circle, your final paragraph should reiterate themes and principles mentioned in your introduction. Revisit the story you shared and reflect on the educational principle that guided your essay. 

Briefly reiterate what type of education you could receive at your current school—a great but ultimately unsuitable one—and mention the better suited education you’d receive at your transfer school. 

Your final conclusion should be short, sweet, and straightforward. It should not:

Leave the Readers Wanting More

There should be no cliffhangers in your essay. You aren’t writing a novel with a sequel; this essay is all the admissions committee will receive so you want it to paint a comprehensive and complete picture of yourself.

Introduce New Information

Don’t use your conclusion to throw in any afterthoughts you had while revising your essay. You’ll have a lot of ideas for what to include in your essay, but you shouldn’t try to fit all of them into such a limited space. 

Make Promises

Don’t try to convince the admissions committee to accept you into their programs by making bogus promises. You don’t need to promise them you’ll be a stellar student at the top of your classes or that you’ll make great contributions to their school community. 

There should be no ultimatums in your essay! If you find yourself writing a sentence along the lines of “If you accept me into your school, I promise to…”, dial it back and refocus your conclusion.

Tips to Writing a Successful College Transfer Essay 

Hopefully this breakdown of how to write a college transfer essay has inspired you to write your own memorable essay. Before you start your first draft, here are some final suggestions to keep in mind:

Focus on Reflection

Your college transfer essay is essentially a reflection on your university experience and goals. As important as it is to share your next steps and eagerness to join your transfer school, it’s equally as important to reflect on the present and past. 

You should reflect on your own educational principles, your reasons for attending your current school, the ups and downs that influenced you to transfer, and finally how your transfer school will assist you in the next stage of your educational journey.

Keep It Casual

Your transfer statement isn’t your typical structured, formal three-body paragraph essay. Keep it casual and don’t be afraid to use contractions or more colloquial language. 

While you of course want to avoid using slang or distasteful language, you should let your personality shine through and give your essay a more conversant feel. 

The admissions committee should feel like they’re getting to know more about your essence and values, not just your impeccable writing skills—although those are essential to demonstrate too!

Have Clear Intentions

Admissions committees will appreciate if you can demonstrate clear direction and intention in your essay. Provide specific examples of what you need your university to provide to help you reach your goals, and how these needs are not being met currently.

Demonstrate Your Growth

Your university experience should offer you more insight and perspective on education. Share this perspective in your essay and prove you are a mature and insightful student. 

A good indicator of maturity is speaking positively about your current school despite its limitations. You should portray both an eagerness to pursue other options and an appreciation for your current university. In other words, you should prove that while your current school isn’t the best fit for you, it’s still an excellent school!

Make it Personal

We’ve said it multiple times, and we’re saying it one last time in hopes you won’t forget. Use as many concrete examples as you can throughout your essay. Do not rely on any vague aspirations or reasons for transferring.

Go deeper than simply wanting a higher quality education! What made your current school’s education unsatisfactory? What experiences led to the conclusion that you needed more? How can your transfer school fill in this gap?

Edit Multiple Times

You may have great ideas and an excellent story to tell in your essay, but having poor grammar or spelling errors will reduce your essay’s effectiveness.

Ensure you edit your essay multiple times before submitting it. Take time between your editing sessions so you can look at it with fresh eyes each time. You’re more likely to catch errors this way!

College Transfer Essay Examples

You can access 20+ completely free college transfer essay samples here!

Understanding the steps to write a college transfer essay and what to avoid is a great place to start, but you might still be struggling to visualize what an excellent transfer essay looks like. 

Here is a successful college transfer essay example that got a student into Duke University—a school with an 8% transfer acceptance rate.

“A goal without a plan is just a wish, and I don't consider myself to be a wishful thinker, but a person of practical approach. And so, when I began my freshman year of college, Louisiana State University was strategically the best available option. 

LSU offered the scholarships I needed, including the statewide TOPS program which, at the time, guaranteed the price of tuition for anyone with an ACT score of twenty-seven or above. 

Additionally, LSU had no cap on early credit, which allowed me to put to use the seventy-four hours I had amassed in high school towards pursuing majors in political science, economics, and French with an Arabic minor.

However, I didn't know the hindrances I would face at LSU in pursuit of my chosen career path until I was plugging into the campus community, at which point I found a number of pragmatic reasons that LSU is no longer appropriate for the goals towards which I am working.

The obstacles began to arise when I finally honed my interests. I distinctly remember change brewing as I sat in my biweekly social contract seminar listening to my professor discuss the paper he was working on, in which he aimed to tie human prosociality to neuroplasticity, all of which, he argued, would undermine Hobbes’ social contract theory.

That’s what I wanted – not the subject matter, but the principle. I wanted the attempt; I wanted to learn and to theorize and even to be wrong sometimes. I wanted to translate my interdisciplinary interests in political and economic theory into applicable policy.

Given my passions for writing and discussion, sharing theories and findings with colleagues and inspired students, too, was ideal. And so, I finally knew I wanted to be a professor of public policy.

Sadly, LSU did not have a public policy program, and so I defaulted to political science. However, the political science department is inherently theory-based rather than policy oriented. From studying the public policy curricula of other universities, I know that a public policy program is more suited to my own interest in applications of governance.

Undeterred by this initial setback and eager to begin my journey in the world of academia, I immediately sought research opportunities, but I quickly learned that they weren’t easily accessible.

Upon meeting with counsellors, I was told I would have to find professors to work with on my own, as there was no designated undergraduate research database or protocol. 

This in itself was another stark concern as I need a university in which conducting research is an integral part of the collegiate experience as it is a necessity in my education and preparation for the future. 

Though I have contacted professors, happy to take any experience I can get, I have found that most positions are reserved for upperclassmen and are primarily data entry oriented. 

Also, the lack of a public policy program has meant that the available work I have found does not meet the particular needs of the future policy-oriented research in which I hope to engage.

Though I know I could do well at LSU and receive an amazing education, staying at the university would mean, at best, having to overcome serious curricular deficits in achieving my goals or, at worst, having to change my plans altogether. 

And so, I have resolved to transfer in an effort to give myself the best possible opportunity to prepare for and succeed in my future.” 

Why This Essay Works

Like the Duke admissions committee, you were likely impressed by this essay! To ensure you know exactly what to include in your own essay, here are the aspects that make this Duke-approved essay successful:

Its Interesting Opening

This student uses their own quote to open their essay. As simple as their introduction is, it gets the point across and intrigues the reader to learn more. 

Right off the bat it also proves this student has a sense of direction; they have plans that they are determined to fulfill. This not only shows ambition but proves to the admission committee this student has actually put thought into their choice to transfer.

Its Use of Concrete Examples

The student recounts the exact moment they realized their current school did not offer the resources they needed to succeed. This personal story makes the essay more authentic and immerses the readers into their life and thought process.

Its Positive Outlook

While the student lists all the reasons for their transfer, namely that their current school does not offer the right program and that it has limited research opportunities, they remain positive throughout.

They still praise their current school for its excellent scholarship program, early credit approval, and thought-provoking lectures, but contend they require more to reach their goals.

This student also demonstrates their willingness to persevere and make the best of their situation by searching for research opportunities and joining the next best program available. Yet, despite their efforts, they decided a transfer was in their best interests. These traits, perseverance and self-awareness, are key to a great transfer essay!

Its Effective Conclusion

This essay proves your conclusion doesn’t have to be elaborate to work. This student’s conclusion reiterates their opinions on their current school, that it is great but not perfect, and states their opinions on their transfer school, that it can offer them the most opportunity. It is simple yet highly effective!

FAQs: Writing a College Transfer Essay

We’ve provided an in-depth tutorial on how to write a college transfer essay that’ll impress the admissions committee and get you into your dream school. For any remaining questions, read on to find your answers.

1. How Do You Start a College Transfer Essay?

The best way to start a college transfer essay is by sharing a memorable experience that either influenced your decision to change schools or is integral to your perspective on education. 

2. How Long Should My Transfer Essay Be?

The exact length of your transfer essay will depend on the university you are applying to. However, these essays are typically around one to two pages long. 

3. How Do You Write a Short Transfer Essay?

Some universities will ask that your transfer essays do not exceed one page or around 250 words. In this case, it’s essential you still include all the necessary information listed in this guide, but do so in a succinct way. Here are some general tips to make sure your short transfer essay still packs a punch:

  • During the brainstorming process separate all the great ideas from the excellent; only use the excellent ideas
  • Share only one concrete experience that influenced you to transfer colleges
  • Keep your introduction and conclusion short; preferably only a few sentences each
  • Use simple, straightforward language and avoid overly flowery language that takes up valuable space 
  • Focus on the big reasons you want to attend your transfer college, leave smaller perks out

While it may seem counterproductive, you should write your first rough draft without paying attention to the word count. If you worry too much about staying within the limits you may leave out important ideas or overthink your narrative.

Once you’ve written out a good rough draft, spend time revising and cutting down to meet the requirements. This way, you’ll have all of your ideas written out and can pick the best ones.

4. What Should You Not Write in a Transfer Essay?

You should avoid the following in your college transfer essay:

  • Overused or generic quotes
  • Badmouthing your current school
  • Blaming your current school for its inability to meet your expectations
  • Exaggerated stories
  • Ultimatums
  • Vague reasons for your transfer
  • Generic reasons to join your transfer school
  • A conclusion that leaves the readers with more questions 

You should also avoid making any grammatical, syntax, or spelling errors in your essay, as doing so will make it less effective. 

5. How Important Are Transfer Essays?

Your transfer essay isn’t the only application material the admissions committee will consider. However, it can play a large role in their selection process. In a recent survey, it was found that almost half of all participating colleges stated the transfer essay have considerable or moderate importance.

Hence, it’s essential you spend an adequate amount of time perfecting your essay to ensure it helps rather than harms your chances of acceptance. 

6. How Do You End a College Transfer Essay?

You should end your college transfer essay by revisiting the principle, experience, or statement you used in your introduction. Reiterate this sentiment and expand on it after sharing your experience with your current university and the experience you hope to have at your desired school.

Keep your conclusion brief and avoid making any promises to the admissions committee or including new information that would require further explanation. 

7. Are College Transfer Essays the Same as Personal Statements?

No, you’ll write personal statements during your first round of applications. These statements are more open-ended and broad than college transfer essays. They simply give the admissions committee more insight into who you are. 

Students may choose to write more about their academics, extracurriculars, or life experiences that influenced them to pursue a certain career path. The main purpose of your transfer essay is to explain why you’re switching schools.

Final Thoughts

Don’t underestimate the power of your words! A strong college transfer essay can convince the admissions committee you’re a mature, determined, and ambitious student that would make a great addition to their university.

Follow the tips and strategies shared in this guide to ensure you write a memorable and winning college transfer essay!

Access 20+ Transfer Essay Examples Here

Access 20+ Transfer Essay Examples Here


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