Tips for Freshmen at the Wrong College: Time to Transfer

You need to transfer schools? First, don’t get depressed! Plenty of people start out at the wrong place; it doesn’t mean that you’re weird, antisocial, or unable to fit in. Schools are like people – they have their own personalities, tastes, and preferences. You wouldn’t stay at a job with an atmosphere that was totally wrong for you, so don’t feel like you have to stay at a school that is.

But don’t forget that you’re a freshman. That means that your life has just undergone probably the biggest change to date. It’s completely natural to feel uncomfortable, afraid, homesick, or lonely when you first start college. Don’t decide to drop out or transfer immediately. Give yourself some time to meet people and try things. If you leave too early, you may end up missing out on something great.

But if you’ve had the opportunity to adjust – you’ve given it some time, met people, joined clubs, gone to class and you’re still sure it’s the wrong college (trust me, you’ll know it), the first step is to figure out why it’s not the right place for you. Is it too big or too small? Is it too far or too close to where you grew up? Are the classes too intense or too easy? Do all of the kids seem to be from a completely different world than you? Have you redefined your future goals and discovered that this school doesn’t really offer what you want? All of these are great reasons to look for other options.

Bear in mind that YOU (or someone you know) are paying for your education. If your experience isn’t living up to what you anticipated, then you aren’t a satisfied customer and you have the right take your business elsewhere.

It’s not always easy to be the transfer student. You’ll be the proverbial “new kid,” wandering in after orientation, after everyone has already formed their groups of friends. If you choose a small school and start at the beginning of a year, everyone will assume you’re a freshman – even if you’re not. But don’t worry! If the school has the type of atmosphere and environment that you thrive in, you’ll have no problem finding your niche and creating your own groups of friends.

A more difficult issue is the transferring of grades and credits. I recommend that as you begin your search for a new college, pay attention to how your credits will transfer. Most schools have transfer counselors, so if you’re serious about applying, you may want to speak with this person first. You may be unable to transfer everything directly – for example, a course that filled a general or specific requirement at one school may only be accepted as an elective at another.

Another common situation is that your grades may not transfer. This is like being given a clean slate – if you haven’t gotten the best grades, you may be pleased to see them transfer as simply “Pass” or “Fail.” If, however, you’ve done really well, it can be disappointing to watch your “A” turn to a “Pass.” But the important thing is that you keep all of your credits, even if their status is changed to a “passed” elective. You’ve worked hard for your classes and you don’t want to lose anything in the switch.

However, if you really need to transfer and doing so will cost you a few lost credits, then you need to decide if the reward is worth the cost. And sometimes it is. If you are really unhappy at a school, or you have made up your mind about your future career and this school just doesn’t offer it, then it may make sense for you to take a summer class or two in the future to make up for those lost credits. If, on the other hand, you’re more or less okay at school, are in the major you want, but are feeling temporarily depressed, then I suggest sticking it out a little longer.

When choosing new schools to apply to, be sure to take into consideration everything you liked and didn’t like about your current school. You have the advantage of knowing exactly what you want now that you’ve tried it out. So if you like that it’s huge but hate that it’s too far from home, you can easily narrow your options. Also, you might have a more clearly developed vision of your future now that you’ve tried on a few classes or perhaps majors, and the selection of the right major will also help you choose the school that fits.

When you’re ready to make the switch, apply to the school (or schools) of your choice and wait for a response before you begin to withdraw from your current college. I heard back fairly quickly on my transfer application. If you’re accepted, review your acceptance materials as carefully as you did during your first round of applications. Many schools have adjusted rules for transfers – sometimes the merit scholarships are smaller than they would have been had you applied straight out of high school, some schools may want you to live in the freshman dorms, and some schools may treat you exactly like any other student.

Once you’re sure you’ve found and been accepted to the right school, you need to learn the procedure for leaving the school you’re currently enrolled in. I advise that you stop by the Admissions Office and explain your situation. They’ll help you understand exactly what you need to do to withdraw from their school. In order to make the switch as painless and comfortable as possible, you can’t just walk out one day and never return (no matter how tempting that sounds).

And the most important thing: you chose to leave this school for a reason. You chose another school for a reason. After spending some time at the wrong school, you are able to more clearly define your wants, needs, and comfort zones than a brand-new high school graduate. So when you enter your new college, don’t be alarmed if at first you feel a little uncomfortable, afraid, homesick, or lonely. You’re feeling like any other student at a new school. Since you made this choice out of experience and knowledge, you should find that this new campus is the right place for you – the place where you’ll one day turn your tassel.

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