In college, every year can feel like a make or break moment. You want to start out strong — make a ton of friends, set up your dorm, get to know the campus and professors, figure out the best places to eat and go out, and so on. You want to have the time of your life! Me? I did all of that . . . and then changed schools at the start of my junior year. I left my friends, my apartment, and the university community I had spent the past two years getting acclimated to in favour of a new one, where I would have to repeat the same process all over again.
During the course of my sophomore year at a university in Canada, I made the agonizing decision to transfer schools at the end of that year and head back to New York, where I had grown up and my family lived. This was a decision motivated by multiple factors — namely a toxic social environment paired with less-than-inspiring academics. It was a heavy conclusion to make, but I was in an emotionally compromised place and had become a person I was no longer happy being. I had to do something.
While transferring schools can be hard, isolating, and lonely, it can also be the best decision you'll ever make. My life changed in ways that it wouldn't have had I stayed at my original school.
It would have been so easy to stay and continue on to graduation, my weekends a blur while chasing the next good time. Transferring schools would be hard, but I knew I had to try. After going through the headache of applying to college the first time, it can be a total pain to do it all over again. There's paperwork, applications, phone calls to admission offices, campus visits, etc. But never did I once regret the decision I made, because I knew that above all, I was doing the right thing for myself.
Transfer students are at an automatic disadvantage. We miss out on the friendship-building that freshmen enjoy and rely on. While there are orientation activities for transfer students, they usually only involve other transfer students, thus further isolating you from the rest of the student body. Making friends with established and tight-knit groups can feel scary and intimidating, but that doesn't mean it's impossible! You just have to really put yourself out there. I went to the club fair held in the first few weeks of the Fall semester and sought out activities and groups with similar interests to mine. I reconnected with people I had gone to middle school and high school with who were now my peers at university. I interned on a local congressional campaign my first semester and became friends with the people I was working with. I became a loyal attendee of the dance workout classes offered at the university health centre. Eventually, I got a car and a job. I was busy and fulfiled, and I felt more settled than I ever had at my old school.
While transferring schools can be hard, isolating, and lonely, it can also be the best decision you'll ever make. My life changed in ways that it wouldn't have had I stayed at my original school. I found new opportunities and networks that I didn't have access to prior. I removed myself from a highly distracting (and sometimes harmful) environment and did important work on myself, growing both as a learner and as a person overall. I don't know what would've happened had I not transferred schools, but I find peace and solace in the fact that I took that risk to chase better opportunities for myself. Without making those hard decisions, my life would likely have taken a different trajectory.
It's important to remember that we are never stuck — if something isn't working out or doesn't feel right, including your choice of university, there's no shame in seeking an alternative solution. It's brave and courageous to advocate for yourself and your well-being. Most of us only go to college once, and it's up to no one but yourself to make sure it's the experience you'd always hoped for. Do not stay in a situation that's not fulfiling you out of fear of the unknown. Be brave — you got this!