Transferring: The Statement of Purpose (part 2)

Application Strategy

Transferring: The Statement of Purpose (part 2)


Waists are wider, grades are in, and by now, you might have taken that big, bold step of opening up an application for transferring schools.  You'll fill out all the biographical bits with mindless ease, and soon it'll be time to tackle the personal statement's ugly cousin, the why-you-want-to-transfer ogre.  This important piece of your application is one that I urge you to spend a great deal of time synthesizing.  Below are my recommended practices.


Offer clear and specific reasons. This is crucial.  I'd venture to claim that a candidate with strong (but not stellar) high school and college records but clear and compelling reasons for transferring has more of a chance of acceptance than a candidate with immaculate transcripts but flimsy reasons.  I think this is a strong conjecture since there really is no need or urgency to accept and displace students who are happy and thriving at their current colleges.  Some trigger questions to help crystallize your reasons: Have your interests matured or changed in such a way that could be cultivated much more at another school?  Does the size, scope, culture, curricular focus, or institutional ideology of another college align much more strongly with your goals and values?  Note: simply saying that you want to transfer from Current College to Transfer Tech because the latter's got a "stronger" psychology program won't win you too many points.  You ought to be more specific and demonstrate that you've done your homework, that you want to take classes with that professor in psychology at Transfer Tech who's research and focus have inspired you to switch majors and schools.  Or you ought to articulate that that joint program in astrophysics and theatre is the perfect dovetail of interests towards your dream of becoming a star.  Hehe.

Refrain from rehashing. Admissions officers know your grades since you attached them.  They know your extracurriculars since you listed them.  They kind of know your personality since you wrote a personal statement (some fantastic advice on this from my co-strategy consultants!).  So there really is no need to talk about any of this in your statement of purpose.  Instead, focus on refining your rationale.

Use positive language. My school sucks, the professors mumble, and the dining hall food really tests my gag reflex--are all reasons that will nudge your application closer to the rejection pile.  If size is your problem, don't describe how your small college has constrained you but how you will take advantage of the resources at a larger university.  If there's a bad grade you feel that needs explaining, don't blame the noisy roommate but emphasize your plan to improve your performance.  If you are truly unhappy at your current school, I urge you to express such a sentiment without sounding hypercritical about or ungrateful for your current circumstances.  It's hard to open one's gates to whiners and negative Nancies.

Remember: less is more. I recall clearly one information session when an applicant asked about the number of recommendations she should gather and send.  The officer responded no more than two or three, and added a pithy footnote: "As we say in admissions: the thicker the file, the thicker the candidate."  I think the same sort of maxim applies to the statement of purpose.  Good essays are simple and bold in diction, description, and explanation.  Cataloguing twenty diluted reasons why you need to transfer will test your reader's patience, as will verbose sentences and highly allusive autobiographies.  Admissions officers are miners, not poets; they'll read your essay once, maybe twice--and they certainly won't savor your hyper-extended metaphor comparing yourself to a kangaroo.  As Greek scholar and poet Callimachus admonished, "keep your muse slender."