Transferring Colleges


You've just returned from winter break. You're alone in your dorm
room. You've given some of the best months of your life to this
school. And still, you're like, "Ehhh. . . . " You're already counting
down the days to graduation. Thanks to your Psych 101 class, you
piece together the not-so-subtle clues and realize: You want to get the
heck out of Dodge U. So you decide to transfer, which entails an
at-times over-whelming mix of red tape and emotional distress.
Basically, though, what it comes down to is a pursuit of happiness. If
you can admit, "I'm not happy here--because of this place, these
people, or these classes," it may well be time to call for the transfer

Perhaps you suffer from the sister-from-another-planet syndrome.
Maybe it struck you as soon as your mom unloaded the last of your
econosize jugs of Tide and drove away that your school wasn't
right for you. "I was so miserable. I knew it wasn't the place for
me at all," says Jodi Rosnick, who left Ithaca College after one
semester, took classes at a community college near home, and then
transferred to Boston University as a sophomore. "So many of the
girls were snotty. I cried constantly."

Or maybe you give the school time and gradually realize that you
want something it can't offer. Say you're sitting in your World
Economics course with Professor Alex P. Keaton when you start to
sweat. You start to envision macrame pot holders, and suddenly you
understand that the woven arts are your true destiny.

This scenario happened in reverse for Amanda Jones, a senior
marketing major at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, who
transferred out of her ceramic arts major at Penn State after two
years. "I remember it hit me one day that ceramics wasn't what I
wanted to do for the rest of my life, and central Pennsylvania
certainly wasn't where I wanted to be." The shift in location and
major was dramatic, but she adds, "After an epiphany like that, I
think you're supposed to make a drastic change."

Or maybe you transfer because there's a perfect school for you--
the school that God and family deemed perfect for you before your
birth. The admissions board must not have read the Holy Tablets,
however, because when you applied the first time around, you were
rejected. John Duffy knows what it's like to get that unpleasant
letter. "My family always wanted me to go to Notre Dame, and so did
I. I never even considered another school." Devastated after the
rejection, he quickly applied (and was accepted) to Indiana
University. But he didn't stay long. After one semester (of very
good grades), he transferred to Notre Dame.

Or, your transfer could be inspired by something as obvious as a
change of scenery. You enjoy the good life with your friends at
Small Rural College. You feel healthy, the air is clean, and you
bike everywhere. But you can't seem to get the Frank Sinatra version
of New York, New York out of your head. You long for hustle-bustle,
culture, imposing architecture, bus exhaust, and 20-pound bike locks.
You belong to the city. I found myself in this situation. After a year
at George Mason University, in Fairfax, Virginia, I realized watching
movies shot in New York made me hungry. So much so that I had to
transfer to New York City's Fordham University at Lincoln Center to
study film.

For me, there wasn't a lot of soul searching involved. I knew if I
wanted to study film, I had to transfer. For John Duffy, all it took
was a copy of Sports Illustrated to convince him he definitely
needed to be at Notre Dame. "They ran a picture of this beautiful
dome building on campus. I wrote away for an application the next
day and was there the next semester."

But shouldn't your first school be given at least a year's trial?
Jodi Rosnick doesn't think so. "No way. I knew the first week--the
very first day." John Woo, who transferred from the University of
Massachusetts-- Amherst to Harvard after two years, warns against
that kind of snap judgment. "It's not fair to say immediately, 'I hate
this,' because you haven't given it a chance. You shouldn't go with
your very first impression, because it takes a little while to settle in.
After two years at UMass, though, I was settled and I had friends,
but the school was still too big and impersonal for me." Jill Pope had
the luxury of a gradual transfer when she switched from Fordham
University's Bronx campus to its Lincoln Center campus. "I got to take
a couple of classes at the new school before I totally transferred. I
needed that." Jill's primary drawback was leaving her roommate.
"Domestically, I was in a happy situation. She was begging me not to
go, which made things really hard." John Duffy agrees. "The only
drag was leaving my best friend," he remembers. "Luckily, he followed
me to Notre Dame the next year." Since Harvard is just 90 miles from
UMass, John Woo visited his old school frequently. "It made adjusting
that much tougher, because emotionally I had one foot in and one foot
out," he says.

Though the reasons to transfer vary, the application process is pretty
standard. Consider some advice from an admissions counselor:

Get organized. Since you may be fighting a lack-of-focus/
fear-of-commitment stigma, it's especially important to meet deadlines
(of course, the earlier, the better). Work your reason for want-ing to
transfer into your personal statement. Find a professor who'll write
you a good recommendation.

Get great grades. John Duffy says, "The reason I got into Notre Dame
the second time I applied is because I aced my first semester at
Indiana. The ugly reality seems to be that all they look at are grades."
Maybe not always, but grades from your first college are pretty good
indicators of how you will do at your second college.

Take as many basic classes as you can stomach. You'll always have
room in your aca-demic suitcase for core classes like American
Literature. But consider Kabuki Theater Then and Now the swimsuit
you'll never use. Not that unusual classes aren't valid, it's just that
the credits may not transfer--and then you'll have to play catch-up
while you adjust to an entirely new scene. Talk to an admissions
counselor about what classes will be accepted. Also, plan to meet
with someone in financial aid to see how your package might change.

Conduct reality checks frequently. Much of the hoopla that schools
afford freshmen isn't extended to transfer students. "Harvard didn't
do much to integrate their transfers. We all had to live together off
campus," laments John Woo. Jodi Rosnick agrees, "I was put in with
freshmen who'd already had an orientation, and I learned that I had
to take the initiative to meet other people." The best thing to do is
realize that in time, you'll find your place and settle in. And if not,
well, you could always transfer . . . again.

--Robin Sayers

(This article originally appeared in the February 1995 issue of Seventeen.)

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