Strategy for the College Transfer Application


One of our readers has posted his/her strategy for putting together the best possible college transfer application and asked us for feedback. Here, I walk through the strategy, responding to the reader and highlighting the positive aspects as well as areas that can be improved upon. Let’s begin with what the reader says:

I’m going to take a stab at applying to Stanford as a transfer for the class of 2017. Although I will expect to go up against a 1-3 percent acceptance rate, I still want to try to apply because I think there will be less than 1500 freshman which means there might be a few more seats available when I apply in two years.

If you could, I would like you to read my strategy to appeal to Stanford and give me the best feedback you can.

The first part of my plan is to show Stanford that I am compassionate about helping people. As a high school senior, I was part of a program created by Stanford students that helped first-generation high school students matriculate to college. I was so influenced by the program that I’m currently working with the same nonprofit to create a new one that does the same thing but focuses on helping high school seniors work through their first two years of any college to help them transfer to a four-year university. I plan to write about this in the third supplement essay that asks “What’s important to you and why?” I plan to talk about how important it is to give resources to underprivileged groups and mention how I collaborated with Stanford undergrads to make it happen.

It seems that you are doing real work for people out there, and that’s great.

First, transfer essay prompts could change every year, so don’t count on seeing this exact question by the time you apply to transfer. Nonetheless, a lot of essay prompts are open-ended, allowing you to take almost any idea and make it work for almost any prompt. However, I will answer your questions assuming that the essay prompts remain the same.

After reading the above, I wanted to know if you were a participant in the aforementioned program as a first-generation college-bound student? If so, explicitly state so in your essay. Being a former participant in the program would imply that you had a compelling reason to return to the organization but as a leader. If you weren’t a former participant, carefully think about why you’re doing this volunteer work and consider how to articulate your reasons and objectives.

Mostly importantly, assuming that the question is “What’s important to you and why?,” given the above information, I’m not sure what your answer is. Do you want to say something like compassion is important to you? Is working for a nonprofit important to you? Come up with a thesis for your essay so that the reader will know what the point is. What do you want to tell the reader, and so what?

Also, you likely already know this, but avoid using the word “compassion” in your essay because such a word seems over- and misused in college entrance essays. One more thing, I would personally avoid creating a tone of the “savior mentality” (i.e. saying that you’re sacrificing yourself to save the underprivileged). This approach could rub some admission officers the wrong way.

The second part of my plan is to show Stanford that I’m culturally sensitive and very empathic. When I was in high school, I always helped my parents run our taco truck in the morning in the rough streets of Oakland. Throughout those experiences, I learned through my parents how to talk and relate to many different people and nationalities. Although my parents spoke broken English, they got along perfectly well with the Blacks and Latinos in the community. This translated to me having a diverse group of friends and being able to hold my social prowess in any setting. In college, I hope to join and start ethnic-based clubs that aren’t focused on Asian Americans. I want to do this because I believe it is important to be exploratory of many types of backgrounds and what not. I plan to write about this in my roommate essay by first talking about my taco truck experience and how I took those lessons with me in college. After I talk about myself, I would mention how I’m excited to explore the open-mindedness of the Stanford community, and I plan to finish off my essay by talking about how I want to invite all my fellow transfers to share our stories over beef tacos and enchiladas.

Your experience helping your parents run the taco truck seems to have been very important to you. However, as presented, I’m not sure how well your plan to convey your cultural sensitivity and empathy through this kind of essay would be executed. Try writing a few different drafts with very different approaches; show the drafts to people you consider good writers, and ask them which essay they would choose. People often conflate the words, ‘nationality’, ‘culture’, and ‘ethnicity’, so that’s something to watch out for.

To be very direct, my first reaction to your idea for the ending was that, though almost cute, it was a bit gimmicky or cheesy. As in the strategy of writing a handful of different drafts, try alternate endings for your essay. Also, try the tie-back model of writing introductions and conclusions.

The third part of my plan is to show Stanford that I’m an entrepreneur. I have this amazing start-up idea that relates to the city government, and I will work with techie computer science people to make it happen or to at least try to. I plan to write about this experience and talk about how it relates to how I want to be part of the entrepreneurial hub at Stanford in the intellectual vitality essay.

Though you probably have a very interesting idea, I highly suggest avoiding this approach. It is not new for anyone to discuss entrepreneurship and start-ups in relation to Stanford. For example, see the 2013 article, “The End of Stanford,” in the New Yorker. To give you an idea, the first two sentences of the articles states, “Is Stanford still a university? The Wall Street Journal recently reported that more than a dozen students—both undergraduate and graduate—have left school to work on a new technology start-up called Clinkle.”

The next part is to simply get a 3.8 plus GPA. Nothing to much to say here, if any.

Finally, my main key to my entire application. The school that I plan to attend in the fall is the University of the Pacific in Stockton, and just last year, a Stanford alum of the class of 2012 was elected as a city council member in the city. I plan to get a letter of recommendation from him since I will be working with him during my first two years. He was one of the most prominent students of his class with a Truman Scholarship, Dinkelspiel Award, and making it as a Rhodes Scholar finalist. Also, this alum was endorsed by Oprah and worked in the White house as an intern. I expect him to write a phenomenal letter since I’m really cool with him, and I’m interested in pursuing public service like him.

Having this person write you a recommendation letter certainly wouldn’t hurt. However, make sure the recommendation letters from your professors are phenomenal.

Overall, step back and look at all the information you’ve presented here and consider the “story” that you want to tell about yourself through the application.

Other readers out there, please let us know if you have any other comments or suggestions!

(Note: Very slight edits to the reader’s post was made for clarity.)

(Photo: François Philipp)




11 responses to “Strategy for the College Transfer Application”

  1. Sebastian Avatar

    In the end of the article, you mentioned that it’s important to tell your “story”. What would your recommendations be for someone who’s changed his/her interests since they applied to college the first time. Would it be worth it to convey one’s interests changed over time, and subsequently why they’re transferring?

    Additonally, is it recommended to retake standardized testing? If the scores are low (e.g. 25th percentile), or a certain subsection is really low (e.g. 650 on Math, when the school’s 25th percentile is 700), should a student retake a test? Or can someone demonstrate improvement just via college courses, i.e. get an A in Calculus to offset a low SAT Math score.


  2. Lan Ngo Avatar
    Lan Ngo

    It depends on how important that interest is to your goals in life. For example, if what you want to major in has changed, and that new major isn’t even offered at your current university, you should say that you want to transfer so that you can pursue that major.

    As for SAT scores, although they are generally not as important for transfer applications as for freshman applications, to get an idea of the minimum score you should have, look at the average SAT score of the incoming freshman/transfer class. If your college GPA at the time of applying to transfer isn’t very high, then a high SAT score won’t really help.

    1. Sebastian Avatar

      My current university does offer the major; however, it’s an issue where the research related to my major/subject isn’t really conducted at my current school. Hence, I’m interested in transferring because I’d like to learn more about the specific area and hopefully work with a Professor or work in a lab that’s conducting it.

      Regarding the SAT scores- my scores are below average for some schools, e.g. I have 2060 while the average for say, Columbia is between 2140 and 2330. This is assuming that a college GPA would be high.

      1. Lan Ngo Avatar
        Lan Ngo

        Of course, you know your situation best, but your reason doesn’t seem that compelling because, if the major is already offered, it seems that you could search for opportunities to do the particular research you’re interested in elsewhere, for example, at another university, particularly during the summer; another option is to do an independent study, in which you delve deeply into your particular interest under the guidance of a professor. I suggest spending a little more time thinking about why you want to transfer. Consider making a list of the pros and cons of transferring.

        1. Sebastian Avatar

          Thanks for the feedback. I think I felt my reasons were similar to the ones mentioned in this article:

          The major is offered at both schools (Amherst and Penn), but the student’s is transferring to Penn b/c of the specific focus that Penn’s anthropology major offers (unlike that of Amherst).

          1. Lan Avatar

            I see now. Still, creating a pros and cons list will help you decide if the reason is strong enough for you to transfer, and in thinking everything through, if you do decide to apply to transfer, you’ll have a clearer idea of your approach. If you’re leaning toward transferring, it certainly doesn’t hurt to apply to transfer and then make a final decision after receiving the application results. Just make sure you’re able to keep up with your school work and such while working on the applications, which can be quite time- and energy-consuming.

        2. S.H. Avatar

          “it seems that you could search for opportunities to do the particular research you’re interested in elsewhere, for example, at another university, particularly during the summer”

          Could you elaborate upon how we could perform research at another university over the summer? I know there are SURF’s and SURP’s (and other acronyms relating to summer undergraduate research programs) that you apply directly to, but are there other ways of going about it, such as directly speaking to professors about doing research with them over the summer with or without a stipend?

          Also, do you have any tips for applying to those SURF’s/SURP’s/etc.?

          I’m new to this, so I’m not really sure where to start.

          Thank you! 🙂

          1. Lan Ngo Avatar
            Lan Ngo

            Other than applying to particular research programs, you can read through all of the profiles of professors whose research you’re interested in and “cold email.” Send an email to the individual professor, and include the following information:

            -Your interest in the professor’s particular research
            -Your experience and achievements, as they relate to the professor’s research
            -Explain your request (e.g. explain that you want to work as a research assistant with the professor during X semester.)
            -Attach your resume. Introduce your resume by saying something along the lines of, “For your reference, please find attached my resume, which delineates my research experience and other applicable skills.”

  3. Sebastian Avatar

    Will surely do! Thanks again for the advice, and resources you guys have posted.

  4. Pete Bruce Avatar
    Pete Bruce

    I would spend more time focusing on relating directly to the person that will be reading your transcripts and application. This is the person you need to impress upon, not the Dean, not the Alumni and not your peers. All those admissions people get are essays about saving the world as a tech entrepreneur and how they want to be like Reid Hoffman. Simply email/call the admissions office and speak with someone about what they generally look for in transfers. You can even say you are a parent if you are nervous. Then I would find the person who will be handling your application. Do this by attending a nearby college fair and speaking with the representative there. Establish a relationship with them and make sure to follow up consistently in a friendly and professional manner. Next I would request a formal interview and don’t come off as someone begging to be part of the Stanford prestige. Try to portray yourself as an adult looking to identify a strong investment in the $100k you will be spending on your education. Remember, that you are paying THEM to give you the education. Even at a selective school like Stanford they need to prove they are worthy of your cash, time and hard work. In short, make yourself stick out and speak directly to the human that will be handling your application. Never leave your life decisions in the hands of policy, statistics or quotas. Good luck!

  5. […] the audience of your college transfer application is very important.  Here’s advice from our knowledgeable reader, who wrote this comment specifically addressing a student interested in applying to transfer to […]

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