Now on to the essay... David is responding to the prompt on the Common Transfer Application: "Please provide a statement (250 words minimum) that addresses your reasons for transferring and the objectives you hope to achieve, and attach it to your application before submission." Let's break down the discussion of David's transfer essay into several categories.
The Reasons for Transfer: The strongest feature of David's essay is the focus. David is pleasingly specific in presenting his reasons for transferring. David knows exactly what he wants to study, and he has a clear understanding of what both Penn and Amherst have to offer him. David's description of his experience in Israel defines the focus of his essay, and he then connects that experience to his reasons for wanting to transfer. There are lots of bad reasons to transfer, but David's clear interest in studying anthropology and archaeology makes his motives seem both well thought-out and reasonable.
The Length: The Common Transfer Application instructions state that the essay needs to be at least 250 words. The application guidelines do not give a maximum length. However, the admissions officers at Penn have thousands of essays to read, so applicants will be hurting their chances of success if their essays ramble on for thousands of words. David's essay comes in at around 380 words. It is tight and concise. He doesn't waste time talking about his disappointments with Amherst, nor does he put much effort into explaining the things that other parts of his application will cover such as grades and extracurricular involvement.
The Tone: David gets the tone perfect, something that is difficult to do in a transfer essay. Let's face it -- if you are transferring it is because there is something about your current school that you don't like. It's easy to be negative and critical of your classes, your professors, your college environment, and so on. It's also easy to come across as a whiner or an ungenerous and angry person who doesn't have the inner resources to make the most of one's circumstances. David avoids these pitfalls. His representation of Amherst is extremely positive. He praises the school while noting that the curricular offerings do not match his professional goals.
The Personality: Partly because of the tone discussed above, David comes across as a pleasant person, someone who the admissions folks are likely to want to have as part of their campus community. Moreover, David presents himself as someone who likes to push himself to grow. He is honest in his reasons for going to Amherst -- the school seemed like a good "fit" given his small-town upbringing. It is therefore impressive to see him so actively working to expand his experiences beyond his provincial roots.
The Writing: When applying to a place like Penn, the technical aspects of the writing need to be flawless. David's prose is clear, engaging and free of errors.
A Final Word: David's college transfer essay does exactly what an essay needs to do. He clearly articulates his reasons for transferring, and he does so in a positive and specific way. David presents himself as a serious student with clear academic and professional goals. We have little doubt that he has the skills and intellectual curiosity to succeed at Penn, and David has made a strong argument about why this particular transfer makes a lot of sense.