Transfer Student Survival Guide

Former baseball player Willie Stargell of the Pittsburgh Pirates once said, "Life is one big transition." Nowhere is this more evident than in the life of a college transfer student.

Former baseball player Willie Stargell of the Pittsburgh Pirates once said, “Life is one big transition.” Nowhere is this more evident than in the life of a college transfer student.

Transition is an inescapable part of life. As people, we are locked in a cycle of transition from where we’ve been to where we are, and ultimately, to where we are going. While this transition can be a very demanding process, it can also be incredibly transforming if students commit to pursuing the best fit for who they are and what they need.

A college education addresses growing and developing as a person as much as completing a degree. As a transfer student, it’s important that there be both a comfort and a confidence in the college(s) you are considering. The decision to transfer cannot, and should not, simply rest on how credits transfer or the makeup of a financial aid package. Take this as a “survivors’ guide to transferring” to remind you about all the details to consider that bridge the gap from where you’ve been to where you’re going.

Know the basics

When looking to transfer, you want to be aware of how the basics will impact your process. These basics are the need-to-know factors that inform your decision to transfer. Does the school you are considering have a semester- or quarter-based calendar, and how does that compare with the school from which you are transferring? Of the credits you’ve completed, what was accepted, and how did they apply toward your overall degree plan? What aid is available to incoming transfer students? How long will it take you to graduate? Understanding “the basics” will help lay a firm foundation for how you fit at your new institution. Do not be shy about asking the questions that need to be asked! Even though the question might seem trivial, if you consider it important, then it has value.

Visit campuses

Campus visits are not just for freshmen. There are few factors that impact a college choice for both freshmen and transfers as much as a campus visit. It’s vital that you take the time to get onto the campuses you are considering to feel the atmosphere and experience the culture. As a transfer student you already have some perspectives to bring with you, and a campus visit helps serve as a forum to put the new experience in context.

All transfer students should take the time to actually step foot on a potential campus choice. Websites and brochures can be very helpful tools in seeing what a school can offer, but they are no substitute for legitimate/tangible experience. In certain cases, schools can set up a personalized visit to meet your specific needs. Attend a class, meet with a faculty member from the program you’re looking to transfer into, tour the campus, eat in the dining hall, and visit someone in the admission and/or financial aid offices.

Acknowledge the past

One of the hardest parts about transferring is shifting your mindset from the old to the new. For some, the decision to transfer is filled with great excitement and anticipation; however, this isn’t always the case. It might be a self-motivated step toward the future, but often it’s an externally motivated requirement. The experience from where you are transferring from has been filled with professors you both loved and hated, classes that were engaging and yawn inducing, friends and enemies. All of those factors have played a role in who you are at this point, and you must acknowledge that. The decision to transfer isn’t like a desert snake shedding its skin. You can’t just leave your past behind—it has to come with you. Be mindful of what has been, because it will give you better context for where you are going.

Embrace the future

While acknowledging the past is important, it is equally important that you be willing to embrace what’s ahead. No matter how intent you might be about fitting old and new experiences together, transferring schools means change. It’s easy for transfer students to play the comparison game. My old school did things this way. . . . This is so much better than my old college. . . . My old university was so. . . . You never want to forget where you’ve been, but you must also accept where you are. It’s not a competition between your old and new school. Understand that things are going to be different—and difference is ok. Take advantage of now, and enhance your new experience with what you’ve learned from the past.

Invest in you

Education is not a spectator sport; it requires participation. Be proactive about identifying the areas that engage you and then pour yourself into those opportunities. The consolidated timeframe for a transfer student requires a more intentional investment from the start. From scheduling time to connecting with academic advisors to attending campus events to identifying the cocurricular offerings that are most intriguing—a transfer student must dive in head first. Get in the game! Transfer students can’t sit on the sidelines of their education.

Be true to yourself

Every transfer student has a unique story and unique circumstances that they bring with them into the process. There is no “end-all be-all” guide to ensure a seamless transition. In the end you have to be honest with yourself about what you want from your college experience. When looking to transfer to a new school, there will be no shortage of information and opinion about what is the right fit. As one of the most expensive investments you will ever make, if you are true to who you are and what you need during the decision process, the return will be worth every penny you pay.

In the end it’s not simply about moving from one campus to another—it’s about finding a home. The decision to transfer shouldn’t simply be a lateral move. It should be an intentional move that propels you closer to your goals and the discovery of yourself.

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