My very favorite success story is that of a young woman I'll call
Ursula. An international student, she really wanted to transfer from her current
college in her home country to one in the U.S. Especially
When she and I met, we discussed at length her dreams and hopes, and pinpointed
several universities that matched up to what she wanted to do. She needed a
flexible curriculum environment to get to the career path she wanted. But above
all else, she dreamed of attending Harvard.
I never discourage my clients from reaching for their dreams. After all, there's
no harm in applying to a school like Harvard – the worst that can happen is to
be rejected, after all.
We then set out to get her application together. The first thing I noticed was
that Ursula fell into a common trap of many transfer students: the essay
question. Most transfer applicants tend to badmouth their current school as to
how they can't get classes, or find the right campus opportunities, etc. and
spend little time on how they are a good fit to the application school.
I advised her to look at the essay with a different equation. We spent ninety
percent of the essay on why Ursula was a great fit for the target school and
what she brought to the table with her. The remaining ten percent was spent on
how her current school did not provide what she needed in order to pursue the
career vision she had.
The reason we did this was to show the target school just what her particular
contributions would be, by highlighting what she'd been able to accomplish at
her current one. It's important for the admissions committee to see what you're
capable of doing, even in less than ideal circumstances.
Another issue we came up against was the tone of Ursula's essay. A very prolific
writer, she nevertheless tended to 'separate' herself from her story, which
didn't help the reader really connect with her passion and drive. That
disconnect could be a deciding factor of a 'yes' or 'no' offer from an
admissions committee, so it is important the point of view be as personal as
possible. Once we cleared that hurdle, we were ready to submit her transfer
Ursula was turned down by a few schools at first – which can be discouraging.
But then she was asked to an interview at Harvard, which is a rare thing for a
transfer applicant. During our mock interviews, I reminded her that she needed
to remain positive, and focus not on how bad she thought her current school was,
but what she could offer Harvard. It's important for applicants to not get
intimidated by a university's 'aura' and instead focus on the positive things they
bring that can change and affect the university.
While Ursula did manage to get accepted to several great schools, the crowning
moment was when she received an official acceptance letter from Harvard! By
being confident in her accomplishments, constructive about her contributions and
positive about herself, she was able to make a great impression on the committee
and attain her dream.
And that is what makes my job as a consultant so rewarding!
– Contributed by Senior Consultant Nadine C. Warner. Nadine served for three
years as Assistant Director of Admissions at the University of Chicago.