In September, you left for college with a car full of your belongings and a head full of excited anticipation, hopes, and dreams. Having spent much of your high school senior year choosing colleges, applying to colleges, waiting for acceptance letters, and choosing yet again, it seemed like you were finally on your way.
Yeah. Now the end of the first semester is closing in and you’re just not happy. In fact, you’re miserable. Maybe you’re missing old friends and having trouble making new ones. Maybe the courses aren’t what you hoped for or you and your professors just don’t seem to click. Or maybe you are too close to or too far from home. Whatever. It’s not working.
First, know that you are not alone. A study by the U.S. Department of Education found that about 60 percent of American college students attend more than one college before they graduate. People transfer for lots of reasons, some rational (like saving money or finding a place with a stronger department for their major), some emotional (like not liking the “feel” of a place or being uncomfortable with the prevailing values of fellow students). It’s your education (and your money). There is no shame in trying to find a better fit.
Do you need to transfer? Maybe. If you’re not to make the same mistake twice, it’s important to figure out whether the problem is with your choice of school or within yourself.
Wherever You Go, There You Are
When you pack your bags and books and head to another school, you are going to take yourself with you. If the problem is with your difficulty adjusting to the unfamiliar, your attitude, or your unwillingness to stretch yourself, it’s more than likely that you will be just as unhappy elsewhere. Take a hard, honest inventory of what you are bringing to the situation before you start filling out those applications. Consider factors like these:
- Have you given your college a chance? If you have gone home every weekend or spent hours of every day IM-ing and texting high school friends, you’re looking back instead of moving forward. Yes, it’s important to maintain old relationships. But it’s also important to make room for new ones.
- Have you made an honest effort to get socially involved? To find a new social group, you have to put yourself in the paths of people with whom you have things in common. Have you joined a club? Tried out for a team or a performance group? Become involved in school politics? No? Then you’re not doing your share.
- Have you been open to new ideas and experiences? If you went to a college in a different part of the country from where you grew up or if your college attracts students from various parts of the world, you are going to meet lots of people who think differently than you do. Expanding your worldview is an important part of college life. Have you been curious? Have you sought out late night conversations about ideas? If you’ve been only judgmental or if you have avoided taking part in serious conversations, you’ve missed out on lots of opportunities to grow.
- Have you made an honest effort to be academically involved? Do you do the assignments? Engage with the readings? Ask questions and participate in class? You’re in college now. You don’t need to worry about being “that girl or guy” that high school kids put down for being too active in class. If you haven’t been letting yourself be enthusiastic about classes, of course you aren’t getting much out of them.
- Have you adequately investigated what your current school has to offer? Introductory courses or the “core” curriculum required by many schools can feel too much like high school. You are reviewing or laying down basics. But even in the second semester of freshman year, it’s possible to start exploring new fields by taking electives. Have you looked into potential majors? Talked to upperclassmen and professors? Looked over the facilities? It may be that everything you think you want is right where you are.
The School Just Isn’t Right for Me
Having looked honestly at yourself, you are still convinced that the school you’re in won’t work for you. You are bored in class. You feel out of place socially. The activities and sports teams don’t match your level of skill or interests. The money you allotted for the year is just not going to be enough. You’re clear that it isn’t a case of “the grass is always greener.” It’s a matter of putting your effort, time, and money into a place where you feel the investment will pay off. Okay. Then it’s time to position yourself to transfer. Here’s what admissions offices generally recommend:
- Stick it out for another semester if you can. Completing the freshman year gives you time to build a solid transcript, to cultivate relationships with a professor or two so you can ask them for recommendations, and to demonstrate that you are a strong student looking for something that is a better fit, not a weak student looking for a way out. If the reason you are withdrawing is financial and you need to take the semester off from school to work, find a job that is in some way related to the field you want to pursue to show that you are serious about your goals.
- Make sure you get the best grades you can. This is not a time to cut classes or just slide by. Your grades at college are going to count more than grades during high school or SAT scores on transfer applications. The better your grades are, the better your chances for getting into the school you want.
- Stay at school and get involved. Don’t go home on weekends. Limit your time on Facebook and IM-ing old friends. Put your time and energy into some clubs and activities even though you know you’ll be leaving. You’ll be happier if you are busy. It will strengthen your application if you have more to show for the year than grades.
- Do a very serious college search. Identify as clearly as you can just why this school isn’t working for you. Now that you’ve been in college for a few months, you are in a better position to know what you are looking for. There are a number of excellent websites that can help you research schools and narrow down the choices.
- Use three-day weekends and winter and spring breaks to visit schools. Often it’s the feel of the place that ultimately is the deciding factor in whether a college works for someone. You can’t get that on a “virtual” tour. While visiting, be sure to make an appointment to meet with the transfer counselor in the admissions office to discuss which of your classes would transfer and whether grades transfer as well. This information may be significant when it comes time to choose a new school.
- Give yourself time to fill out applications and collect all the documentation you need. Most colleges require both an official high school and college transcript, descriptions of the college courses you’ve taken, SAT scores, and information regarding the financial aid you received at your current school. Most applications are due in March for the fall semester.
Transferring won’t solve all your problems. Some things will be better. Some won’t. It’s unlikely that there is any school that is perfect in every way. But there is probably one (actually, it is likely there is more than one) that meets more of your criteria and where you can get the kind of education and experiences that are closer to what you’ve been looking for.
Once there, don’t be surprised or upset that you aren’t instantly comfortable. After all, you will once again be a new student in a new environment. In addition, you will be entering a college where others in your class have been there a year, making friend groups and figuring out how to navigate the system. It will take a few months to catch on, catch up, and settle in. Remind yourself that you chose this school with the wisdom that comes from experience. Get involved and you can make it work for you.
Hartwell-Walker, M. (2007). Help! I’m in the Wrong College!. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 7, 2013, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/help-im-in-the-wrong-college/0001287
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Jan 2013
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.