Last Updated: Sep 21, 2011
You fall back into a butterfly chair, exhausted from the anatomy exam you spent weeks prepping for. Kanye West emanates from the computer speakers, the mini-fridge buzzes, John Belushi in his College sweatshirt stares back at you from the poster hanging above your extra-long twin bed. You stare into your lava lamp, entranced by its mysticism and wonder, and you ask, Is this school the right place for me?
These questions have crossed many students’ minds: Am I taking full advantage of my college experience? Am I thriving academically, flowering socially, and cultivating my creativity? Am I too close to home or maybe too far? Has my chosen college met my expectations and enriched my life? Does the pending snowfall in upstate New York appeal to me more than the heat wave in Southern California? Was my interest in photography more than a hobby and actually a potential field of study to pursue? Why am I majoring in journalism when I hate to write? Why did I follow my high school girlfriend to college?
These are all rational questions that many first- and second-year college students face. The anxiety-ridden, over-worked, over-partied, over-stimulated student is convinced it’s too late: If I transfer now I will be a social pariah at my new school, eating in the dining hall by myself, and living alone with nothing but Guitar Hero and my thoughts to keep me company. My credits won’t transfer. I’ll have to spend another year in school and take out extra loans to pay for it. If I stay, I’ll be miserable. If I go, I’ll be miserable. It’s the ultimate catch-22. Like Phaedrus seeking out the meaning of quality in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (see what happens when you make it all the way through college?), the student eventually drives him/herself insane.
You’re not the only one
Transferring schools can be a daunting task. But proper preparation and organization can make the transition easier, and thousands of students transfer successfully every year. According to the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), about 33% of four-year and two-year college students transfer. In fact, for one transfer student, the college switch became a factor in becoming President of the United States.
In 1981, President Barack Obama transferred from Occidental College in Los Angeles to Columbia University in New York City. At that time, Columbia did not provide housing for its transfer students, so Obama spent his first night in the “Big Apple” sleeping in an alley. Don’t allow his transition to dissuade you from completing one of your own, however. The transfer shaped him and, as he wrote in his memoir Dreams from My Father, the Columbia experience helped him mature and become a more disciplined student.
There are many reasons to transfer. The maturing process occurs at different speeds for every individual. After graduating high school, testing the waters of higher education at a community college might be your best course of action. Many professions call for only an associate degree. Attending a two-year institution first can also be a cost-saver.
Don’t forget: it’s not where you start, but where you finish. Only the institution you graduate from will be listed on your diploma. Many students don’t know what they want out of their postsecondary education until they get there. The college experience is often a coming-of-age experience where new interests develop and old habits die. So if you were a less-than-engaged high school student who spent your days sleeping or passing notes in the back of class, there is still hope. In a recent survey conducted by NACAC, of the colleges and universities surveyed, over 90% rated the overall postsecondary GPA as “considerably important” in accepting transfer students. High school grades and SAT and ACT scores become less important, so if you struggled in high school but got your act together in college, you may be able to transfer to an institution where you initially lacked the qualifications for enrollment.
Unfortunately the cost of tuition might also lead you to make a change. If financial struggles are a cause for concern, first seek out additional funding through scholarships and other forms of financial aid before determining that transferring is your best option. Once extensive research is completed, if the financial ramifications are still keeping you awake at night, transferring may be a necessity.
The collegiate experience is a time for social exploration. Academics should come first for every student; however, quality of life is also important. Your postsecondary social situation is a valid reason for transferring schools. Many students initially believe that following the family tradition by pledging at Dad’s fraternity is the right path for them. However, placement in a Greek-lettered box might inhibit you from seeking out new ideas and adventures. Other students might wish they were part of the fraternity or sorority community, comforted by its familial nature and secret handshakes. Finding the right atmosphere for you to excel socially will also correlate to your prowess academically. Positive and enriching friendships and a nurturing environment will all be factors in attaining academic success.
After high school, things change and opportunities present themselves that you never knew existed. You might enter college believing you were born to study architecture, and a year later you realize you were meant to build financial—not architectural—models. The school you currently attend may not have a strong finance program, so in order to pursue your new-found passion, transferring is the best option.
Prepare and stay organized
Whatever your reasons for transfer, if you decide it is justified, your new school should have programs in place to help with your adjustment. Organization and planning are the keys to a smooth transfer process. Many colleges and universities have some articulation agreements in place. An articulation agreement is an officially approved arrangement that matches course work between colleges. These are designed to help students make a smooth transition, whether transferring from a two-year to a four-year institution or from one four-year institution to another. Make sure the school you are planning to transfer to will accept the credits you have already earned. Most colleges and universities provide transfer advisors to transfer students, who walk the new student through class registration and on-campus programming.
A successful transfer
Luis Sanchez began his postsecondary degree at Holyoke Community College in Holyoke, Massachusetts. In the spring of 2010 he transferred to Becker College to pursue his bachelor’s degree. Luis has found a home at Becker, striving for excellence and thriving both academically and on the football field.
“My advisor, Ms. Daley, really worked with me, to tell me what I needed to do and how to do it,” Luis says regarding his transfer experience. “[Coming to Becker College] was definitely the right decision; I love it there.” He continues, “Becker did everything they could to ensure my credits transferred.”
According to Becker’s Head Football Coach, Mike Lichten, “Luis Sanchez has been an outstanding football player and an incredible student since transferring.” Luis also says coordinating housing and acclimating socially were “no problem at all.” Luis is a perfect example of a student who benefited from transferring and speaks fondly of the transition.
To enjoy your new college as much as Luis, be proactive in seeking out social opportunities. Join clubs and participate in athletics. Attend rallies and reach out to the college’s student activities director. Be an engaged student and contribute in class. Chances are, many other students will be in the same situation as you; they are also attempting to make new friends and familiarize themselves with their new classmates and surroundings, whether they’re transfer students or not. Most importantly, find ways to make yourself as comfortable as possible in your new environment.
At the end of the day, you’re going to want your college experience to be memorable for the right reasons. Transferring might be a necessary obstacle in the pursuit of this end result. As Maslow taught us in his hierarchy of needs, we’re all attempting to reach self-actualization, to be at peace with where we are in our lives. If you are unhappy at your current school, make the switch, and reap the rewards.