Guide to Writing a Stellar Common App Transfer Essay

Padya Paramita

Guide to Writing a Stellar Common App Transfer Essay

If you’re having a hard time adjusting to your college, or you’ve realized that the school you attend isn’t the right institution for you, it may be wise to search for transferring options. As you work on preparing a strong transfer application, it’s important to note that the schools you’re applying to will want to know your reason for transferring and what you would bring to your new campus. This is where a well-written Common App transfer essay comes in handy.

In the 2020-2021 application cycle, the Common App for transfer students is allowing candidates to answer the Common App personal statement prompts. Most schools also have taken the option of including the Common App transfer essay with their applications in order to understand students’ interests and motivations better. To help you put together an application that will impress admissions officers, I’ve outlined the personal essay prompts, detailed how to write a strong response to the Common App transfer essay prompt, and added final tips that can help you stand out as a compelling candidate.

The Common App Personal Statement Prompts

2020-2021 is the first application cycle during which the Common App has allowed transfer students to answer the personal statement prompts. This year, it is up to colleges whether they wish to include the Common App transfer essay among their questions as well. If you’re applying to transfer, it’s important to be aware of the personal statement prompts. These are:

  • Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, please share your story. (650 words)
  • The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience? (650 words)
  • Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome? (650 words)
  • Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma — anything of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution. (650 words)
  • Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others. (650 words)
  • Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more? (650 words)
  • Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design. (650 words)

              Whichever prompt you choose, what’s important is that you tell a story that is unique to you. Writing about yourself can seem like an easy task at first glance, but when you sit down to actually brainstorm, you might reach a dead end. Where do you even begin? What experience is captivating enough to share with admissions officers? How do you narrow down your entire life story into 650 words? There’s a lot of pressure to find the right topic that will help you stand out. You can read more in detail about how to answer these in our Common App personal statement prompts 2020-2021 blog.

              The Common App Transfer Essay Prompt

              Now we come to the question for the actual Common App transfer essay. The prompt states:

              Please provide a statement that addresses your reasons for transferring and the objectives you hope to achieve. (250-600 words)

              If you choose to write this essay, remember that admissions officers don’t want a three-page complaint outlining why you are dissatisfied with your current college. Your application should be geared towards what your unique interests are, why you’ve chosen to transfer, and how the college of your choice can help you achieve your goals. Since you have up to 600 words in your arsenal, you can divide your essay into two or three segments so that all of your content is organized and easy to understand. Remember that you’re no longer a high school student. Since you’ve already experienced at least one semester of college by the time you’re applying, you can elaborate on how you’ve grown in the past year as well.

              Regardless of whether your reason for transfer is in search of a stronger program in your chosen field or because you wish to attend college in a warmer location, it’s important to highlight how you can uniquely contribute to the campus want to attend. The prompt clearly asks “what you hope to achieve.” This indicates that admissions officers are looking to understand what their resources can provide you with that your current school can’t. So, make sure you spend time browsing the school website, understanding the different courses and major offerings, taking note of any relevant clubs and turning this knowledge into specific examples and anecdotes as you write your essay.

              Further Tips for Writing the Common App Transfer Essay

              • Dedicate Significant Time to Brainstorming: Since there’s only one prompt for the Common App transfer essay, a lot of students might take it lightly. However, you must stand out and write a unique response. Don’t just come up with an anecdote on a whim. Choose examples in your writing that allow you to be as specific as possible. Ensuring that your essay topic has a cohesive connection to the rest of your application can go a long way toward convincing admissions officers that you’re a strong candidate who can succeed in their institution
              • Let Your Personality Shine: The purpose of the Common App transfer essay is to get to know you. You can’t be a memorable candidate if admissions officers are unable to gauge who you are, sense what you’re passionate about, and identify your goals. Don’t just repeat your personal statement. Instead, exemplify each point as concretely as possible. Whether reading about your favorite subject or how you’ve led a particular organization, the reader must be able to get a clear picture and learn new information from every essay. 


              You spend some of your most significant years in college. It’s important to ensure that you attend a school that allows you to thrive and work towards your goals. If you aren’t happy at your present college and are working on your transfer application, a stellar Common App transfer essay can go a long way in helping admissions officers get a sense of who you are and what you can bring to the college. Happy writing!

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