How to Write a Winning College Transfer Essay

December 27, 2021

Much like snowflakes, DNA profiles, or interpretations of a David Lynch film, no two college transfer applicants are alike. Even if two prospective transfers to Boston University are both named Fred and each hail from Farmington, CT, their paths, and the contours of their academic journeys are probably quite different from one another. Perhaps Fred #1 is a first-generation college student who, for financial reasons, had to complete his freshman year at the local community college. Perhaps Fred #2 underachieved a touch in high school, gained admission into a less-selective state school where he excelled freshman year and is now highly-motivated to study at top school. Each Fred possesses an equally valid story to tell the BU admissions office, and doing so adeptly may well be the key to their acceptance. After all, 42% of all U.S. colleges—and close to 100% of highly-selective schools—cite the essay as being “important” to their transfer application decisions.

To cite another relevant statistic, 37% of all college students transfer at some point in their academic career and each has a worthwhile pathway to chronicle. Whether you’re Fred #1, Fred #2, or someone not even named Fred (imagine that!), you need your transfer essay to be so strong that it leaps right off the page and captures the attention (or, even better, heart) of an admissions officer. In the following article, the College Transitions team will explain precisely how to master this essential component of the transfer application.

Which Transfer essay prompt should I pick?

Starting in 2020-21, the Common App granted its member institutions the option of allowing their transfer applicants to select one of the seven current Common App essay prompts (that are available to freshman applicants).

Some schools will offer you this option, while others will simply ask you the equivalent of “Why are you applying to our university?” If you are given the choice between prompts, it is generally best to select the one that is most broad (note: a broad prompt is good, a broad essay is not) and allows you to compose an essay containing the following essential elements:

  • 1) Why your prospective transfer school is a perfect fit for you.
  • 2) Why your journey has led you away from your current institution.
  • 3) What unique attributes and talents you will bring to campus.
  • 4) How your past achievements and efforts can bolster your case.
  • 5) Share your academic and career ambitions.

Let’s dive in and take a more thorough look at each component, beginning with #1.

1) Why this college is the perfect fit for you

Share with your prospective new academic home exactly what makes them attractive to you. Smaller class size, a particular academic program, a more diverse environment, or the opportunity to for hands-on learning/research opportunities are just a sampling of the legitimate selling points you can cite. Mention specific courses that you are eager to take at their institution, certain distinguished professors who you desire to study under, and unique clubs, activities, or campus traditions in which you are excited to partake. Take advantage of this chance to impress admissions officers with you expansive knowledge of their institution as well as a highly-specific accounting of how you will take advantage of your 2-3 years there. Doing so will separate you from the pack of similarly-qualified transfer applicants.

2) Why you want to leave your current college

Make sure that the reasons that you communicate for wanting to transfer do not end up sounding like a nasty Yelp review of your present school. While you may want to leave College X because the professors are all centenarian windbags and your roommate is breeding capybaras to sell on Craigslist (is there really a market for that?), remember that the school to which you are applying wants to feel wanted. Think about it—would you rather listen to your girlfriend/boyfriend rant about their ex or hear them tell you what makes you awesome? Admissions officers considering a transfer student feel the same way.

3) What unique attributes you will bring to campus

Even in the transfer admissions process, admissions officers are tasked with enhancing the diversity of their undergraduate student body and adding individuals who are likely to be contributing members of the campus community. Is there a particular club that you are eager to join or do wish to start your own? Do you desire to assist a professor in conducting research? Are you an a cappella star or club volleyball diehard? What books do you read for pleasure? Do you have a hidden talent or area of expertise? Are you an introvert or extrovert (both can be selling points)? What ideas, activities, or dreams keep you up in the middle of the night? Give the admissions reader a full picture of what your life will look at their school and how you will make more of an impact (in any form) than many of your fellow applicants.

4) Talk about your academic and extracurricular record

This is also a perfect opportunity to demonstrate your record of involvement on your current campus. It is far easier to sell yourself as someone who will be a contributing member of the campus community if you displayed these qualities at your previous college. Students with an eye on transferring are sometimes so focused on escaping their first institution that they fail to become involved in anything outside of the classroom and thus miss out on valuable opportunities to demonstrate leadership and passion—the very traits needed to transfer to a prestigious school. Write about what you are most proud of—a challenging physics exam you mastered, a philosophy paper you wrote arguing the compatibility of science and religion, or how you started a campus chapter of an organization dedicated to fighting pancreatic cancer.

5) Share your academic and career ambitions

The more you can use your essay to communicate your genuine passions and what makes you tick, the better. Doing so gives your essay broader context and deeper meaning, as it explains the true significance of all of the info shared in steps #1-4. If you want to major in biology, where do you see that taking you down the road? Are you considering graduate or medical school? Do you want to work in research in a specific area? You don’t have to be 100% sure of your career and future academic path at 19 or 20 years old, but as a transfer student, you should share where your experiences and interests may someday take you.

College Transfer Essay – Do’s and Don’ts


  • Make a coherent and well-researched case for why the school to which you are applying would be a perfect fit for you.
  • Explain how you spend your time outside of school whether it’s participation in a club or sport, paid work, or a hobby to which you are extremely dedicated.
  • Paint a picture of the reasons why this new university is the right place to pursue your academic interests.
  • Give the committee a sense of your talents and character/personal qualities. If your school does not offer interviews, this essay will be primary vehicle through which you can forge a personal connection to a fellow human being.


  • Bash your current school or overly-focus on the negative.
  • Make excuses for past academic performance of lack of outside the classroom involvement.
  • Say that you want to attend a new school for the prestige, the pretty campus, or for a personal reason (close to home, girl/boyfriend attends, etc.).
  • Forget to do adequate research on your prospective academic home. Details matter!