How to Transfer to a Highly Selective College with a Cooke Scholarship

Editor’s Note: This post was written and submitted by Jack Kent Cooke Scholar Lara Meintjes.

Around this time last year, I was juggling a tough community college semester, working frantically on my University of California applications, raising a family, serving as president of my Southern California community college’s Phi Theta Kappa chapter, and working a couple of jobs. Things look very different today, writing this from my beautiful new home on the Williams College campus in northwestern Massachusetts.

While I was applying to colleges and foundations for scholarships, I reached out to several places for help — the foundations themselves, my college’s transfer center, the honors department at Long Beach City College (where I was studying at the time), my generous PTK advisor, our school’s scholarship office, peers on College Confidential, and so on. With so many sources of information, I found myself mired in an ever-expanding swamp of questions.

Now that I have completed the first big step in my transfer journey, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation’s Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship application process and collect a few ideas that might help applicants in this next cycle and beyond.

The first and most important tip I can share is the obvious one — apply! The year before I applied for the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship, I had a friend who was (in my estimation) a perfect Cooke Scholar candidate: a high-achieving and super involved leader on campus and in our community who was raising twin toddlers while working several jobs, engaging in independent research, expanding access to healthy food in her neighborhood, and totally smashing curves in all of her classes. She didn’t apply because another student in her graduating cohort whom she considered to be somehow “better” than herself had applied.

First, don’t compare yourself to other students. In my Cooke Scholar cohort, there are students who have made laws and students who have led protests in faraway countries; we have students who were homeschooled and those who were at the top of their large graduating classes, and those who dedicate their time to research while others focus on quietly caring for an elderly neighbor or starting a club on their campus. Our differences make us a stronger community.

And second, there is no rule that says only one student from a college may win the scholarship — Miami Dade College in Florida had several winners last year, all equally worthy and interesting and different. You can do this!

My next tip is one community college students already know well: the same piece of writing may have multiple purposes. Use your Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship application materials to develop your college applications. The application deadline for this year’s cycle is November 20, which falls before many college’s transfer applications are due. The scholarship application process gave me time to think about my story and find the best way to tell it in the context of a college application.

I made a couple of Word documents where I pasted the responses to essay and short answer questions, and I revisited this document to extend or trim these responses where they were appropriate for my other college apps. I even applied to three extra colleges because the Cooke Foundation uses the Common App — my information was already in there, and I ended up choosing to attend one of those “extra” colleges!

Third, use your resources: the best professor to write a recommendation is the one who knows you best. As far as the Foundation is concerned, it doesn’t matter if the professor is a leader in their field, as long as they know you well and can speak (glowingly!) about your strengths. I also asked a trusted English professor to check my essays and responses for appropriate grammar and, because I am an immigrant, for potential cultural missteps.

Ask your college scholarship office or your PTK advisor if any workshops are happening on campus to guide students through this application. If there aren’t, ask if they know of nearby Cooke Scholar alums who might be willing to visit your campus, and then take that opportunity to make a workshop happen.

Finally, your application will also be stronger if you start early — log into the Common App today and get started!

Lara Meintjes is a transfer student from Long Beach City College, currently studying Environmental Policy at Williams College in Massachusetts. She is a Cooke Transfer Scholar, a member of the All-USA Academic Team, and the 2019 New Century Transfer Pathways Scholar for California. Lara immigrated to the U.S. in 2010 from South Africa with her husband and daughter and spends her free time advocating for the rights of parenting students, painting flowers, and making elaborate meals when she should be getting assignments done.

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