How to Write the Best College Transfer Essay

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, over 1.2 million students are enrolled in college as a transfer student. Students transfer schools for many reasons: It could be because they have completed an associate’s degree at a community college and want to pursue further education or because the university they initially chose didn’t meet their expectations.

Writing a successful college transfer essay can significantly increase your chances of being admitted to the transfer college of your choice. 

In this article, we will help you write a winning college transfer essay that highlights your growth, showcases your unique experiences, and convinces the college admissions committee that you are the perfect fit for your new institution. If you wish to transfer colleges and want to learn how to navigate the transfer process, read on.

Understanding the Significance of Transfer Essays

What is a College Transfer Essay?

If you’re considering transferring schools, you’ll have to write a college transfer essay.

A transfer essay is a personal statement that addresses your reasons for transferring from your original college to a new college you want to attend. It provides an opportunity to explain why you are seeking a transfer and what objectives you hope to achieve at your future college.

The transfer essay plays a vital role in the admissions process. It gives admission officers a deeper understanding of your motivations, achievements, and potential contributions to their community. A winning transfer essay not only highlights your academic and personal achievements but also demonstrates your fit for the new school.

The Difference between Transfer Essays and Regular Application Essays

Writing a transfer essay is different from writing a first-year college application essay. As a transfer student, you already have academic experience to draw from. Instead of relying solely on general ideas and vague statements, use your genuine college experiences to illustrate how you will thrive in your new campus community.

Additionally, instead of writing one transfer essay that you’ll send to every college on your list, each transfer essay should be school-specific.

Your Mission Remains Unchanged

Even though you are applying to college as a transfer student, your main mission remains the same: creating a compelling and outstanding essay.

To achieve this, you should carefully select an intriguing and relevant story that highlights your growth and showcases why you are a perfect fit for the college you’re transferring to. Support your claims with detailed examples and articulate your unique qualities to make a lasting impression.

The Transfer Essay Prompt

The Common App granted colleges the option of allowing their transfer applicants to select one of the seven current essay prompts (that are also available to freshman applicants).

Before you start writing your transfer essay, it is essential to carefully read the prompts provided by the college or university you are applying to. The prompts will typically be a combination of questions that will ask you to explain:

  • Why you chose your current school (don’t be too creative; the reason can be simply that you wanted to stay close to home)
  • The ways you tried to make the best of your situation at your current school. 
  • How were your educational goals and expectations not met at your current institution (this could be a major or class your school did not offer)?
  • Other reasons behind your decision to transfer.

Key Components of an Effective Transfer Essay

To ensure your transfer essay stands out from the competition, it is crucial to pay attention to these key components:

  1. Addressing the “Why”: One of the most important aspects of a transfer essay is explaining why you want to transfer to a new institution. Is it because of a specific program they offer? Or perhaps you’re seeking a better academic fit? Clearly articulate your reasons to transfer colleges and demonstrate your commitment to the institution you are applying to.
  2. Highlighting Personal Growth: Admissions officers are interested in understanding how you have grown since your initial college experience. Write an essay that reflects your experiences at your current institution, both inside and outside the classroom, and discuss how these experiences have shaped you. Mention specific examples of challenges you’ve overcome and how they have contributed to your personal and academic development.
  3. Demonstrating Academic Success: Your transfer essay is an opportunity to showcase your academic achievements and future goals. Highlight any notable accomplishments, such as excellent grades, research projects, or internships. Additionally, explain how the programs and opportunities at your desired transfer institution align with your academic and career aspirations.

To gain a better understanding of what a strong transfer essay looks like, it’s helpful to examine examples. Look for essays from successful transfer students who were accepted into their desired institutions. Analyze their writing style, structure, and the way they effectively convey their motivations and aspirations.

The Common App and Transfer Applications

Navigating the transfer application process can be complex, especially when using platforms like the CommonApp. Here are some tips to help you tackle the application process efficiently:

  1. Researching and Shortlisting: Take the time to research different colleges and universities that you are considering for your transfer. Pay attention to their transfer requirements, academic programs, and campus culture to ensure a good fit. Create a shortlist of institutions that align with your goals and priorities.
  2. Addressing Challenges and Misconceptions: Many students face challenges and misconceptions when completing their transfer applications. Common concerns include credit transfers, financial aid, and deadlines. Seek guidance from your academic advisor or the transfer admissions office to clarify any doubts and ensure a smooth application process.

Although most colleges will use the Common App, some (MIT, Columbia, Canadian Universities…) use the Coalition App (Scoir) or their own application portals.

Dos and Don’ts of Writing a College Transfer Essay

When crafting a transfer essay, it is crucial to approach it with careful consideration and strategic planning. To ensure that your essay stands out from the competition and effectively communicates your unique qualities, take note of the following guidelines:


  1. Highlight the positive impact of your current school: Emphasize how your current institution has contributed to your personal growth and academic progress. It is essential to convey gratitude while showcasing how another college can further enhance your interests and aspirations.
  2. Exhibit thorough research: Demonstrate your familiarity with the prospective college by illustrating your knowledge of their programs, professors, values, and opportunities. This will impress admissions officers and reinforce why the institution aligns perfectly with your educational and personal goals.
  3. Adhere to the correct essay format: Each college might present different transfer essay prompts. Therefore, carefully read and analyze the question to ensure that you provide a precise response while maintaining the appropriate essay structure.


  1. Dwell on negative aspects: Avoid using valuable word count to list negative aspects of your current institution. Instead, focus on how your current school has helped you grow, while explaining how the school you’re hoping to transfer would allow you to further develop your passions and interests.
  2. Include irrelevant or inappropriate personal details: Stay focused on relevant experiences and personal growth that are directly related to your intended goal. Refrain from oversharing personal information that may detract from your main argument.
  3. Provide unnecessary information or digress: Admissions officers appreciate concise and well-structured essays that effectively communicate your motivations and objectives for transferring. Avoid tangents and unnecessary details that could potentially dilute the impact of your essay.
  4. List random classes or opportunities at the new school: Instead of merely listing opportunities, emphasize your genuine interest in specific programs or opportunities that directly relate to your goals and passions. Remember to weave a compelling narrative throughout your essay.
  5. Reuse your previous admissions essay: Since you have undoubtedly undergone significant personal and academic growth during your time in college, it is crucial to write a fresh essay specifically tailored to your application.

How to Write a Successful College Transfer Essay

Explain your Reasons for Transferring from your Current College

One of the key components of a successful transfer essay is clearly articulating your reasons for wanting to leave your current college. When discussing your reasons, consider both academic and personal factors. Are there specific academic programs or extracurricular activities at the new school that align with your interests and goals?

Did your current college lack opportunities for growth and development? Reflect on these questions and provide specific examples to support why you decided to transfer and why you will make a great addition to their student body.

Highlight Your Academic and Career Aspirations

In addition to explaining your reasons for transferring, it is crucial to outline what objectives you hope to achieve at your future college. Are there specific majors, research opportunities, or internship programs that align with your career aspirations? Discuss how the new college’s resources and environment can contribute to your personal and academic growth. Remember to be specific and demonstrate your knowledge of the specific institution.

Avoid Trash Talking your Current School

Students may be baited into talking negatively about why they want to transfer from their schools. Honesty is good, but you need to avoid trashing your school and rather focus on presenting a positive image of yourself and showing how you can thrive in a new environment. Colleges don’t want to admit someone else’s problem student.

If all you do is talk about how horrible your current situation is, you won’t really convince them that you are the type of person who has a lot to offer and a brilliant trajectory in front of them. Stay positive and talk about how the new university fits you better, how you will fit there, and what you have to offer.

Showcase Your Growth

You’re older, smarter, and better than the guy or girl who wrote that first-year application essay. You’ve grown and learned and have so many more relevant stories and thoughts to share. Write a personal essay to show them the current you, not who you were two or more years ago. It’s usually pretty transparent when students do this and it rarely works as planned.

Showcase Growth Undergrad Atlas

Seek Inspiration from First-Year Admission Articles

To navigate your transfer app journey effectively, consider exploring articles related to first-year admissions as well. Although the application process may differ, these resources can provide valuable insights and guidance in crafting your transfer essay. By learning from the best practices utilized in first-year admissions, you can better position yourself as a strong candidate for admission.

See more in our Essays category

Frequently Asked Questions About Writing College Transfer Essays

What is a college transfer essay, and why is it important?

A college transfer essay is a written statement that explains why a student wants to transfer from their current college to another. It is crucial because it offers applicants an opportunity to showcase their reasons, aspirations, and how the new college aligns with their academic and career goals.

What should I include in my transfer essay?

Your transfer essay should include reasons for transferring, educational and professional goals, and a genuine interest in the prospective college. Reflect on the experience at your current school and discuss challenges you’ve faced, lessons learned, and how the new institution can fulfill your aspirations.

Can I use the same transfer essay for multiple colleges?

While you can reuse certain elements, it’s crucial to tailor each essay to the specific college. Mention unique aspects of the prospective college that appeal to you and explain how it aligns with your goals.

How long should my transfer essay be?

Follow the guidelines provided by the prospective college. Typically, transfer essays range from 500 to 1,000 words. Be concise, focusing on impactful storytelling and key points.

Should I mention academic setbacks in my transfer essay?

Yes, but frame them positively. Discuss challenges you’ve faced and emphasize how you’ve grown and learned from them. Highlight your resilience and determination.

Can I reuse my old college essays for a transfer?

Reusing your old college essays verbatim for transfer applications is not recommended. Instead of copying them directly, you can use them as inspiration and a solid foundation. Remember to update and adapt these essays based on your new experiences and circumstances. Additionally, your writing skills may have improved since your initial applications, so take advantage of that and improve your essays.


In conclusion, writing an outstanding transfer essay requires careful consideration and thoughtful storytelling. As you navigate the transfer admissions process, we hope this guide helped you learn how to write a strong college transfer essay. Craft a compelling narrative by emphasizing your growth, focusing on the positive, and showcasing your unique experiences.

The admission landscape is super competitive (especially if you’re an international student), and college students transfer for various reasons. By following these tips, you’ll write a fantastic transfer essay that can increase your chances of successfully transferring to your dream college or university. 

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