What are colleges looking for in transfers (and their essays)?
February 11, 2020 10:18 AM   Subscribe

I am considering going back to school, about 6-7 years after I last completed credits. I need to write a 'transfer essay', and I'm really intimidated by it. Does anyone have any idea what these are actually looking for, or what colleges are looking for in accepting transfer students, that might help me get the confidence to get started?

Complicating factors:

I am an older adult (late thirties) and I flamed out of college last time because of a disability. (So went from As to the equivalent of Fs). I'm worried about how my transcript will look and how to make myself look 'worth' an education to the people who are the gatekeepers of it. Any suggestions or reassurances are welcome.
posted by corb to Education (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The hardest thing I ever faced in my life...

I knew I wanted to go to college when...

The toughest choice I ever had to make was...

I thought I would never let my disability define me, but...
posted by parmanparman at 10:23 AM on February 11, 2020

I just looked at your profile here, and boy, that first group of descriptors would hook me. Look at all of the experiences you've had that have given you discipline, resilience, and broadened perspective on what a degree means to you going forward in your life! (Not an admissions counselor. I used to teach non-traditional students, and loved them for their commitment and their ability to bring their working experiences to bear on discussion; they were engaged, and willing to connect with the material in practical ways.)
posted by MonkeyToes at 10:47 AM on February 11, 2020 [1 favorite]

Good news! I am a former transfer student who has worked in two admissions offices, and I am married to an adult learner who started college at 30 and transferred before finishing.

1. THEY WANT YOU. Don't worry at all. Transferring in is way, way easier than regular admission, even at competitive colleges. Many community colleges have no admissions requirements. Your references – personal, job, volunteering, whatever – will be a big help here.

2. Yes, you had issues. All they want to know is that you've identified them, acknowledged them and worked to move past or prevent them. If you're still worried about disability stuff, gon to the disability and student services office before applying and ask them what's up. Really, just go to admissions and ask them flat out. It will 100% not penalize you.

You are the kind of student they count on.

If you're nervous about starting an essay, or writing style, record yourself talking things through out loud, then edit from there. Be honest and straightforward. There's no need to be flowery; just get the job done cleanly.

YOU CAN DO IT. Trust me on this.
posted by St. Hubbins at 10:50 AM on February 11, 2020 [11 favorites]

I've worked in college student services (though not in Admissions specifically) at public colleges/universities, and I have to say I was always *delighted* when I'd get to work with returning older students, and have heard the same from colleagues. I think in general such students are seen as more serious, more focused, with greater self-knowledge and clearer goals. In your shoes, I'd focus the essay on your academic goals and plans, just stating simply and clearly what you hope to attain. You don't have to wax rhapsodic about your devotion to the Life of the Mind, or anything.

Having a very clear and easily understood reason for previous flame-out makes that, IMO, very unlikely to be an issue, but I'd be sure to make it clear in your statement that you'll be connecting with whatever kind of resources/accommodations would be helpful.

(And to be brutally honest, many/most colleges are scrambling for students at this point, and are not looking for reasons to deny anyone admission.)

Good luck! If you want to talk in more depth, or to have someone to read over your draft, feel free to hit me up in MeMail. (Also, on preview, ifds,sn9 makes excellent suggestions specific to your particular experiences and situation.)
posted by Kat Allison at 10:58 AM on February 11, 2020 [2 favorites]

I had to do this years ago after I flunked out of college and was trying to get back in. I was really honest and open about what happened (no excuses, but there were mitigating circumstances) and really honest and open about what I had done to get ready to be successful in my second attempt. Just be you and be honest.
posted by cooker girl at 10:59 AM on February 11, 2020 [2 favorites]

Corb, look at your profile! If you can write that, you can write a KICK ASS essay. You are a highly desirable student because you bring a depth of life experience that most applicants don't.

For each of the words in the first line of your MeTa profile, write three sentences: 1. What you thought about this label when you were younger (or what your family or those around you might think of it). This helps explain where you started in life, your origins. 2. Why you choose this label for yourself now - what experience or belief is most central to that identity. This speaks to your current experiences and what you've overcome. 3. What about this part of yourself makes you want to go back to school, or why this part of your identity will affect how you approach your education. This speaks to the unique perspective you will contribute by being a member of the student community. Add 3 last sentences about your what made you drop out the first time, what's changed to make you more able to succeed this time, and how much you're looking forward to your next stage in life. 21 sentences and you are done.

"They say you can write an autobiography in six words. My six tell the story of my past, my present, and, I hope, my future as a graduate of [college]......" You got this.

And aim high. You are a super desirable candidate and can get into some great schools.
posted by Ausamor at 11:32 AM on February 11, 2020 [1 favorite]

Head to the Writing Center at your nearest 2-year college. The tutors there can help you brainstorm. They will be reading a lot of these essays right now, so they will have some familiarity with the expectations.
posted by TrarNoir at 5:54 PM on February 11, 2020

There are programs at some colleges/ universities that are specifically for not traditionally aged students.

Most of the government accounting / "college rankings" looks at metrics involving incoming first time students. The good news is that schools may feel like they can accept transfer students who may not fit the traditional profile. The not good news is that colleges can claim that they "meet full financial need" and/or "are need blind" but have an exception to these policies for transfer students.
posted by oceano at 3:11 PM on February 12, 2020

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