Written by Lisa Bleich.
Thanksgiving is a time filled with family, turkey, football, and in many houses newly returned freshmen. (Mine sophomore is coming home tomorrow tonight!) After they’ve cleared the cupboards, lounged on the couches catching up on TV and caught up with their friends (and you, if you’re lucky), don’t be surprised if you hear the dreaded words: “I think I want to transfer.” I call it Thanksgiving Transfer Fever. Every year, right after the holiday, I get several phone calls from parents or students who think that they have made the wrong decision now that they have experienced what their college is really like.
It’s not surprising as roughly 25% of college students transfer from their original college. But before you panic and start rushing to send out applications, it’s important to identify the real cause behind the statement and determine if it’s just normal adjustment bumps or a deep-seated desire to make a change. So how do you know?
The most common reasons students wish to transfer are size, location, social climate, academic program and personal reasons.
Size. The campus is too big or too small. There is not enough to do on the weekends or it just seems overwhelming because of its size. Surprisingly the answer to both a campus that is too big and too small is to get involved. A few years ago one of my friends’ sons got mononucleosis during the first semester of his freshman year at a small liberal arts college in Ohio, forcing him to come home for several weeks. He was able to keep up academically, but by being home he missed the initial window to fully immerse himself socially and in activities. He thought the answer was to transfer to a slightly larger school near a city. We met and developed a two-part plan: 1) Go back to campus and get involved in as many activities as possible. 2) Identify 2-3 schools located in or near a big city. Once he got back to campus and got involved, he thrived in the small tight-knit community. All transfer talk dissolved.
Social Climate. Last week I spoke with a client who attended her first choice large state school and after almost a full year (she started in the summer), she is thriving academically, but realized that she wants a student body that is more focused on academics, less Greek life on campus and a school located closer to a city. This is a 180-degree turn from where she was as a high school student determining her criteria. Her high school academics and test scores were not in line with the schools on her new list, but thankfully she has rocked it academically in college and between her high school AP credits and almost a full year of college classes, she will be in a great position to transfer to a school that better meets her new criteria. Last year my daughter was thinking about transferring for the opposite reason. She loved the academics at her school, but found the social life lacking. She put in several applications to transfer to schools where she thought she connected better with the student body to keep her options open. She hoped that once she rushed a sorority in the spring, her social life would pick up.
Academic Program. Two-thirds of students change their major once they get to college, yet often that is a primary driver for identifying a school. And sometimes students think they want to go down one path only to find that it is different from they thought. This often happens in the visual and performing arts; a student thinks she wants an art school only to find that she wants a broader education or vice versa. One of my clients, who had a strong interest in art and art history, initially applied to mostly liberal arts colleges with strong art program and to one art school. She chose to go to the art school because she wanted something totally different from her high school experience. While she enjoyed the artistic rigor, she realized that an art school environment was not the best place for her so she applied to Barnard where she had originally been wait listed. She was accepted and found her home for the next three years.
Personal Reasons. These reasons can be the most difficult to resolve and in many instances they lie deeper than simply not liking the size, location or vibe of the school. Students may have mental health issues such as depression or anxiety that emerge or become more pronounced once they leave home. Some students become too immersed in the social aspect of school, e.g. partying and have a hard time finding a balance between work and play and learning to manage their time. Whatever the reason, it is important to identify the underlying problem and deal with that before jumping to transfer. This could mean taking a leave of absence and coming home for the semester to sort things out and get help to manage the transition more smoothly or just a little more time to mature until going back again. What can make this last scenario tricky is that often grades plummet when mental health issues are at stake, making a transfer situation harder, but not impossible.
So before you re-register for the Common Application, let your turkey digest, do a little Black Friday shopping and identify what is really going on. Things often look a lot better the second semester. And if they don’t transfer applications are not due until March.