To Transfer or Not to Transfer? That is the Question for Unhappy College Co-ed

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It is hard for any of us, much less a confused, unhappy nineteen year old, to sift through the many truths of life for clarity.  Such is the challenge for Emily, who thinks she wants to transfer.  She knows that she is not a happy college freshman, but can’t say for sure why.  Is it her college?  The program?  The size of the school (small)?  The other kids who go there?  The distance from home?  The distance from her boyfriend?  Or is she just in a personal valley?

Emily is trying to parse out the elements, separate one fact (she doesn’t like the intensity of the business focus) from another (she finds the social life boring).  But things are complicated – and even from a distance, and being inclined to strong opinions, we can’t help her distill the one factor to hang her unhappy hat on.

So, while she works hard to maintain her grades, and do all the other things new undergrads do (sorority, part-time job, making new friends, staying up late), she has decided to look at transfer options, and get her applications in by March 1.  This means another Common App., supplemental essays for schools that require them, or that don’t accept the Common App. for transfers, requests for transcripts (from her high school and college), Dean’s Reports, Professor’s Reports, campus visits, and more anxiety.  And all the while, she needs to keep her mind and heart open to the very real option of staying put, not transferring.

About 1/3 of all college students transfer; many from community colleges to 4 year colleges, but many from one 4 year college to another.  If you are a freshman looking to transfer, two things are true:  you probably won’t get into Harvard this year if you didn’t last year, and you’d better have done really well in your freshman studies.  Additionally, you will need allies:  most importantly, you will need the support of family and friends, but almost as importantly, you will need some college professors who will write letters of recommendation for you.  You have to show the colleges you are applying to why they want you, and that your misplacement could not have been predicted.  “I’m not happy” does not make a college want you.

We’ve encouraged Emily to develop two short lists, one for the “Stay” plan and one for the “Go” plan.  Luckily, there is some overlap:  get involved in whatever interests you; do your very best at school; work hard to make friends, or improve the friendships you’ve started; find an advisor, and talk to him or her.  We don’t know which way things will go for Emily, and it is really hard to watch her be unhappy.  But we do hope and believe that this process will make her stronger, and if she learns how to solve her own unhappiness, she will have mastered one of the greatest truths of life.  Noone else can do that for you.

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  1. Painful! I had the same problem. Ultimately, I switched schools and, to this day (20 years later), am not sure I made the right decision. Good luck to Emily.

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