A close friend and I talked late into the night — more than one night — about transferring to a college located 20 minutes away. A world apart, that school over the hill. A bit smaller, more artsy and socially liberal. No sports culture to speak of.
As second-semester freshmen, we were ready for a change.
If you’re thinking about transferring to another school, know that you are not alone. Transferring may be the right choice, but it requires a lot of time and energy, so you want to be sure that a fresh start at a new place is really what you need.
Leaving the Shire
College may be the first time you’ve been so far from home or been away for so long. It’s natural to feel homesickness, or even culture shock.
Larry Bowman, Jr. encountered a radically different culture when he began school at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. Larry grew up in Marion, Virginia, a small town in the Appalachian Mountains.
The endless winter at Dartmouth did not charm Larry. His grades weren’t great at first. The social scene was just confusing.
“What I never considered were the long-term impacts of leaving,” Larry remembers.
He even went so far as to return home and apply as a transfer student to a college nearby. Then after sitting in on a freshman biology class, he quickly decided that staying at Dartmouth would be best.
“I had to give myself the chance to grow into who I would become.”
For Larry, that meant persevering through the academic and social challenges he faced during his first days at an elite college.
You’ve Changed Your Mind
Realizing your passion can be disruptive. Vanessa Calaban had nearly earned her music degree at Ithaca College when she seriously considered transferring. She loved music, but a career? Social issues like climate change and marriage equality had captured her interest and passion. Countless hours in the windowless practice rooms no longer felt right.
While she could have switched majors at Ithaca, that meant forfeiting thousands of dollars in scholarship money.
So in spring of her junior year, Vanessa applied to college all over again. When the admissions director at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry called with good news, he asked a few questions.
We’ve accepted you to our program, but why transfer so late in your college career?
Why not complete your bachelor’s and then apply to our graduate program?
“I wanted to transfer because I didn't think I would get anywhere with a music degree,” said Vanessa. Once the admissions director explained that good grades and a few courses in environmental studies were enough to get her into graduate school, transferring no longer seemed so necessary.
Vanessa finished her music degree at Ithaca, and today she is a graduate student at UMass Boston and an intern at the Massachusetts State House. Things worked out all right for Vanessa.
In an economy where a bachelor’s degree doesn’t get you as far as it used to, Vanessa says that “your undergraduate college doesn't matter as much as your parents might think.”
So even if you decide to pursue a career in something outside of your major, look carefully at whether transferring is necessary, especially if you’ve nearly finished what you already started.
Is a Different College the Solution?
A different college might be the right solution. Sarah Zager knew this for sure. During her first semester at the University of Pennsylvania, she wished to be at a smaller school with a greater focus on undergraduate education.
Transferring was a challenging process, but well worth the effort once she began her sophomore year at Williams College.
“One of the hardest parts of the process was dealing with the people who told me ‘just wait and it will get better,’” Sarah said.
“Part of me felt that they were absolutely right – by transferring, I'd be getting a late start on lots of different social and academic parts of college – but I also knew that moving someplace smaller had the potential to drastically improve my experience.”
You Be You
Ultimately, where you attend college and whether you transfer to another college is an extremely personal decision, and it’s not possible to generalize about what is best.
Vanessa reflected on her experience of almost transferring and what wisdom she might share with current students. “The most important thing is to be happy and to not be afraid to change your mind.”
That may mean transferring, or perhaps not.
Bowman, L. (2014, April 30). Interview by Leo Brown [Email].
Calaban, V. (2014, April 30). Interview by Leo Brown [Email].
Zager, S. (2014, April 30). Interview by Leo Brown [Email].