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How to Transfer to the University of Michigan

It is officially transfer application time! For that reason, I’m going to spend the next few weeks discussing the top transfer schools, their unique school culture, and what you need to do to impress their admissions committee. Use this information to help you curate the perfect, school-specific application.

Today’s School: The University of Michigan

Considered a “Public Ivy” UMich receives some of the most transfer applications. They do a lot to help their transfer applicants. For example, they have Transfer Connections, which connects new transfer students with currently enrolled students so those who are new to campus can learn about everything UMich has to offer.

The transfer office also publishes a monthly newsletter, which you can find here. How do you apply to the University of Michigan, and how do you maximize your chances of admission?

Start by looking over the transfer application requirements. These requirements will differ based on the school you are applying to, such as the School of Engineering or the School of Pharmacy. You can find school-specific requirements on UMich’s transfer requirements page.

Beyond the quantitative requirements like grade point average and TOEFL or IELTS score, you have to pay attention to the essay requirements. The fact is that the University of Michigan receives FAR more qualified applications than they have open spots for. Because of this, the essays are weighed heavily. What they need to show are passion, enthusiasm, and a good sense of self. In other words, you must use the essays to show that you know who you are, where you are going, and that you are excited for the future.

UMich requires more written documents than the average university. Again, how you answer them is very, very important. Let’s look at each one:

If you could only do one of the activities you have listed in the Activities section of your application, which one would you keep doing? Why?

Begin by introducing your activity. A short, one- to two- sentence anecdote is a great way to grab the reader’s attention, or start by stating what you learned about yourself from the activity. A lot of students start with something like, “I have always been passionate about playing the piano…” Boring! Instead, try something like, “From playing the piano, I learned the most important life lesson: Improvement comes with experience.”

Then explain why this activity is (and will continue to be) important to you. Why do you love it? Why is it significant?

Finally, tell the reader why and how you will bring your activity to the next level. Consider how you will continue the activity as a college student. Is the activity available at UMich? If so, how will you engage with it? If not, how will you introduce it to campus?

Everyone belongs to many different communities and/or groups defined by (among other things) shared geography, religion, ethnicity, income, cuisine, interest, race, ideology, or intellectual heritage. Choose one of the communities to which you belong, and describe that community and your place within it.

The University of Michigan prides itself on its community - both its campus community and its connection to the community of Ann Arbor. They are looking to admit students who will contribute positively in their community, and it is for this reason they want to understand how you learn from and/or contribute to one you belong to.

A lot of students get caught up on the idea of “community.” They think they need to write about a group they belong to for reasons outside of their control (race, gender, etc.) or a group they have belonged to for a long time. Certainly you can write about these things, but a group can really mean anything, so don’t feel like you have to limit yourself.

I suggest you write about one of two things:

  1. Is there something amazing about you (personal value, accomplishment, characteristic) that you haven’t presented in your application? If so, you can write about this by connecting it to a community.

  2. Is there a community you belong to that is important to you and that you haven’t already presented in your application? If so, you can write about it.

The key to this essay is to write about something new. Use it as an opportunity to tell the adcomms something impressive about you that they don’t already know. As you write, make sure that you address each of the questions in the prompt (hint: there are three).

Describe the unique qualities that attract you to the specific undergraduate College or School (including preferred admission and dual degree programs) to which you are applying at the University of Michigan. How would that curriculum support your interests?

This is the “Why University X” question. Like all schools, UMich uses this essay to gauge your interest in their school. They want to see that you’ve properly researched the school and are genuinely interested in attending. There are, of course, many great things about the U of M: great courses and faculty, great research opportunities, great post-graduation employment rate, etc. But you could say these things about any top-tier university. So you must dig deeper.

Many students submit generic “Why University X” essays. Don’t be one of them. I mean it: A generic response to this essay will automatically put you in the “NO” pile. A generic response says, “I’m too lazy to research your school.”

To find programs and opportunities that interest you, simply do an internet search: University of Michigan + personal interest. Even a half hour of research will produce some interesting results that can be worked into an essay. Here are three things that I was able to research in only a few minutes and would find interesting if I were applying to UMich:

  • ALL of Michigan’s engineering programs are top-ranked. This shows that you can get a wide breadth of education in the engineering department.

  • U of M offers funding for internships and research abroad. This allows you to add an international scope to your education.

  • Students from every major are invited to take a class on the creative process, which is a course that combines art, architecture, engineering, and music.

Research the cool things the University of Michigan has to offer. Get excited! Then settle down to start writing.

Write about the programs and opportunities that interest you, and (most importantly) explain WHY they interest you.

The adcomms already know about everything their school offers. Not only do they work there, but they read these essays all day long. You don’t have to explain what the school offers. Seriously. I see this all the time from my clients’ first drafts: “I wish to join the Asian American Business Association because it promotes professional development for club members.”

This statement is bad because it doesn’t actually say anything. It simply defines the purpose of the club, which the adcomms already know. They are looking to learn why this club is important to you and how you will contribute to it. For example:

“I aspire to be an innovative engineer capable of turning my products into viable and sustainable business solutions. Motivated to learn business savvy and connect with industry experts, I intend to join the Asian American Business Association (AABA). As president of my high school marketing club, I was responsible for planning and organizing monthly career forums. Such event planning experience will make me a valuable contributor to similar events held by AABA.”

Notice how the first half of this example explains the importance, on a personal level, the club holds for the applicant, and the second half explains how the applicant can add value to the campus organization. To be successful with this essay, you must write similar paragraphs for your academic and extracurricular endeavors. You should discuss at least four University of Michigan-specific organizations, opportunities, and/or course offerings that fit in with your future plans. You can also discuss how U of M’s location in Ann Arbor will further your academic or career goals.

Please provide a statement that addresses your reasons for transferring and the objectives you hope to achieve.

I’ve already written posts on how to successfully answer this question. Check out this article and this article.


Here are some overarching tips to help you with your transfer application as a whole:

TIP ONE to answering each of the transfer application questions - make sure they work as a collective whole to tell a single story. In other words, you want each of your application materials to tell a little bit more of the story of YOU - your responses should not repeat but compliment each other. If you write about wanting to attend UMich because their engineering program is stronger than the program at your current school, consider using the “Activities” question to explain something you do that is engineering-related. Or highlight the “Diversity” question by discussing an activity that is unique to cultural background.

TIP TWO is to infuse school fit into your responses. UMich wants to admit students who compliment their campus culture, so the more you can show that you are the “type of student” who attends the University of Michigan the better. Research the mission statement and goals of the U of M school you are applying to. Think about the things you have accomplished or experienced that align with the school’s stated mission, and infuse those experiences or personal characteristics into your essays. The University of Michigan favors students who demonstrate:

  • Cultural diversity

  • Passion and enthusiasm (no matter the topic)

  • Leadership

Make sure to highlight these facets of your background as well. Cultural diversity easily fits into the “Diversity” question. Passion, enthusiasm, and leadership can fit anywhere in the application, so have fun infusing them into the story of you! Don’t get caught up on the type of passion or leadership you show. In other words, whether you’re passionate about something academic like Math Olympiad or something quirky like kite building, it doesn’t matter - adcomms simply want to see that you are genuinely enthusiastic about something. The same goes for leadership: It doesn’t matter if you are the president of your debate club or you teach children how to knit - adcomms simply want to see that you inspire others to action.


Do you need help putting together your University of Michigan transfer application? Contact me. :)

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