Second Time Around: The Application, part II

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“She doesn’t even go here!” Join me as I transition to life at Brown, and learn more about our fantastic campus through the ramblings of a recent transfer student. I’m Veronica Fletcher, a junior concentrating in Psychology & Hispanic Studies, and this is my Second Time Around.

The deadline is for transfer apps is drawing near. Over the past 48 hours, I’ve received multiple emails from potential transfer students asking about – you guessed it!- the dreaded essay.

What are the elements of a good Common App essay?

In my personal opinion, the two most important aspects of your Common App Essay (besides impeccable grammar and punctuation – proofreading is your friend, people!!) are clarity and honesty.

The big common app essay question for transfers is essentially “Why do you want to transfer?” I think the key to answering this question is articulating what’s not working for you at your current school, while staying optimistic about future opportunities at other institutions. You want to make it clear that you understand yourself and know what you want out of your college experience, without being overly negative or critical of where you are now.

Be genuine and thoughtful in your response – the people who are going to be reading your applications  have seen thousands of essays over the course of their admissions careers. Trust me, they have a highly trained palate and an innate talent for sniffing out the people who are just telling them what they want to hear. Writing your essay to transfer can also be an emotionally draining process. It’s hard to write about your own disappointments and shortcomings, but it’s also important to get your honest story out there to the people who hold your future in their hands.

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Me, during essay-writing.

What about supplements for individual schools?

Something I personally found a bit difficult was getting my personality to come across in that Common App essay; for this reason, I think it’s really key to make sure that your answers to the supplemental questions convey as much of you as possible.

One standard supplemental question you’ll receive from almost any school is the classic: “Why [insert name of school here]?” My biggest piece of advice when writing these supplements: don’t use the same cookie-cutter response for each school you’re applying to. Do your research, and tailor your response specially for each of your applications. Is there some aspect of their campus life that particularly excites you? A course or department unique to their school? A club or extracurricular that you’re especially psyched about? Let them know that you actually know something about the school you’re applying to.

Should I even write the optional essays?

My advice? If a school offers an optional essay, WRITE IT.

Going above and beyond what is required of you not only demonstrates a strong interest in that particular school, but also allows you to showcase yourself yet again. This can really only work in your favor, as it allows the school to see as many sides of you as possible.

That being said, you shouldn’t submit a half-assed essay just because you feel like you need to. Quality over quantity is one of the key virtues of essay-writing (and life in general). But if you do have the time to sit down and write a thoughtful response, I’d say absolutely go for it.

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Please, please, please, don’t be like Ron.

The optional essay can be a space to communicate any information to the admissions committee that you feel isn’t conveyed through the rest of your application – if there’s any particular element of your application that may seem lacking to an outside reader, this can be a good space to offer an explanation. (Note: explanation ≠ excuse. This is not the time or place to plead forgiveness for that one C you got in high school calculus because your teacher “was so mean.” However, if you have significant external circumstances that have affected the course of your education, this is a good opportunity to let them be known.)

This is also your chance to get creative – many optional essays have very open-ended prompts (or no prompt at all), which means you can send in just about anything that exemplifies you as a student or person. At the last minute, I decided to send Brown a creative non-fiction piece I’d written for another school, about the stories behind each of my scars. To this day, I’m convinced that this was the ultimate reason for my acceptance.

Good luck, and happy writing!

Thanks for reading! If you have thoughts or questions about this blog post, or any other aspect of the transfer experience, please feel free to email me at veronica_fletcher@brown.edu, or leave a comment in the box below!

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