Customize Your Common Application “Why Transfer” Essay as Needed

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 download the complete instructions for submitting alternate versions of your Common App here:

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!

(Photo: dennis)

  • Christian C.

    I’m not quite sure what approach I should take with my college acceptance essay. 
    Some people take the banal, straightforward (but often effective) approach of simply and lucidly answering the question* and the second approach (what I thought was necessary to write a successful essay for top-ranking schools) is to write some lofty, virtuoso composition that indirectly answers the prompt but tells a compelling story. 

    What approach do you recommend and what is more acceptable from what you’ve seen : straightforward or lofty?


  • Christian C.

    Also, the general “why transfer” question is kind of a tough one to elaborate on with me and people like me: I’m transferring from a public, 2 year college. Its the end of the road – I have no choice but to transfer. Any suggestions? 

  •   Hi Christian, thanks for the comment! The full outline and real examples are
    in the book, but
    we generally recommend something that you might call a hybrid between
    the two: open lofty, answer the question, then end a bit lofty again.

  • Instead of explaining why you need to switch schools, just explain why you want to continue your education.

    Hope all this helps, best of luck with the process!

  • Lan

     Also, if the school you’re applying to doesn’t require a supplement that asks “why this major,” you can use the general “why transfer” essay to talk about your desired major and where you want to go with that major (as part of explaining why you want to continue your education, like Chris suggested).

  • Peteryoo

    I have a question.
    If we apply to transfer into different school, can we not go back to our old school?
    For example, if I attend Case Western and want to transfer and did not get accepted to any, can i go back to Case Western?

  • Absolutely. All that happens is that you continue on at the school you’re at.

    The only reason you wouldn’t be able to continue at your current school is if you withdrew from it, but there’s no reason to withdraw until you know for sure you’re going to attend a different school next term for sure (i.e., after you’ve applied and been accepted).