A few years ago I worked with a client I honestly wasn’t sure I could help.

There was exactly one school she wanted to go to. She had applied to it from high school and been turned down on the basis of her high school record. Her transcript wasn’t a disaster, but it also wasn’t up to par for a competitive school, and the university this client wanted to get into is very, very competitive – the particular school she was aiming for is ranked among US News & World Report’s top 10 undergrad institutions.

The client had come to me a year after being dinged, for help applying as a transfer student. I had doubts about her chances for a couple of reasons. One is that transferring to a selective school is even harder than getting in as a freshman applicant is. Schools like these retain almost all of their students from year to year, so there are very few spaces available for transfers.

Moreover, when the client was denied admission, she had been told that the school would want to see two full years of college-level work before it would consider admitting her a as a transfer. But the client was determined to try for transfer admission sooner rather than later, and she wanted to apply after just one year of classes at another college.

I explained my reservations to her, but she insisted that this was what she wanted to do, and so we went to work.

It turned out that the client’s high school record wasn’t her only weakness as an applicant. She had submitted a very generic application the first time around. Despite her keen interest in the school in question, she’d put little in her application that showed she knew much about the school or said why she wanted to be a student there.

I worked hard with her to produce a transfer application that filled those holes. I helped her understand how her essays could reinforce the message that she had become a much more focused student than she was in high school. (She got excellent grades at her ‘starter’ college too, which, of course, also helped make that case.) I also pushed her to research the school and to include a detailed case in her essays for why she was an ideal fit for her targeted school.

As I said before, I had gone into this consultancy with limited expectations of success. I was happy to be proven wrong. The client won admission as a transfer.

Of course, a lot of the credit for this success goes to her – she really did apply herself to her college courses and wrote excellent essays. But I gave her a better understanding of why her application had failed the first time, and of what she needed to include in the transfer application to avoid a repeat of that failure. I do think it made a difference in her transfer admissions outcome.

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