Question: I am applying for a junior level transfer to Cornell University. There is a particular essay question required by it: "Tell us what you'd like to major in at Cornell and why or how your past academic and work experience influenced your decision, and how transferring to Cornell would further your academic interests". How should I answer it? Should I write about the negative experiences I had in my current university or would that not be seen in a good light. As regards Cornell helping me in my academic interests, should I write about the curriculum of Cornell and its advantages?
Be as specific as possible when you explain why Cornell would be a good academic fit for you. For most students, this isn't an easy question to answer without offering a rather generic response. But, if you merely say, "Cornell has a strong psychology program (or anthropology, English, engineering ... .etc.)" you could really be writing about hundreds of other institutions, too. That sort of essay won’t make you stand out in a crowd or provide compelling evidence that you are well suited for Cornell. So hone in on classes, programs, or other opportunities that are unique to Cornell or that, at the very least, you won't find pretty much everywhere. Explain why these are right for you. Tie them to reading, research, paid or volunteer, work, travel or internships that you have already done and enjoyed, explaining why the Cornell classes provide a logical next step in your education.
And when it comes to pointing out why you want to transfer, put a positive spin on your negativity. Sure, that may sound like an oxymoron, but here’s an example of what I mean:
Instead of saying, “My current college isn’t very competitive and the class discussions are a real snooze,” try instead, “I’ve realized from my time at my current college that I am ready to face a more challenging academic environment. I'm the guy with the constantly raised hand in the classroom who can't wait to continue the discussion over lattes in the snack bar. I long to be in a community where other students share this passion."
Cornell admission officials really do pay attention to these essays and use them to help determine if the applicant has carefully researched Cornell and is applying for the right reasons. So do try to personalize the essay and make sure it connects Cornell to YOU. If you merely say, “Cornell’s Human Ecology program integrates academics, research and outreach into a distinct education ...,” you won’t be telling admission folks anything about you or anything they don’t already know. Instead, you’ll sound like you’re just parroting prose from the Web site … and, in fact, you will be! ;-)