“A path is only a path and there is no affront, to oneself or to others, in dropping it if that is what your heart tells you…Look at every path closely and deliberately. Try it as many times as you think necessary. Then ask yourself alone one question—does this path have a heart? If it does, the path is good. If it doesn’t, it is of no use.” –Carlos Castaneda
We have all found ourselves at crossroads in life—in school, at work, in our personal relationships. As a transfer student, you may have recently found yourself at this crossroads in college. You knew that a series of previous decisions and circumstances led you to your first school, but you were no longer sure if continuing down this path remained the best road to walk. Your heart was no longer in it. Even so, it can sometimes feel easier to stay because the known seems safer than the unknown. But a safe choice isn’t synonymous with the right choice. And the right choice is not necessarily the only choice.
Instead, you had options. You recognized your first college choice wasn’t working and you decided to move forward in a new direction. Above all else, take a moment to appreciate your own bravery. Only a brave person would forge a new path. You are here and you have resources available to you to become involved and find your way.
1. Find out what resources are available to you
First things first: make the time to research the resources available to you at your new home away from home. During the admission process, school contacts may have shared names, organizations, or events with new transfer students. If they did, go back and review. Reach out again with follow-up questions. Ask for the name of someone who can help you once you get to campus.
Remember, you chose this school. School administrators and admission teams want you there—more than that, they want you to feel welcome, no matter what time of year you are joining or how old you are compared to the other “new” students on campus.
Some schools have ambassadors who work exclusively with transfer students to help them learn their way around campus (or the town or city where the school is located), meet new people, and become acclimated both personally and academically.
Ask for help. Ask for advice. Ask all of your educated questions and don’t feel bad about it. You’re not supposed to go through this process alone, so don’t feel like you have to—you might be surprised at how much people want to help you or how much people want to share their favorite parts about your new school.
Certain schools will even pair new transfer students with older students who were in their shoes just a few years ago. Find out if these services exist at your school and, if they do, get involved. If they don’t, ask an admission contact if they know of a student who may be willing to help you anyway.
2. Say hello
Beyond more formal programs or welcome events, challenge yourself to say hello to new people. Using your resources, find out about clubs, organizations, and sports that you can get involved with on campus. Choose one that you like and introduce yourself to new people when you arrive.
Go out and explore. Regardless of where you transferred, your surroundings will be different and new. Revel in that newness. Take advantage of your fresh eyes. Enjoy the scenery, discover a favorite reading spot, find someone who likes the same things that you do, and discover yourself in your new school’s city.
3. Don’t just go—get involved!
They say that showing up is half the battle. Don’t do yourself a disservice by making the effort to arrive and then not become involved once you get there. Everyone has been the new person in the room or on the team or in the group. Remember that bravery you had when you decided to transfer schools? Latch onto it again and speak up—get involved when you go to your first intramural soccer game, volunteer event, women in engineering meeting. But be yourself and do so in a way that stays true to who you are. It’s okay (admirable, even) to listen and observe, learning about your new surroundings.
Actively engaging and getting to know people during these events can lead to a greater sense of belonging and connection. It can help you decide which ones you want to come back to and which you’d rather not frequent. You’re not signing anything in stone—if you don’t like it, you can try something new. If you don’t feel somewhere is the right place for you to be, that’s okay. Have faith that you will find your niche and that you will find people who make your new school feel like home. The trick is to keep looking until you do.
4. Stick to your convictions
“It is a mistake to try to look too far ahead. The chain of destiny can only be grasped one link at a time.” – Winston Churchill
Somewhere in the middle of getting used to your classes, becoming involved, and meeting new people, you will inevitably find yourself noticing another person’s college experience—and comparing yourself to that person. The only piece of advice for when this happens is not to do it.
Every person’s story is unique to itself. Take care of yourself, focus on your own progress, and take pride in how far you have come. Know you are not alone. A 2010 NACAC report concluded that about a third of all college students transfer.
Remember why you made this decision and stick by your reasons. Don’t look back and don’t look too far ahead. Take your new experiences one day—or, in Churchill’s words, “one link”—at a time.