Making the transfer transition: How to have the best college experience after transferring

College Transfer

By Mike Dang

A few years ago, Jason Greenwood made the decision to transfer from his community college to the University of California – Irvine because the school had a good engineering program and he liked the idea of living in Orange County. Greenwood is now a fourth-year mechanical engineering major who loves UC-Irvine so much, he became a campus tour guide and tells future students why UC-Irvine may be the right choice for them on a weekly basis. Yet, his transfer experience was not exactly perfect.

“The only thing I wish I knew more about before transferring was my major because I’m not a big fan,” Greenwood said. “When you transfer, you’re stuck in the major. Basically, you’re locked in the major and you can’t be here for more than three years. If I would have known this, I would have decided to major in something different, like mathematics.”

Students like Greenwood make the decision to transfer because their career goals or ambitions have changed, they wanted to save money by spending their first two years at a community college, or because they were simply unhappy being where they were. Whatever the case, transitioning to a new school is not a seamless process. Transfer students can sometimes feel lost after arriving on a new campus and feel frustrated with classes they’re not used to. Like most new experiences, getting used to a new place with unfamiliar faces will take time, but there are things transfer students can do to ensure that their transition goes as smoothly as possible.

The first thing that will make your transfer process easier is keeping an organized binder of all your important documents: transcripts, letters from your professors, housing documents, and any other documents your new school sends you. This way, you can keep on top of everything you need to do before the big move and have extra copies of documents readily available if your new college accidentally loses anything.

Secondly, if you’re transferring to a school based solely on a program’s reputation, make sure that program is actually right for you. Greenwood thought UC-Irvine’s highly-ranked engineering program would be right up his alley, but once he was actually taking the classes, he realized his academic focus was elsewhere.

Fortunately, Greenwood explored other options at UC-Irvine that would allow him to pursue his love of math. He’s tutoring other students struggling with their math classes and is looking into gaining teaching credits. He’s hoping to turn his degree and technical knowledge into a career as a math teacher.

Try asking an advisor from your school if it would be okay to sit in on a lecture in the major you are planning to pursue before you decide to transfer into it. After experiencing a few classes, you’ll have a pretty good idea of whether or not the program is right for you. Attending at least one class will also help you get a sense of the course’s pacing, which can make a huge difference. If you’re not able to go to a class, advisors may be able to give you contact info for students already in the program that wouldn’t mind answering any questions you have.

College advisors are always available via e-mail and will return urgent calls if need be. They can answer questions about how to transfer old credits and what classes are necessary to take to keep on track for graduation.

Adjusting to student life, on the other hand, is entirely up to you. Katherine Burke, a third-year psychology major at Hamilton College had a shaky start, but now believes transferring was the best decision she’s ever made.

Burke wanted to attend a college with an academic setting that she could thrive in and get individual attention from her professors. By fall 2006, Burke had settled on St. Lawrence University but grew unhappy when she discovered that the school had accepted a larger class than expected, which resulted in makeshift living arrangements and courses that were filled to capacity. When she realized things weren’t going to change, Burke decided to transfer to Hamilton, a small liberal arts school her brother had attended.

According to Burke, Hamilton did a phenomenal job of helping her transfer her credits from St. Lawrence and advising her on the appropriate classes to take within her field. The school also guaranteed living accommodations for her first year and she moved into a shared suite with another girl and three boys in January of 2008.

“I never had to share a bathroom with guys before and it was different at first,” Burke said, adding that having two brothers at home made the transition a little easier. “The three of them were rugby players and they and the two of us girls also shared a living area and a kitchen. We all e-mailed each other before I moved in and everyone was very helpful and friendly.”

At first, Burke said it was hard being the new person at school, especially since she had transferred mid-year. But after realizing that being shy would get her nowhere, she made it a point to talk to students on campus when she was unsure about something and ask her professors questions when she needed help keeping academically on-track. She also made friends by immediately getting involved in student groups, and in particular, rushing a sorority – something she would have never done at her previous school.

“Until I went to Hamilton, I was anti-sorority,” Burke said. “But the sorority I’m involved in now is community service-based and I like to get involved in community service. This is how I met some of my closest girlfriends. I met a lot of my other friends just by keeping my door open and hanging out with people who would come and visit my suite.”

After only one month, Burke said she no longer considered herself “the new girl,” but a regular Hamilton student. Greenwood said getting accustomed to classes and meeting new people felt slow, but once he got involved with campus tours, things turned around.

“Know what you want to do and once you’re there, get involved and become a part of the community,” Greenwood said.

Burke agrees.

“My advice is to know who your advisor is and let them know who you are and what you’re interested in,” she said. “I feel so rejuvenated here and before I left for the summer, I called my mom and told her I didn’t want to come home because I loved it so much. I credit this to all the people I met.”