A Transfer Student Tell-All

Last week, I attended my first transfer student town hall, which addressed our groups’ questions, suggestions and concerns. Having transferred here in the fall of 2016, my sophomore year, I have often felt very detached from the transfer community of the class of 2019 at Barnard College. I have spent most of my academic life in college at Barnard and consider myself to be a fairly active member of the school community, through joining clubs, attending events and by being a Resident Assistant. However, going to the town hall reminded me that a lot of the frustrations, anxieties and general sentiments I had about transferring to Barnard were shared by many others. While no two transfer student stories are the same, I felt better knowing that I was not the only one who had gone through similar periods of uncertainty and doubt. As the season of college acceptance is upon us, I have been reflecting a lot about my time at Barnard and how my experience has been shaped by being a transfer student.

An everlasting adjustment

Having uncertainty and doubt may seem inconsistent with someone who has made the decision to completely change their plans for college by switching schools. Many transfer students, like myself, are absolutely positive that they want to change their paths and begin at a new institution that they know will be a better fit in comparison to their old one. I will never forget the initial excitement I had when I received my transfer acceptance letter, and I knew my decision was “YES!” right away. However, starting over at a new college is not an easy feat: I felt like I was back at square one, like I had to once again relive freshman year—except with a little more familiarity about college life. I was still very new to our school’s social climate, worried about how heavy my classes would be, what I would ultimately study and afraid of not being able to “catch up.” Luckily, a lot of those feelings eventually worked themselves out.

My first year at Barnard College was wonderful in many ways. I enjoyed my classes, felt challenged in a way that I had not felt at my previous university, and I spent the majority of my time studying what I really liked. I was immensely lucky that the majority of my credits from my old university transferred and counted towards requirements, which greatly alleviated any academic-related stress. Because my major is not particularly credit-intensive, I will be able to graduate on time and (potentially) with two minors as well. I also loved being in a new place, and the fact that this new place was New York City was incredible. However, the road to Bold and Beautiful was not always smooth: afraid that I would not receive housing and in an effort to save money, I decided to commute my first year at Barnard, which ended up taking an immense physical toll on me. Already behind on making friends, my inability to be as involved as I wanted to by joining clubs that met late at night made me feel like I was very much behind on the social curve. It became harder and harder to keep in touch with my old friends at my previous college, and, for a while, it felt like I did not have anyone super close to me that I could rely on. I tried my best to get involved, starting first by writing for on-campus publications that had less frequent meetings. Ultimately, my sophomore year became a year primarily of self-reflection, and involved figuring out and learning step-by-step all the things that everyone else already seemed to have ingrained, except I was on my own.

Sometimes, you will feel left behind…

There were plenty of things I wish I had known about my school before transferring, from knowing how to petition my courses for credit to little institution-specific attributes like which dining hall has the best food. Some of these things cannot be packed into one week of orientation, but orientation itself is always a bit of a surreal (and redundant) affair for transfer students. With so much focus on first-years, transfer students often feel like they are a secondary priority to the accepted class. While there are transfer-specific programs during orientation, more could be done to ensure that transfer students are given advice that is relevant to them, rather than just going through Freshman Orientation Part 2. The efforts to build a strong transfer community at Barnard are evident, but for students who live off campus, events and other initiatives may be difficult to take part in. Many transfer students like myself seek to feel accepted and integrated into the Barnard community, but also enjoy the potential community of other transfers, commuters and non-traditional students. It’s all about finding a happy middle ground between fitting into Barnard’s campus while also relating to others who have transferred, as well as having faculty and staff who support these students.

Realizing it was all worth it

Despite spending many long hours alone, walking into the wrong building one too many times, trying to figure out what Big Sub was and combating impostor syndrome, transferring to Barnard was one of the best decisions I have ever made. I am not here to speak on behalf of all transfer students, as there are certain aspects of my experience that I cannot take for granted. If my family’s financial situation had been different, for example, transferring may have never been an option for me, given that aid for transfers is not need-blind and is contingent on housing—which is not guaranteed. I was lucky enough to receive housing my junior year and currently am an RA for the residential transfer community, knowing how difficult starting at a new place can be.

Without transferring, I would have never been able to take part in the amazing opportunities I have had here, and I never would have felt nearly as much at home or as comfortable in being myself in comparison with my old college. Barnard has a rich history of accepting transfers; notable transfer students include Zora Neale Hurston and Margaret Mead, and across the nation a staggering 37 percent of college students change schools at least once within six years. If I could go back and change anything about my time so far at Barnard, I definitely wish I had taken advantage more of transfer-specific programs and activities, but I also hope that Barnard, as well as other colleges, will take into account the feedback of their transfer students in making sure they are supported. For anyone who will be starting a new college this upcoming fall, transferring can be daunting, but remember that you are following your goals and starting off on a new foot: take in all that you can, do not be afraid to jump in, but do not forget to also take time for yourself.