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by Lan Ngo

Strategy for the College Transfer Application

June 27, 2013 in Admissions, All Transfers, Essays, Ivy Plus, Q&A, Specific College


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)

by Lan Ngo

Customize Your Common Application “Why Transfer” Essay as Needed

February 17, 2012 in Admissions, All Transfers, Community College Articles, Essays, Four-Year Transfer Articles

Transfer college

We have been getting a lot of questions regarding what to write for the Common Application main “why do you want to transfer” essay. Our advice is to customize your essay if doing so would tell the story you want to tell the reader, keeping in mind the rest of your application. You might then ask, “What?  I can tailor my Common App essay?  But the Common App instructions says to NOT customize my essay.” You would be correct, in that the Common App main essay instructions say this:

Note: The Common Application essay should be the same for all colleges. Members that wish to review custom essay responses will request them on their Supplement form.

However, you can actually customize the Common App essay if you want to. The technicalities of the Common App allows you to submit different versions of your application and essay to different schools. Here are the Common App’s instructions for submitting an “alternate version” of your application:

The standard functionality of the Common Application allows an applicant to submit a single  application to many Common Application member institutions using one application. In the event that an applicant chooses to provide slightly different information from institution to institution, she may do so by creating alternate versions of their application.

You can read the complete instructions for submitting alternate versions of your Common App at the end of this article.

We think that the Common App’s instruction not to mention a particular school in the main essay is incredibly awkward: it’s strange to ask students to explain why they want to transfer but at the same time tell them that they can’t mention where they want to transfer to. If it were up to us, we would do away with the Common App and have a simple separate application for each school, allowing the student to explain clearly and exactly to each school why he or she wants to transfer to it.

Like we said in our previous blog post on the Common App essay vs. the school supplement essay, depending on the story that you want to tell each school you’re applying to, you should customize your Common App for each particular school. That means that you might want to submit the same “why transfer” essay to some of the schools you’re applying to. At the same time, you might want to customize your “why transfer” essay for, say, Dartmouth, which doesn’t ask for a school supplement essay where you can talk about why you want to specifically transfer to Dartmouth.  We’ve seen both general and customized main essays work for admission to the most selective schools in the country.

Let us know which approach to the Common App “why transfer” essay you take and how it works out for you!


Application Versions

The Common Application should generally be completed once, with identical copies sent to all colleges. You should create a new version if you wish to correct an error discovered after submission or provide new information not available when you first submitted the application. It is not necessary to “customize” your Common Application for individual colleges. Individual college supplements and supplemental essay questions should be used to provide special information to different colleges. Below are the steps necessary to create an alternate version.

Step1: You must submit the Common Application to at least one institution first. You cannot create an alternate version until this has occurred.

Step 2: You must log out of the application then go to this special URL:

and login using your existing User Name and Password. 

Step 3: Upon login you will be taken to the ‘Common Application’ page, where you will see information about the application you have already submitted. The ability to create an alternate version of your submitted Common Application is now activated, and you should click on the ‘Replicate’ link to make an alternate version of your submitted application. When this is complete, a second version will be visible on your screen and a special drop down list will appear in the upper right corner of your application. You can use this drop down to move between application versions.

All data from your original version of your Common Application will be transferred to your alternate version, with the exception of any documents that you uploaded. You may edit any of this information before you submit it to another institution.

You only need to go to the special URL the first time you create an alternative version. Thereafter, additional application versions can be made by going to the ‘Common Application’ section within your original Common Application and using the ‘Replicate’ link. You may make up to 10 versions, including the original version. You only need your original User Name and Password to access all versions.

When you create the first alternate version of your application you will see a simple confirmation message. If you create any additional alternate versions of your application you will need to complete two affirmation statements then click the ‘OK’ button. You may also click the ‘Cancel’ button to not create the new alternate version.

You will have a separate My Colleges page for each application version. Each institution can only be on the My Colleges list of one application version, and you can have a total of 20 institutions across all versions.

You can move an institution from one version to a different version at any time prior to submitting the Common App to that institution by selecting the college on the My Colleges page and clicking on the “Move College” button.

(Photo: dennis)

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: eskişehir haber


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)

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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


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!)

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 (

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. sesli sohbet

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: 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!

(Photo: Josiah Mackenzie)