About this time three years ago, I wanted to abandon my choice to live and attend school two hours away from my parents. I decided I would transfer to one of the schools closer to home and live out my college days in commuter bliss. Coming home for fall break knowing that I would have to leave home again in four days was too hard, and I never wanted to go through the pain of separation again. I had everything worked out in my head.
Perhaps you are in a similar situation, feeling like school is too much. This may be the first time you have been independent or have had such a demanding course load. Perhaps your college has not turned out to be all the wonderful things you hoped it would be – the professors are not as engaged in their students’ welfare, you don’t get along with classmates as well as you would like, or your major won’t give you the training you want. You find yourself wondering, “Maybe if I was at a different school, these problems would go away.”
If you are considering transferring colleges right now, I get it. I’ve been there. Before you take the plunge and change schools, though, I encourage you to give some serious thought to a few transferring tips:
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1. Avoid heat-of-the-moment decisions.
Three years later, I’m still at that school two hours away from home. Transferring to a commuter school was not the right fit for me, and I realized that after some rational reflection away from my emotionally-charged fall break attitude. When I was back at school, I recognized that I actually liked the independence of being a resident student and that I could survive the pain of separation. Remember that just because this has been a bad day or a bad week does not mean that tomorrow will be just as awful.
2. Stay for at least one full academic year.
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This was, I think, one of the best decisions I made as a terrified freshman. Although I wanted to get back home as soon as possible, I made the commitment to wait until the end of the spring semester before I left. I wanted to see what an entire year at school looked like. At the end of the year, I had made connections at school that I didn’t want to lose, and I really liked being a resident student.
Staying at least one year gives you a true impression of the academic and cultural climate of your school. You want to be informed before you make any life-changing decisions. Of course, if your situation is so dire that you are unable to stay a whole year, do what you need to do to improve your situation, but make sure you are making the change for the right reasons.
3. Talk to trustworthy leaders at your current school.
Don’t be tempted to start the exit process from your school without talking to anyone first. Odds are your school has systems already in place to alleviate some of the problems you’re facing without forcing you to transfer schools. Student success offices on campus are a great place to start. Wherever you go, get a second opinion on your situation. I enlisted the help of my resident assistant, my campus ministry coordinator, and at least one professor. I told them about my plan to stay one whole year and then reevaluate. They gave me emotional support and helped me consider my situation in ways my family could not. They also kept me from feeling too isolated.
Alright. You’ve given your situation some calm, rational reflection and still believe transferring is right for you. Maybe your choice to transfer schools has nothing to do with emotion; you’ve completed your degree at a community college and are ready to complete a four-year degree.
The next step is to get out there and find the school that will meet all your needs, including the ones your current school lacks.
Here are a few to-dos that will keep your search and admissions process on track:
1. Visit admissions offices…again.
You are now a more educated consumer than you were the last time you visited schools. You know what college is really like because you’ve already been there. Make a list of what you want and need out of a school, then stick to that list until you find the school that satisfies it. Once you find a school to transfer to, you’re going to want to stay there until you graduate.
2. Be a liaison.
The application process for transfer students is like the process for first-time freshmen, but it has the added component of coordinating with your previous college(s). Keep in regular contact with the academic office of your old school and the admissions counselor of your new school through phone calls and emails. Don’t assume that the two schools will work things out – make sure everyone has the paperwork they need to make your transition as smooth as possible. Ask questions until you’re confident you’re on the right track.
3. Transcripts, transcripts, transcripts.
Perhaps the most significant difference between being a first-time freshman and a transfer student is that you have credits that will (hopefully) come with you to your new school.
In order to acknowledge these transfer credits, your new Registrar’s Office needs your official transcripts. After you’ve applied and been accepted to your new institution, the process will essentially grind to a halt until the new college receives this vital information from your old one.
You are responsible for requesting transcripts from your old university. Visit your current Registrar’s Office for the necessary forms. Have them send the transcript directly to the new school’s registrar. If you have credits from more than one school, repeat this step for every school you’ve attended. Even if you don’t think a credit will transfer, send the transcript anyway. Your college experience will be better if the new school knows exactly what you’ve taken.
4. Be patient.
Be patient while the Registrar’s Office sorts out credits and as you take steps to leave your old school. Advocate for yourself and your desires, but remember that schools have exit processes in place as well as admissions processes. Making the change of transferring schools will have its challenges, but with some research and hard work it could be just what you need to have your best college experience.