How to do this: By being creative. Positive. And by reframing everything you’ve been involved in since graduating high school (even the tough stuff) as preparation for your big awesome future.
Some examples of making the best of your experience at a school you’re about to leave:
There was no formal Makeup Department, so guess what. I STARTED ONE. WE’VE GOT 16 MEMBERS. BOOM.
My classes were so much bigger than I thought they’d be AND there were no formal study groups set up, so guess what. I ORGANIZED ONE. AND I EVEN BAKED BROWNIES. #glutenfree
There were no legit dance studios on campus OR in the dorms open after 7pm, so guess what. I PETITIONED TO LIVE OFF-CAMPUS AS A FRESHMAN, FOUND A TINY APARTMENT WITH A BASEMENT THAT OUR TEAM COULD REHEARSE IN, AND WE GOT TO WORK. #werrrrk
You get the idea. How did you make the best of a just-okay situation while you were waiting (or before you decided) to fill out your transfer application? If you’re thinking that the part-time job you took, the decision to quit school, or even the Netflix shows you binge-watched wasn’t ultimately preparing you for your big awesome future, you’re just not thinking creatively enough—yet. Ask yourself: could it be that I was gaining other skills and values along the way? Could it be that I was doing more than just earning money (hint: learned organizational skills, or discipline, or collaboration), more than just quitting school (hint: learned to put your health first), more than just binge-watching Netflix (hint: learned how much you value productivity by being totally unproductive for three weeks straight).
Here’s a list to get you thinking.
And if you’re like, “Um, well, I didn’t do anything,” chances are that either a) you didn’t really think carefully or creatively enough yet, or that b) YOU DON’T DESERVE TO TRANSFER.
I’m kidding about that last one. Kinda’. Keep thinking. This part’s important.
Paragraph 5: What do you want to do/be/study? (aka: What’s your dream?)
What you’re trying to do here: Paint the Big Picture—the vision for your life, or a dream job. Don’t have one? Uh-oh. Quit now. (I’m kidding.)
How to do this: By dreaming. Ask yourself, What would a dream job be--even if it isn’t your only dream job, and even if you aren’t 100% certain that this is what you’d like to do--and use it as a placeholder, like these students did...
I’m particularly concerned about beauty waste because I am morally disturbed by the fact that my personal grooming is damaging the environment for everyone. The problem is that cosmetics are often objects of desire--we want to be pampered and we crave a luxurious experience--and packaging reflects these consumer instincts. My dream is to rally college communities nation-wide in a drive to reduce packaging waste. As a community of passionate learners and intellectuals we can spread the message to student groups in colleges that protecting the environment trumps our desire for the most wrapped-up, elaborate, expensive packaging.
My dream is to become a special effects makeup artist with a specialty in fantasy-based creature makeup. Through an extensive process that includes concept design, face, cowl, and body sculpting in clay, molding the pieces using liquid latex or silicon, applying the products to the human model, hand-painting and airbrushing, and fabricate addition components if necessary, I will create original characters that will be featured in movies and television shows.
I know, that’s pretty specific. But again, these were written by students who weren’t 100% certain that they wanted to do this--they picked something they loved and built an argument (read: essay) around it.
If it’s hard for you to think in terms of careers or dream jobs, try asking one of these questions instead:
“What’s one Big Problem I’d like to try and solve in the world?”
“Why do I want to go to this other school anyway?” Have you ever stopped to really articulate that? Have a friend ask you this and see what you say. And it can’t be simply because it’s more prestigious, or because you like living by the beach, or because you just really (like really) want to live in a big city. You need more specifics and more specific specifics. (That’s not a typo.)
A Really Good Tip for This Paragraph: Think of this as a set-up for a “Why us” essay, in particular the part where you’re talking about YOU… your hopes, dreams, goals, etc. Because if you can pick something specific--and even if it’s a placeholder (like the examples above)--this can lead directly into the next paragraph. How? Because, once you pick a Thing you’d like to do/study/be, then you can ask yourself, “Okay, what skills/resources/classes will I need in order to do/study/become that Thing?”
For more “Why us” resources:Click here for a three-part post on How to Write a “Why Us” Essay. Or click here for a Complete Guide to the “Why Us” Essay.
To recap: In Paragraph 5, you’re setting up the specifics that you’re seeking. Then...
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.
* * * *
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.”
* * * *
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.
* * * *
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.
* * * *
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!