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How to salvage credits, graduate on time and save thousands of dollars.

Mastering the Delicate Art of the College Transfer

People tell horror stories about having to transfer universities—losing hard earned credits, going deeper into debt—so I’ll reiterate the advice I was told by countless people when I decided to transfer: Don’t do it. But if you’re like me, and circumstances demand relocation in the middle of your degree, all hope is not lost. With paper hoarding and the beautiful technology that is email, I was able to transfer as a senior to an out-of-state private school, salvage my credits, graduate on time in one year and save myself over $30,000.

After I received an Associate of Arts degree from the community college in my hometown, I drove off across the Rocky Mountains with plans to use my full-tuition scholarship for the two years it would take to complete my bachelor’s degree in English. However, halfway through the first semester, the Air Force moved my long-time boyfriend to Washington, and we decided to get married! With the wedding set for the coming June, I knew I was going to have to transfer—again.

I was told not to do it. I was told to spend a year apart from my husband to save money and finish on time. But the heart wants what the heart wants, and I didn’t listen to any of those naysayers. Perhaps rather rashly, I found a school that I liked that offered enticing academic scholarships, so I enrolled. This happened to be Saint Martin’s University, a private Catholic school with yearly tuition running over $30,000. Looking back now, I realize that I was insane.

I enrolled assuming it would take me at least two more years to finish my degree—I could already see my credits being heaped unceremoniously into an “electives” pile, and my student loans reaching obscene heights. But after praying for a FAFSA miracle, I plowed ahead.

Luckily, I applied and was accepted to St. Martin’s before December, and quickly became familiar with my advisor. I told her my situation, and after some emailing we became pretty well acquainted.

We were both under the impression that I would graduate in two years, so she gave me my degree plan and instructions on how to look up course offerings on my student portal. At this point I realized that four classes offered at St. Martin’s were virtually identical to classes I had already taken.

“Heck yeah!” I thought, “Four classes that’ll count towards my degree!”

“Heck no!” Said my transfer evaluation. Electives.

This is when I began to obsessively read over my degree plan daily. I stared at the paper, willing it to see all the hard work I was doing and acknowledge it by accepting my classes. That didn’t happen. What did happen was I memorized my degree plan and how many credits of what kinds of classes I needed to graduate. This memorization brought about an epiphany. I decided that I deserved due credit for the work I had done, and that I didn’t need to put in double the time or pay tens of thousands of extra dollars to receive it.

So I emailed my advisor with a list of five paragraph-long questions explaining my observations and the classes I felt should be accepted as more than electives. I said I thought I could graduate in a year, and I explained my calculations to her. Amazingly, I was right. My advisor was—is—a saint. She emailed my questions to the professors who taught the coinciding classes, and I conversed with them as well. The general consensus was that my previous classes were good substitutions for the classes offered at St. Martin’s, and by the New Year I was well acquainted with most of the English department! I felt truly accomplished, and figured all was well. I was all set to graduate in two 18-credit, insane semesters!

This was the calm before the storm.

Spring semester passed. I married my high school sweetheart in the summer and before I knew it, I had moved 1,500 miles away and was about to start school once again.

The first week of school, I figured I would do a quick check-up on my classes and plan for the year with my advisor. This meeting revealed that I needed more credits than I initially thought, and that a lot more paperwork was involved to receive credit for the contested classes I thought had been taken care of months before!

Not only that, but all the paperwork needed to be completed, signed by multiple faculty members and turned in within a couple days. With my busy schedule that didn’t seem to line up with any of the times the necessary faculty members were available, I figured that it couldn’t be done. I felt distraught and hopeless, and began to try groping with the reality of another year of school and another thirty grand in tuition. But hoorah! I decided to try anyways, and once again the email machine saved the day.

Like most modern humans, my email is overloaded with junk. If my emails were all printed out and filed, I would need a small barn to contain them all. Luckily, computers can search through emails much faster than I could with a pitchfork in a barn, and I’m a pretty decent email “Subject” writer.

I searched “Questions About Some Transfer Credits”—my wonderfully specific email heading—and found the extensive conversation between myself, my advisor and the other faculty members from many months before. I printed it—20 pages!—as proof of the professors agreeing that my past classes warranted credit from St. Martin’s.

I also found the syllabi from the past classes I was trying to get credit for and copied them—I finally realized why my professors always encouraged me to keep those! Then I tracked down and printed the syllabi for the coinciding classes offered at St. Martins, and to make my point clear, I highlighted all of the comparative topics and projects covered—so I basically highlighted the entirety of each syllabus.

Then I pulled out my trusty flash drive and printed all of the literature papers and projects I had written the year before for each class. I placed each class’s coinciding emails, syllabus, comparative syllabus and papers into specific folders I found in my school supplies hoard from years past. Then I waited outside the Dean of the English Department’s office for an hour waiting for him to come back from lunch, and presented him with over 75 pages of my determination to graduate the following semester.

I think he was impressed with my attention to detail and determination—if anything, I should have gotten a few credits for my effort—but he gave me additional paperwork for each class that I would need for four “substitutions” to be granted. Essentially, I ran around campus for the rest of the afternoon in search of certain faculty members and begged for their signatures of approval.

Once I found them they were happy to sign, but tracking down everyone I needed was difficult when in a time crunch. I arrived at the Dean’s office at the end of the day—right before he went home for the day and the deadline for such changes would have passed—with signed papers in hand, and presented them like a newborn babe. It was finished. I had done all I could do.

I still had to wait many a week to receive “substitution” confirmation from the Dean and the registrar—they did have 75 pages of proof to read through—but in the end, all the hassle and stress I went through over a period of eight months was completely worth it. I finished my senior thesis before Christmas! I recently ordered my cap and gown for graduation this May! I didn’t apply for any more loans! I saved over $30,000.

When I look back, I realize that my paper hoarding and annoying persistence saved my butt. I hoarded old syllabi, old folders and never ever deleted emails. I emailed, printed and highlighted papers, called and chased people down and asked far-fetched questions that I really didn’t expect would be answered with a “yes.”

Perhaps if more transfer students were blatantly annoying hoarders with ridiculous questions, transferring universities wouldn’t be such a horrendous hassle. Maybe I was just lucky, but I know my persistence played a huge role in my substitution success.

My accomplishment in this regard seems so monumental, that I’d like to pencil in on my diploma, “Regina Reed, Bachelor of Arts in English, Transfer Master.

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