So you are halfway through freshman year or maybe you’re even a sophomore and you’re thinking, “Hmm, I really don’t like it here- should I transfer?” Maybe your ‘dream’ school is not as dreamy as you first thought, maybe your grades slipped senior year and you ended up at your 10th choice, maybe you realized you don’t want to be an engineer after all, or maybe you’re just hoping to ‘trade up’. Whatever the reason, there are many factors that go into making a school the right fit for you.
As a former admission officer, I can tell you most students transfer for the wrong reason- because they don’t want to be where they are, not because they are enthusiastic about where they are going.
Transfer 101: Growing Pains
Academics. “It’s too hard/easy here.” Whether you went to a high stress prep school or a relaxed public where you basically taught yourself, you may struggle academically. College is a new educational environment with more flexibility and less structure. The first thing to know is you deserve to be there. You wouldn’t have been accepted if you couldn’t handle the work. But that doesn’t mean what worked in high school will work in college. You’ve got to learn how to prioritize, how to manage your time, and how to get help if you need it.
Homesickness. Maybe you went to a sleep-away camp or did a summer program or maybe you’ve never left your hometown- being in a new place is always scary and unsettling. You’re not going be instant best friends with everyone on your floor.
Social life. Were you the head of every club or a wallflower? Maybe you were the ‘artsy’ one, the actress, or the jock - whatever role you played in high school was pretty set. No matter what your social standing was then, college is a whole new ballgame where the sheer scale changes the playing field. You’re more likely to be a small fish in a big pond. Moreover, you went from being the top of the totem pole (a senior) to the very bottom, and it’s going to take time to work your way up. But look on the bright side, you can reinvent yourself in college and try new activities. Don’t be afraid to take a risk and most importantly, don’t put too much pressure on yourself - it’s not going to happen overnight.
If, however, you are genuinely unhappy then its time to seriously consider transferring. Identify 3-4 colleges that you are interested in, and then research each one carefully.
The transfer process is much more discriminating than when you applied as a graduating senior. You should really know what you want now so you shouldn’t have more than 4 colleges, max, on your shortlist. In addition, financial aid is often handled differently for incoming transfers than for freshman applicants. If this a concern for you, find out how the financial aid process works in advance to determine if it is still a good choice.
Academics. Pick rigorous, serious course titles (not ‘juggling 101’). Try to select a couple of smaller courses so that you can develop good teacher relationships. You will need to ask one for a recommendation and the better you know them, the easier it will be for them to make it personal and impactful.
Soul-searching. Know WHY you want to attend the college you are applying to. Find out about the academic and social life and focus on the positives.
Be positive. Your personal statement is vital to your transfer candidacy. It is critical that the admission officer knows that you have a clear idea of what you want to achieve intellectually and socially and what makes their school the perfect match for you. Always keep your tone upbeat and enthusiastic.
Armed with these tips, you will be able to navigate it through your first year of college knowing that you did your very best. You will learn how to tell growing-pains from a real college mismatch, what steps to take to give yourself the best possible start, and what to do if you ultimately decide to transfer. I know you’ll have a great year- good luck!
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