Here’s an “I told you so”
When I wrote about the issue of how high schoolers pick their colleges, the very first “bad” reason was:
Possibly temporal personal reasons
Do you remember? Well, I’ve got another essay for you, but this time I’ll let you read the essay first and then I’ll tell you about the writer.
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Luft vom anderen Planeten
When I was nine years old, my favorite movie was E.T., flying bicycle, Reese’s Pieces, and all. The scene that pierced my heart, though, was where E.T., gray and unconscious, lay dying in a stream. I didn’t understand then that E.T.’s crisis came from the thinness of Earth’s atmosphere. He needed richer air to breathe.
And, symbolically, so do I. The academic and cultural atmosphere at Washington and Lee (W&L) is too thin for me. Certainly others here are prospering, but I am in need of greater specific substance. Here I can’t find the variety of majors offered at Yale. I know now that my life’s passion is languages. I need a school that offers a linguistics major. I’ve tried to compensate here by maintaining my German skills and starting to learn Russian. I have even taken on Hindi studies on my own, outside of class. This has been frustrating on two fronts. I receive no credit for my independent language studies and, within my formal language classes, there is practically no linguistic context. There is just not enough teaching depth.
Another area where W&L starves me is the arts. Several years ago, I began my study of classical guitar. This has now become a vibrant, central part of my life. W&L’s faculty, however, has no classical guitarist with whom I may study. This sounds hard to believe, but I am the only classical guitarist on campus. Yale offers not only the tradition of Eliot Fisk through world-class guitarist Ben Verdery, but also a group of talented guitar students who stimulate an aura of infinite possibilities. For example, during a visit to Yale, I met first-year student Alex Henry who also plays classical guitar. His academics, musicianship, and dedication to the guitar inspired me to raise my own level of performance in these areas. This is the kind experience W&L does not offer.
Such teachers and students live outside of the classroom as well. The diversity of people and opportunity adds to the richness of Yale. The residential colleges promote the level of diversity I seek, the kind I so sorely miss here at W&L. The overwhelmingly homogenous social strata at this small, 1,400-student school prohibits me from learning anything about the world’s cultural fabric. We have a so-called International Club here. I say “so-called” because International students comprise only 2 percent of the student body, a mere shading within this very white, upper-class school’s profile. The residential colleges at Yale will give me the integrated perspective on diversity that I want rather than a student body where 90 percent belong to fraternities or sororities.
The atmosphere at W&L is suffocating me. My growth is being blunted. I’ve done the research, defined my needs, and selected the school where I know I’ll prosper. Yale has what I need to become the scholar, artist, and social member I must be. Perhaps the most sobering thought for me these days is imagining myself ten years from now, frustrated and dissatisfied, constantly wondering “What if . . .?” Yale has the power to fulfill me now, without any “What-ifs.”
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Ted Grice couldn’t stand Washington and Lee University. He reached that decision about half way through his first semester there. His goal: transfer immediately to another more highly diverse college or university. This essay, which essentially served as his transfer statement to other schools, displays his frustration and longing for greener pastures. Keep the tone of Ted’s essay in mind as you read this e-mail that he sent to me:
“Hi. As for the vital statistics:
– Applied to: Swarthmore (ED), Haverford (RD), W&L (RD), PSU (RD), St. Joseph’s (RD)
– Rejected: Swarthmore
– Accepted: W&L, PSU, St. Joey; waitlisted then rejected at Haverford
– Applied for transfer to University of Chicago and Yale; denied at Yale, accepted at Chicago
My majors now are Russian Studies and German Language.
GPA (overall): 3.8; GPA (major): 4.0
Just a personal note: I stayed here at W&L. I’m extremely glad I did. I really underestimated what a small college can do. There are opportunities that I never dreamed of. I’d still have some fightin’ words about the whole Greek system, but the place is really changing and has offered me some incredible experiences in terms of conferences, study abroad, and getting to know professors. W&L has a lot to offer and life here can be pretty challenging and enlightening if you take advantage of it. Anything else I can provide you with, I’d be happy to do.
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I wanted to share Ted’s essay with you to illustrate the point that, indeed, temporary personal circumstances can cloud our thinking. Consequently, we sometimes do things that we may later regret. Had Ted bailed out and gone to the University of Chicago, he would have missed out on all the benefits that W&L had to offer. He hadn’t given his school a chance. The lesson here is: don’t be quick to commit to or abandon something unless you have done thorough research.
Ted’s title translates: “Air from Another Planet.” It’s an alludes to the fact that he is seeking a much different environment in which to pursue his college education.
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So, I hope these essay lessons will help you write your best essays come application time. Think outside the box and from inside your heart and mind. As always, remember: Don’t write what you think they want to hear; write what you want to say!
In this post, we analyze an essay example excerpted from College Admission Essays for Dummies by Geraldine Woods to complement the example for the University of Pennsylvania that we’ve previously critiqued. The essay we’ll analyze here leaves a lot of room for improvement, though it has many positive aspects. We’ll tell you what you can do to write a much better essay and give you advice on how to approach writing a winning piece. If you want other examples, our book provides examples of successful transfer essays for Stanford, the University of Pennsylvania, and the Common Application.
The essay here includes reasons for transferring to a specific four-year school, Northern State. Many colleges and universities now use the Common Application for transfer applications, requiring transfer applicants to write a Common Application essay describing the reasons for transferring and to also write several school-specific supplement essays. The prompt for this essay wasn’t included, but it was probably for a school-specific essay. We’ll critique the essay as is and explain parts that might fit into the Common Application essay or a school-specific essay. We’ll analyze the essay one paragraph at a time.
No, I am not homesick. I have friends. The work is not overwhelming. Nor has it interfered with my involvement in extracurricular activities. My first semester has been a time of transition as it is for most college freshmen. Making decisions regarding course selection, seeking advice from advisors, and utilizing time efficiently have all been part of the process, accomplished at a distance from the familiar support structures and cues of both home and high school. As a result, I have developed a greater sense of myself and my abilities, both academic and social. The experience has been satisfying. However, with all due introspection and now retrospection, I feel a change is necessary.
This opening is fairly weak because it is very general. I learned very little about this applicant from this paragraph, which could be entirely omitted to reduce the number of unnecessary words. Admission officers have many applications to read; there’s no need to burden them with excessive words. Some of the best Common Application transfer essays I’ve read started with a brief “a slice of life” anecdote, a short narrative that captures an episode in one’s life. If you decide to feature an anecdote in your introduction, create a vivid image (or movie) of a piece of your life in the reader’s mind. You would then have a hook. Other than including a short transition, avoid dragging this story into the next paragraph. Don’t make this episode the sole content of your essay. For school-specific essays, which often have a tight word limit, writing an anecdote might not be the best use of the limited space. Instead, consider writing one or two introductory sentences and then diving right into your specific reasons for wanting to transfer.
Sociologist Lev Vygotsky believed that peers play a major role in an individual’s development and learning. The students and friends with whom I grew up were extraordinarily bright, competitive, and creative. In high school, discussions and opinions on almost any subject were spontaneous and interesting. At Central State, the small class size and the seminar formats have presented a great setting in which to learn. The highly motivated professors, who encourage participation, have been the highlight of my experience thus far. However, the level of student interaction has not been gratifying. Conversations concerning classroom topics and related materials have been limited. I have not been sufficiently challenged or stimulated by my peers.
This paragraph has an interesting topic sentence. Also, the applicant writes positively about her current school, citing, for example, its small class size and the seminar formats. Avoid sounding overly negative about your current school because you don’t want to badmouth any school. Despite its positive aspects, this paragraph lacks concrete details. Why is it that “the level of student interaction has not been gratifying”? What did the writer mean in stating, “Conversations concerning classroom topics and related materials have been limited”? Adhering to the word limit, make sure to reserve space for specific details that will help the reader understand exactly why you want to transfer.
Your Common Application transfer essay should include this type of information, especially if you’re not writing for a particular school. That is, if you’re writing a non-school-specific Common Application main essay, much of your essay will discuss why your current school isn’t your best fit. On the other hand, your school-specific “why” transfer essay must focus on the aspects of that particular school that align with your needs or the type of college experience that you seek.
During my first semester, I have come to realize the influence a community has on my learning and growth. At Central State, the campus is active from around eleven in the morning until three in the afternoon, Monday through Friday. One Saturday in October, while walking to the dining hall, I realized that I was one of five people on campus. With the majority of undergraduates living in on-campus dorms, the campus of Northern State fosters a unique intimacy. The campus is lively throughout the day. Such activity creates a comfortable environment that promotes interaction and the formation of strong bonds between members of the community. Having experienced a year of college and dorm life, I am more aware of what is best for me. As a transfer student, I would appreciate this style of living even more.
The type of information in this paragraph is well-suited for a school-specific transfer essay. The writer has now moved from focusing on classes to discussing campus life. The statement, “One Saturday in October, while walking to the dining hall, I realized that I was one of five people on campus” provides clear imagery of a negative aspect of the applicant’s current school in terms of the applicant’s needs or desires. Brief examples should be included to show how Northern State “fosters a unique intimacy” and how it is “lively throughout the day.” To conclude this paragraph, the applicant writes, “As a transfer student, I would appreciate this style of living even more.” I wonder what she plans to do to take advantage of this style of living so that she can be more appreciative of it.
Based on conversations with current students, it is my understanding that members of the Northern State community make it a unique place to live and learn. Many renowned professors choose to teach at the undergraduate level. Having the chance to interact with an instructor such as Avery Marks, whose passion and mastery of botany are unrivaled, would be quite an experience. The most defining aspect of Northern State’s faculty, however, is the manner in which they approach their role in influencing a student’s life. Professors, instructors, and advisors guide the student so that he/she can make independent decisions.
By the end of the paragraph, we still don’t know how “members of the Northern State community make it a unique place to live and learn,” but as you’ll see, she gives a clear example in the next paragraph. Here, the applicant includes interesting, specific examples to show that she knows about the school and has compelling reasons to want to transfer there. Mentioning a specific professor that you’re interested in would show that you’ve researched the school. If you plan to major in biology and you’re especially interested in plants, highlighting a professor who specializes in botany, as in this paragraph, would be appropriate, but avoid empty name-dropping. Your interest in, say biology or botany, should also be apparent in other parts of your application. The last sentence regarding student guidance does not seem to be substantiated anywhere in the paragraph or essay.
Furthermore, the structure and aspects of Northern State’s residential colleges foster the formation of relationships. For the remainder of my undergraduate years I want to return “home” to a very close group of friends for nightly dinners and conversations concerning daily activities. The strong bonds that are formed within a diverse group of people who make up these individual communities create an optimal atmosphere in which to grow, socially and intellectually.
This paragraph, which emphasizes a unique aspect of Northern State, provides an example of information to include in a school-specific transfer essay.
All aspects of Northern State seem to enhance learning. Guidance from faculty members and challenges from peers within Northern’s close-knit community create a setting in which I can pursue current interests and discover new one while simultaneously discovering my future direction. This is the purpose of the undergraduate experience.
The best part of this conclusion is its brevity. I’m not sure what “this” refers to in the last sentence; many writing guides suggest that you place a noun after “this” to avoid ambiguity. Though every essay does not need to end with a “bang,” conclusions should be at least interesting. One strategy for writing a good conclusion is to tie it to the introduction, a strategy that could not be used in this essay due to its weak, general introduction.
Concluding words: Each transfer application is unique, and therefore, we cannot provide an exhaustive list of details and information that should be included. Use this analysis as a guideline for writing your Common Application essay(s)–whether you’re making it school-specific or not–and school-specific essays and try to critique your own essays in the manner we’ve done here.
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