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by Lan Ngo

The Common Application is Flawed

January 14, 2012 in Admissions, All Transfers, Community College Articles, Essays, Four-Year Transfer Articles

We’ve received many emails and comments from worried transfer applicants who are having trouble with the Common Application. We’ve dug through the Common App to expose some of the issues that you’ll come across as you complete the application.

Discrepancies between the PDF and Online Applications

We would expect that the Common App would be exactly the same whether you’re looking at the PDF version or the online form, but the two are NOT the same. The most confusing part is the instructions for the Personal Essay (“why transfer” essay) in the Writing section. The online form says this:

Please provide a statement (250 words minimum) that addresses your reasons for transferring and the objectives you hope to achieve.

However, the PDF version of the application says this:

Please provide a statement of 250 – 500 words that addresses your reasons for transferring and the objectives you hope to achieve, and attach it to your application before submission.

Why doesn’t the online form tell you that there is a 500-word limit for the “why transfer” essay? Technically, the number of words you use can’t be limited because you get to upload your essay, and no one is going to count the number of words in your essay. However, we recommend that you stick close to the 500-word limit. If you need to go over, write no more than about 600 words. Otherwise, for an admissions officer that has to read hundreds of application essays, your essay will seem too long.

“Your Response May Be Cut Off”

We found three parts of the online form that you need to check extra carefully before submitting your application online:

  1. Honors (in the Academics section)
  2. Extracurricular Activities and Work Experience (in the Activities section)
  3. Short Answer: Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences in the space below (1000 character maximum). (in the Writing section)

Each of these three parts come with a warning message that says:

**YOUR RESPONSE MAY BE CUT OFF. LEARN MORE.**

When you click on this message, you get this explanation:

Some text may be cut off when your application is printed.

Not all answers that ‘fit’ on the online application will ‘fit’ on the PDF of the Common App. While the answers you provide on the online application are at or below the character limit for a given field, it is possible that those answers may be cut off when the PDF of your Common App is generated. There is often very limited space on the PDF of the Common App. In these cases every attempt has been made to fit the maximum amount of text but still preserve the readability of the information.

It is critical that you preview your Common App and check for truncated information. If you preview the Common App and find some of your text is missing, you should attempt to shorten your response to fit within the available space. If necessary, you can add more information in the Additional Information section of the Common App. Colleges that use the Common App are aware that there is limited space on the PDF.

This is a silly glitch that doesn’t seem difficult to fix, yet it hasn’t been fixed, though the Common App people are very aware of this problem. The best you can do is to carefully preview your application to make sure that nothing is cut off.  Click on “Preview” in the upper-right-hand corner of the screen:

When previewing your application, pay special attention to the three parts we’ve indicated above.

Concluding Thoughts:

Applying to transfer is already hard enough, so you shouldn’t have to deal with glitches in the online application. We hope the Common App people will fix these problems soon. Until then, let us know if you see anything else in the Common App that should be fixed!

(Photo: Terwilliger911)

Avatar of Lan Ngo

by Lan Ngo

College Transfer Q&A: What to Write on the Common Application General Transfer Essay vs the School Supplement Essay

December 2, 2011 in Admissions, All Transfers, Community College Articles, Essays, Four-Year Transfer Articles, Q&A

Question:

When I looked at the common application, I noticed that there is a generic “why transfer” essay and a supplement for each school that asks, “Why do you want to transfer here?” What should be included in one versus the other?

Answer:

Before we get into the differences between the two essays, we think the most important overarching thing to remember is that each application to each school has to tell the story you want to tell that school. If the common app “why transfer” essay that you wrote for one application that has a supplement doesn’t make sense for another application without a supplement, then, by all means, customize your common app essay for that school.

That said, here are the differences between the two essays.

The Common Application “Why Transfer” Essay

There are two ways to tackle this essay:

1) Write a general essay: You may provide reasons for your desire to transfer in general, not your reasons for applying to a particular school, and submit the same essay for each school you’re applying to. For about 25% of this essay, you might end up explaining that, though your current school has provided you with many opportunities, it is lacking in certain aspects. Here are some examples of points you might include in this essay:

  • an explanation discussing why your current school won’t help you meet your short-term and long-term goals
  • a discussion of how the courses in your major are limited in range and level
  • an explanation of the lack of opportunities to conduct research at your current school
  • an earnest explanation of the lack of a community among the student body that fits your needs and interests in terms of your academic, intellectual, and/or social life

Warning: Be tactful and avoid sounding like you’re just whining about your current school.

Use about 20% of the space for your introduction and conclusion, and use about 55% of the space to lay out some of your specific achievements.  What were some amazing goals and feats that you’ve accomplished?  What makes you so great that you can achieve in and contribute to your next school?

2) Write an essay specific to the school you’re applying to: You can write a separate version of the “why transfer” essay for each school you’re applying to. Consider tailoring the common application essay, especially if the school’s application doesn’t require a supplement essay. For example, Washington University in St. Louis doesn’t ask for a supplement essay. In that case, this would be your only chance to directly discuss why you want to transfer to that specific school.

If the school’s application does require a supplement essay, you might still want to tailor the common application essay to that school if you feel that doing so would help you to tell the story that you want to tell in your overall application. If you take this route, carefully consider what you want to include in the common application essay as compared to the supplement essay to avoid being redundant.

We’ve seen students get into the most selective schools in the country both by writing general “why transfer” essays and by writing school-specific “why transfer” essays. Bottom line: always step back, look at the whole application, and ask yourself at the end if the application tells the story you want to tell the school. If it doesn’t, revise and, if necessary, customize.

The School Supplement Essay

The supplement essay for a particular school usually asks, “Why do you want to transfer to THIS school (as opposed to another school)?” If you’re applying to, say, Brandeis, then you would write about why Brandeis would be the ideal place for you to transfer to and how the university would meet your needs. Here are some points you might include in the school supplement essay:

  • the specific major at the school you want to transfer to and what
  • distinguishes that program from programs offered at other schools
  • particular professors and/or classes you’re interested in
  • particular resources and opportunities offered at that school but not elsewhere
  • characteristics that make you a good fit for the school and its student body

These points are just some examples of what you might write for each essay.  Start with information that is most relevant to your situation and you should be on your way to solid essays.

(Photo: Jinx!)

Your Transfer Application: the Complete Breakdown

November 2, 2011 in Admissions, All Transfers, Community College Articles, Essays, Four-Year Transfer Articles, GPA

Stanford columns at sunset

Here’s a breakdown of all the items any student (whether coming from a community college or a four-year school) may need to apply to transfer. The major exception to these guidelines are community college students interested in transferring to a public university in their own state. Those students should check out our state transfer guides, that outline specific, state-by-state requirements students can fulfill to improve their chance of (and in some cases, guarantee) admission.

We’ll describe each item briefly below, along with a description of how much time you should devote to each, and when. The first four items—the application, personal essay, college report/transcript, and the financial aid documents—should be required no matter what school you want to transfer to. The other items (letters of recommendation and test scores) may or may not be required depending on the school and your situation (for example, in many cases test scores may only be required if you’re applying to enter as a sophomore).

Application/Common Application (commonapp.org)

What is it: This is what most people think of when they think of an application. It asks for your basic information (name, address, etc.), information about your family, extracurricular activities, and so on. The majority of the US News Top 50 schools (31 out of the 50) use the Common Application, so we provide a complete walk-through of that form in The Transfer Book. The remainder that doesn’t use the application consists mainly of state schools that have their own forms.

When to work on it: Take a look at the application of the school(s) you’re thinking of applying to right now. Although many schools prefer that you fill out the form online, the easiest way to see everything is to look at a printable version of the form here: https://www.commonapp.org/CommonApp/DownloadForms.aspx. It’s good for you to get a sense of what is required as early as possible. You don’t need to fill it out now, but start thinking about how you’ll fill in the blanks.

Personal essay & supplement

What is it: The personal essay that every applicant dreads. This is actually part of the application, but we like to talk about it separately, because it’s significant enough and different enough from the rest of the application that it deserves independent treatment. We tell you how to write a beautiful essay as painlessly as possible in The Transfer Book. If a school uses the Common Application, they will likely have a supplement you’ll need to fill out too in order to apply. That supplement allows the school to ask you anything they want to know that the standard application doesn’t cover.

When to work on it: Start about three months before the final application deadline. We find this provides the right urgency level needed to get it done, while also providing comfortable time to go through the necessary process of (1) getting feedback, (2) revising, and (3) repeating steps (1) and (2) (again, more on the essay later).

College Report and Transcript (and, in many cases, High School Report and Transcript)

What is it: A transcript must be turned in for each college you’ve previously attended. Often, it will have to come with a form that has to be filled out by a college official (a dean or college counselor), that will attest to the fact that you were a student of the college and weren’t subject to disciplinary action. It will also ask for a recommendation letter, so give this form to the college counselor or dean that knows you best. In most cases your high school transcript and a similar high school report will have to be submitted as well.

When to work on it: Request the transcript and form to be filled out ideally two or three months in advance of the application deadline, and definitely no later than one month before everything is due.

Financial aid forms (FAFSA, CSS, each school’s scholarship form)

What is it: No school requires it, but every single student should fill out the FAFSA. FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid, and it is by far the largest source of both grants and the best loans for students. Many schools (30 out of the 50 on the US News list) will also require that you fill out a CSS (College Scholarship Service) Profile form, which provides colleges with more details than the FAFSA. Finally, a few colleges have their own aid forms that you may need to fill out, and some states may have forms to fill out to get additional aid in that particular state (for example, in California, the Cal Grant).

When to work on it: Although schools will often specify priority deadlines, you should turn in your financial aid forms as soon as possible after they become available (for the FAFSA, the new form is up January 1). You don’t need to have your and your parent’s tax returns complete before you do fill out the forms (you can estimate based on last year’s information and correct the information when you do your actual taxes later). The longer you wait, the less money will be available.

Again, the previous four items should be required for any school you apply to. The next two will be required by many, but not all.

Letter(s) of recommendation

What is it: A letter from a professor (or, in some cases, a high school teacher or work supervisor will do). Many colleges don’t require any letter of recommendation, several require one letter, and, at the high end, MIT requires three.

When to work on it: Start asking professors at little more than one month in advance of when you need their letter. It gives them enough lead-time to fit it into their very busy schedules.

Test scores

What is it: Your SAT or ACT score. The requirements here vary significantly. 19 of the US News Top 50 require an SAT or ACT score, 13 require a score only if you’re applying to transfer before a certain amount of time after high school (usually if you’re trying to enter as a sophomore), five require it only if you’ve already taken a test, and ten don’t require it at all. Bottom line: make sure to check with the schools you’re interested in. Only a few schools require the results of SAT II subject tests. Additionally, if you’re a non-native speaker of English applying from abroad, you’ll most likely have to take the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language). Most schools also take the IELTS (International English Language Testing System), but every school takes the TOEFL.

When to work on it: If you need to take the SAT, you should take it at least one month before the application deadline for the results to reach the school on time, and if you need to take the ACT, you can take it the month before the deadline.

Now, given all of the above information, here’s your basic, ideal timeline:

Basic Timeline

Now Look at the applications, do well in school, be a leader in your passions, get to know your professors
ASAP after Jan 1 Complete financial aid forms
At least three months before the deadline Work on your essays
Two months to one month before the deadline Take the SATs/ACTs (if necessary)
At least one month before the deadline Request letters of recommendation

 

That’s it for our brief overview of all the application items. In the coming weeks, months, and even years, we’re going to continue to write content that helps you transfer as easily as possible. If you found this post useful, please share it (it’s how ideas spread). If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions (about this post or about anything else), please leave a comment, or say something in the discussion forum! Transferweb is a new project, so we really appreciate any and all feedback.

Best of luck with the process!
Chris

(Photo: Josiah Mackenzie)

Transfer Admissions Rates for US News 2012 Added

October 9, 2011 in Admissions, All Transfers, Community College Articles, Four-Year Transfer Articles, News, Stats

We just added the recently released Fall 2010 transfer admissions numbers for some of the top schools in the US (the “2012” Top 50 National Universities according to US News).

Check it out by clicking here, or by hovering over the “Stats” tab at the top of the page and clicking on the first option in the dropdown menu.

Additionally – because we love you, obviously – we also put together a table comparing the transfer admissions rates in 2010 and 2009 at the same schools. Click here to check it out, or hover over the “Stats” menu and click on the second dropdown. It’s one thing to see what a college’s transfer admission rate was in a given year, but it’s even more helpful – we hope – to see how consistent (or not) the admissions rates are over a period of time.

Generally speaking, it looks like the trend of shrinking admissions rates continues this year.

20 of the 50 schools had higher transfer admissions rates than freshman admissions rates, while 29 of the 50 had lower transfer admissions rates versus freshman admissions (Princeton, which doesn’t take any transfers, is the remaining school).

21 of the 50 colleges had their transfer admissions rates increase versus last year, while more schools (27 of the 50) became more selective. Harvard began admitting transfers again as of Fall 2010, so their rate went from 0% in 2009 to 2% this year. We could not get previous year data for George Washington University, which was not in the Top 50 last year, so we couldn’t track how their transfer admission rate changed.

Looking at the largest moves, Lehigh University’s transfer admissions rate shrank from 70% last year to 36% this year, while UC Davis’s increased to 66% from 37%.

Obviously the transfer admissions rates are a function of a large number of factors (the quality of the applicant pool, the number of students that choose to apply, the spaces available given the admitting colleges’ own dropout/transfer out rates, etc.). So, just use the stats as a metric to get a roundabout sense of how hard it may be to transfer to a particular school, knowing that the numbers can change fairly significantly, but not too dramatically in any given year. Either way, if you’re targeting a school and have good reason to transfer to it (such as any of the many successful real stories mentioned in the book), the stats shouldn’t affect your approach too much either way.

Question of the Day: Do you see any interesting patterns in the stats? Surprised that a particular school has a particular transfer admissions rate? Intrigued that a certain college’s transfer admissions rate changed so much? Let us know in the comments! We plan on following up with some of the schools to better understand their particular policies toward transfer admissions.

(Photo: kkoshy)

Avatar of Lan Ngo

by Lan Ngo

The College Transfer Essay: How to Begin and How to End

September 29, 2011 in Admissions, All Transfers, Community College Articles, Essays, Four-Year Transfer Articles

The introduction and conclusion are often the hardest parts of the transfer essay to write.  The introduction needs to “hook” the reader while the conclusion serves to end the essay “with a bang.”  We recommend saving the introduction and the conclusion to write after you have written the body paragraphs.  We think the best way to conclude your essay is to tie it back to your introduction to give your essay a feeling of completeness and roundness.

We came across some great tips on writing conclusions in the book, College Writing 4 (English for Academic Success) (Bk. 4), by Li-Lee Tunceren and Sharon Cavusgil.  Consider how you might apply these tips to your transfer essays:

One way to write a successful concluding paragraph is to make a clear reference to a specific idea from the introduction. Mentioning an example or detail from the start of your essay gives your paper a sense of wholeness and finality. For example:

  • lf you started with a quotation, return to that quote or add another relevant one by the same person in your conclusion
  • lf you started with a brief story, you might relate how the story ends
  • lf you used numbers or statistics in your introduction, you can mention those in your conclusion as well
  • lf you developed your introduction in a chronological manner, you might end with a prediction for the future
  • lf you began with an interesting statement or comment, you might state the action you want the readers to take
  • lf you focused on a problem, you can suggest a solution to that problem

To start you off, here are some examples of the application of this tie-back model to the transfer essay:

Introduction

Conclusion
  • Something you accomplished at your current college
  • How elements of that accomplishment would fit in with the college you want to transfer to
  • Who you were when you first started your undergrad career
  • Who you are now and how the college you want to transfer to will help you become who you want to be
  • Your first arrival to your current college
  • Your readiness and enthusiasm to continue with your journey elsewhere (i.e. another college)
  • An anecdote from your childhood
  • An anecdote that fast-forwards to where you are now and where you want to go or what you want to do (e.g. which college and why)

 

How have you applied the tie-back model to your transfer essays?  Drop us a comment!

(Photo: Yogma)