Sometimes you’re really unhappy at college, so much so that you weigh your options for other schools.
I realized this three years ago in a dark triple bedroom watching “Fargo” at 1:00am. No one likes to admit that kind of stuff out loud, especially when they started out their freshman year as eager as I did. I tried to convince myself that these weren’t death throes and that the worst of it was behind me, but I’m the worst liar I know, and I knew I couldn’t finish out three more years of undergrad at a school I’d slowly come to loathe. When I submitted applications to transfer, I didn’t speak a word of it, not even after I committed to a new school.
Parting was the sweetest sorrow I’d ever known.
Going into my second year, I really had to think about what I wanted out of this new college experience, and I settled on something I couldn’t seem to have at my old school: Some peace and quiet for myself. While the opportunity to have a fresh start seemed a godsend initially, I came to realize that I had a rapidly growing fear of having to do everything all over again, and change isn’t usually something that sits well with me. Three years later, I credit myself with making the best decision I could have made. Starting out, I didn’t always see it that way, and some thoughts—like an iTunes track list on repeat—seemed to tease and test me for my first few weeks as a transfer student.
1. “I’m not a freshman. I’m not a freshman. I’m not a freshman.”
Not that there’s anything wrong with being a freshman, as we all start college like a lost herd of sheep. There’s also nothing wrong with wanting absolutely nothing to do with “freshman” as your identifier—not that “transfer” is the handle you want to be known for either. I have a name, and I didn’t always want people to brand me by my transfer status, but sometimes the Registrar used to get away with calling me by my ID number.
The amount of students transferring in with you is going to be a lot smaller than the freshman class, and no one really bothers to note the difference between you and that lost herd of sheep in a frantic, simultaneous sprint across campus. I had one professor ask, in a class full of freshman, who was a first year student at The Mount. I was caught on a technicality. Yes, I was a first-year student at The Mount. No, I didn’t belong to the freshman class. But yes, on a technicality, I raised my hand partway in the air. I think it was impulsivity in my sophomore class that made them treat me like a lost child, and it didn’t help that I looked like a twelve-year old schoolboy starting out.
No matter how loud you try to make it known, no one except your advisor is going to care.
2. “________ is/are so much different here.”
For me, it was the students. No one ever let the door close on my face and everyone always smiled back. Everyone was so much nicer to me, and who cares if they didn’t really mean it?
3. “No one knows I wore these clothes last year.”
Let’s be honest with ourselves as much as it hurts: College is expensive. Breathing on a college campus is expensive, yet one of the first things on my mind was having a cool wardrobe to show off. Without a job, which most undergrads don’t have, you’ll likely come to make your living on instant noodles. And when half of the students drag themselves to class in sweatpants anyway, your cool wardrobe will become a fleeting thought when that alarm sounds at 7:00am. I think this is where being a transfer student has its perks.
When I started sophomore year on a new campus, no one knew that I’d worn that striped shirt at every summer get-together, or that my favorite jeans weren’t vintage, but had rips in them from wearing them so often. It was my best-kept secret. My second best kept secret was loving and promptly leaving clubs for the free tee shirts.
4. “How do I make friends here?”
I used to liken being a transfer student to walking into class 30 minutes late and having to take a seat by yourself at the back of the classroom. There are three things happening here: the first is that you’ve already missed 30 minutes of lecture, the second is that awkward shuffle to the back of the classroom (and that shallow “sorry” you say, but probably don’t mean) to sit by yourself and the third is that from all the way back there, no one is going to notice you.
Transfer students know all too well that deep-seated feeling of missing out on so much by starting off at a different college. You had the time of your life at Spring Weekend last year? That’s good for you. I’m glad to oblige the conversation, but thanks for validating my lifelong suffering of FOMO.
Then there’s the actual attempt to make conversation with other people which, albeit genuine, sometimes tends to seem like a desperate plea for friends—mine did, unbeknownst to me, but all hope is not lost in the brazen mating call of a transfer student. And if you think no one is going to notice you, you’re not entirely wrong. It’s hard being the one to sidle your way into friendships already established however much years ago, long before you even thought of transferring. Some people never move smoothly down that path, but it happens, and it happened to me. Not to mention the relatively slim pickings in the transfer student pool of would-be friends—most of them are probably older than you anyway.
5. “If these credits didn’t transfer, I swear…”
I think this happens to almost every transfer student, or at least the unlucky ones. I didn’t know until my second semester that a computer science course I’d taken at my old college had only transferred as an elective. I’d done the same exact work last year that the Registrar wanted me to do again at an even bigger ticket price. I’d get my way soon enough, which never seems to happen, but not without spending what seemed like hours on hold with my old school, waiting for a response to any one of the twenty emails I’d sent the professor of the course and finally just resorting to phoning a friend, one of my old roommates, for a copy of the syllabus.
(My advice is to leave the guesswork alone and get some definitive answers about transfer credits. If you hated that class last year, you’ll definitely hate it more the second time around.)
6. “Was all of this really worth it?”
Yes, because you know you’ve got it right this time around. You have to get it right this time. And if you didn’t, maybe the third time’s a charm.