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


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?


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. webmaster forumu

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!)


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

  1. Winnie Avatar

    This might seem like a really silly question but what do you mean by submitting different general essays? When I applied as a freshmen to schools I only submitted one set of essays for the general Common App but are you saying that I can essentially refresh and submit different general essays every time I apply to another school on the Common App??

    1. Chris Goodmacher Avatar

      That’s exactly what we mean.

      You can write a tailored main essay for each school you apply to. The Common App buries the directions, but here they are:

      As we say above, we’ve seen both generic and tailored main essays work at the most selective schools in the country. The point is to make sure each school is hearing what it needs to hear from you.

  2. Kim Avatar

    I know that multiple versions can be made to upload essays specific to each institutions, but someone is telling me that you can’t upload essays for transfer application although you can for first year application. He says he has sources from colleges, but it clearly says on CommonApp that you can upload different documents by making new versions. I’m really confused….

    1. Lan Ngo Avatar
      Lan Ngo

      Yes, you can create alternate versions of the transfer Common Application and upload different essays. We’ve worked with transfer applicants who were able to do this. Here are the instructions:

  3. Dan Avatar

    What about someone with two different schools that they’re looking at? Is the general essay going to look different considering you can’t specifically name one school or the other?

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