The College Transfer Application Essay: An Example for the University of Pennsylvania
(Update: We’ve added another “why” transfer essay example with a detailed critique here.)
One of the most important elements in your transfer application is the essay on why you want to transfer to the college of your choice. Here, we’ll deconstruct a real-life transfer application essay by David, a student who is trying to transfer from Amherst College to the University of Pennsylvania. The essay was posted on About.com, which says that the essay is for the Common Transfer Application. However, this might be an error, because you wouldn’t write something school-specific for the Common Application. The essay was more likely written for the University of Pennsylvania Application Supplement for Freshmen and Transfer Applicants, which has the following prompt:
Answer the essay question on a separate sheet of paper. (Do not exceed one page.)
Benjamin Franklin established the Union Fire Company, the Library Company of Philadelphia, the American Philosophical Society, Pennsylvania Hospital, and, of course, the charity school that evolved into the University of Pennsylvania. As they served the larger community of Philadelphia, each institution in turn formed its own community.
Which of the academic communities and social communities that now comprise the University of Pennsylvania are most interesting to you and how will you contribute to them and to the larger Penn community?
For freshman applicants, the prompt is straightforward. They just have to talk about a great academic and social community at Penn. The transfer applicant, however, must also explain why s/he wants to transfer to Penn.
We’ll work through David’s essay for Penn, paragraph by paragraph, looking at the good and the not-so-good.
During the summer after my first year of college, I spent six weeks volunteering at an archaeological excavation in Hazor, site of the largest tel (mound) in Israel. My time in Hazor was not easy – wake-up came at 4:00 a.m., and by noontime temperatures were often in the 90s. The dig was sweaty, dusty, back-breaking work. I wore out two pairs of gloves and the knees in several pairs of khakis. Nevertheless, I loved every minute of my time in Israel. I met interesting people from around the world, worked with amazing students and faculty from Hebrew University, and became fascinated with the current efforts to create a portrait of life in the Canaanite period.
This opening paragraph works well because it follows our rule 3 for the college transfer essay: Be specific. It also follows the mantra for college essay writing: Show. Don’t tell. For the most part, he verbally creates a visual for the reader, helping us to imagine what it felt like to work at the archaeological dig.
Imagine if he had written something vague like, “I volunteered at an archaeological excavation in Israel and learned a lot from the experience. I worked with great people who taught me more about my field of interest, and I truly grew as a person. [More of the same fluff…]” This kind of essay doesn’t really tell admission officers anything. Don’t waste their time with filler statements.
To strengthen this paragraph, he could highlight his accomplishments by pointing out one concrete way in which he added value to the project. The college transfer essay is the place for you to make your superstar qualities shine.
Upon my return to Amherst College for my sophomore year, I soon came to realize that the school does not offer the exact major I now hope to pursue. I’m majoring in anthropology, but the program at Amherst is almost entirely contemporary and sociological in its focus. More and more my interests are becoming archaeological and historical. When I visited Penn this fall, I was impressed by the breadth of offerings in anthropology and archaeology, and I absolutely loved your Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. Your broad approach to the field with emphases on understanding both the past and present has great appeal to me. By attending Penn, I hope to broaden and deepen my knowledge in anthropology, participate in more summer field work, volunteer at the museum, and eventually go on to graduate school in archaeology.
It looks like he took the effort to learn about Penn and its anthropology program. He clearly lays out the difference between the program at his current college and Penn, getting to the heart of his reason for applying to transfer to Penn.
This part could be improved by mentioning a particular course at Penn that exemplifies the aspects of the anthropology program that stand out for the applicant. What’s so special about the anthropology and archaeology courses at Penn? Don’t they have those courses elsewhere?
The line, “I absolutely loved your Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology” is not informative. Perhaps he let rule 3 (be specific) slip a little. An example of why he “loves” the museum would be helpful. He could also include one line about how the availability of the museum could specifically add to his anthropology education.
The last sentence could use some work. What kind of summer fieldwork (or fieldwork with which professor)? Although it’s great that he pointed out his desire to pursue graduate studies in archaeology, he could elaborate on how transferring to Penn could help him reach that goal.
My reasons for transferring are almost entirely academic. I have made many good friends at Amherst, and I have studied with some wonderful professors. However, I do have one non-academic reason for being interested in Penn. I originally applied to Amherst because it was comfortable – I come from a small town in Wisconsin, and Amherst felt like home. I’m now looking forward to pushing myself to experience places that aren’t quite so familiar. The kibbutz at Kfar HaNassi was one such environment, and the urban environment of Philadelphia would be another.
This is a great paragraph, in which he follows our rule 2: Be honest. He is honest with himself as well as the Penn admission officers, in that he admits that there are reasons related to his social life and personal development driving him to apply to transfer. He’s also following our rule 1 (be mature) by exhibiting his understanding of himself and hope to leave his comfort zone. Also, he emphasizes another benefit of attending Penn—its urban setting, which greatly differs from the area around Amherst and what he’s used to.
As my transcript shows, I have done well at Amherst and I am convinced I can meet the academic challenges of Penn. I know I would grow at Penn, and your program in anthropology perfectly matches my academic interests and professional goals.
Though the essay doesn’t exactly end with a bang, his conclusion does its job.
Overall, this essay is a good one. Maybe we’re being too picky, but why not aim for the best when writing an essay that’s so crucial? Our transfer guide has real-life, successful examples and advice about the transfer essay from actual transfer students, so check it out!
(Photo: Ryan Neuls)