Deciding Whether to Transfer
Deciding Whether to Transfer
Manuela Durson /

You’ve probably heard the phrase “college is the best four years of your life.” Perhaps you feel frustrated by it. There is no such phrase for two-year students or those in less than two-year programs, for example, but it can frustrate four-year students too. You may have spent a year or more researching and applying to a variety of schools, only to feel disappointed in your choice. Either way, if you’re not satisfied, something needs to change. By identifying the problem, you’re taking the first step to finding a solution. Then, you can make a genuine effort to improve your situation at your current school before diving into a transfer application.

College students often find that their first-choice schools aren’t what they anticipated. Maybe the school doesn’t offer the courses, extracurricular activities, or social environment needed for personal happiness and success. It’s not uncommon to have some doubts about a chosen college, especially at first. That said, most students make friends, warm up to campus life, and take on the academic challenge. For many others, doubts persist for months. These students, for many reasons, might consider a transfer. The following list examines some common reasons that a student might consider transferring, possible solutions to the problem, and when to say “enough is enough.”

I don’t feel challenged by my classes.

  • Solutions: Talk to your advisor. See if you can switch into higher-level courses, apply for an honors program, or create a program of self-study. Remember, general education requirements are designed to be easier than the advanced courses required for your major. Talk to upperclassmen to assess the academic rigor of your future schedule. You may have to be patient for a semester or two before moving into more intellectually stimulating work.
  • Breaking point: Consider a transfer if you feel like you have exhausted all of your academic resources and are still underwhelmed by your college’s offerings.

I am struggling to keep up with the work.

  • Solutions: If you are feeling overwhelmed and underqualified, remember that you had the credentials required to get accepted into the school. You deserve to be there. College professors expect more from you than your former high school teachers did, and it does take time to adjust to their standards. See if your school has a writing center, tutoring services, or study groups to assist you. Talk to your advisor about switching into lower-level courses that fill the same requirements. Consider dropping a class if you have too much on your plate, but make sure you do so before the school’s last day of withdrawal. You don’t want to get stuck paying for a class you’re not taking. Remember, you must also stay above half-time status to remain qualified for most financial aid awards.
  • Breaking point: When you feel like you are in over your head and have pursued all avenues of support, it’s time to search for an environment in which you will thrive.

My school doesn’t offer a strong program for my intended major.

  • Solutions: There are many components to a well-rounded college education: engaging professors, relevant coursework, school-facilitated internships, alumni networking opportunities, study abroad programs, and career counseling. Does your major’s department give you the majority of these but slack on others? Take advantage of the resources that are strong before writing off your school. If your college does not offer your intended major, consider pursuing a broader degree (e.g., psychology, English, biology, history) and specializing further in your next academic program. Research your career path and talk to professionals in the field. If it is necessary to earn your master’s, it may be better to have a strong foundation in a general program and supplement your education with internship and work experience.
  • Breaking point: Consider researching schools with stronger programs if your college has few resources to support your educational pursuits and a graduate degree is unattainable or unnecessary for your intended career.

I haven’t found a friend group.

  • Solutions: If it is taking longer than expected to find a community of students who share your interests, speed up the process by joining a club, organization, or team. Check the student center bulletin board for new member meetings, auditions, tryouts, potlucks, film screenings, or workshops. Search your school’s website for a full list of student activities and email the coordinators about the ones that interest you. Don’t give up if the first activity wasn’t a great fit. It might take more than one attempt before you find a place where you feel comfortable. Engaging in student life on campus can help you get out of a funk caused by too much isolation. Staying busy can fight homesickness.
  • Breaking point: If you feel like you’ve given it your best effort and still haven’t found a community in which you feel welcome, consider a transfer.

I don’t like the social scene.

  • Solutions: Partying on weekends is not your only option for social engagement. If you are uncomfortable by your school’s drinking culture or feel like there aren’t enough parties to attend, consider the alternatives. Go see a student show or basketball game. Meet friends at a coffee shop or movie theater. Look at flyers around campus to see if any student groups are hosting themed dances, comedy shows, writing workshops, multicultural festivals, game nights, or networking events. Head off campus and search for local festivals, restaurants, trails, performance venues, or stores in your city or town.
  • Breaking point: If you have tried your best to branch out and still find that you are spending your weekends in your dorm room, traveling home, or talking to friends on the phone, you may need to find a school that is a better social fit.

I want to spend more time with my long-distance significant other.

  • Solutions: It’s hard to be away from your romantic partner for the first time, but this is a chance for each of you to grow on your own. Long-distance relationships are tough, but with trust and routine (e.g., a Skype date every Thursday evening), they can work out. That said, you don’t want to neglect your social life or your homework because you are too busy pining over your mate. Your significant other should want you to succeed and give you the support needed to do so in your current environment.
  • Breaking point: If your partner is begging you to move back home, question your relationship before you question your school.

I am unhappy with the campus environment.

  • Solutions: Perhaps the weather, your school’s location, the bland campus architecture, your dorm life, or the out-of-date facilities are bringing you down. Before you give up on your school or drive home every weekend, consider a break from campus without transferring. You might decide to study abroad, which allows you to earn credit in another country while immersing yourself in a new culture and climate. If that doesn’t appeal to you, seek solace in other ways. Find a spot on campus that makes you happy and visit it every day. Make the best of your roommate and housing situation. If necessary, talk to your RA about moving rooms. If your housing placement is not the issue, try to find a club that plans off-campus weekend trips or volunteer excursions. You and a few friends could take the initiative to organize a trip yourselves. Carpool or take a bus or train to a campground or city nearby. A change in routine might be all it takes to get you out of your funk.
  • Breaking point: Are you sure that it’s your campus that is contributing to a lack of motivation, depression, or anxiety? If you feel like all efforts to improve your environment or perspective are futile, consider looking for a school that makes you feel at home.

I want to be closer to home.

  • Solutions: College is a great time to develop your independence, but it takes time to adjust to the distance from family and friends. Most freshmen experience homesickness, but many find that it dissipates once they begin to make friends, engage in extracurricular activities, and take part in social events. Remain connected to friends and family by scheduling weekly Skype sessions and phone calls, but try not to contact them every day. You do not want to rely on their emotional support so much that you do not make an effort to engage with your campus community. Consider picking up a pen and writing an old-fashioned letter to someone you love to share a bit of your life with them. Maybe you start a blog or send a newsletter to loved ones to help you focus on the positive things you are experiencing away from home. It’s also important not to mistake the stress of a long-distance relationship with a true crisis.
  • Breaking point: Life is unpredictable, and real family emergencies do happen. If someone in your family becomes critically ill or you experience a family tragedy, it’s natural to want to find a school closer to home. Your school may be willing to work with you, however. Before you consider dropping everything and transferring, talk to a counselor about taking a leave of absence. You may get a specific amount of time off to spend with your family and recover without many negative consequences.

I am not taking care of my body.

  • Solutions: Take an inventory of your health and question whether your perception of college is related. You are not alone if you are among the students who stop exercising in college, take advantage of all-you-can-eat buffets and fast food selections on campus, or skip meals altogether. While it’s normal to fluctuate weight in college, it becomes a problem when you don’t feel healthy and energetic. If you find yourself feeling down and unmotivated, consider your diet, exercise routine, and sleep schedule. Join a sports team, start biking or walking to campus, or participate in a yoga or kickboxing class on the quad. Buy healthy snacks for your dorm room, and vow to have at least three balanced meals a day. Make an effort to go to bed and wake up at the same time throughout the week. Small, healthy adjustments to your lifestyle may brighten your perspective on college.
  • Breaking point: If you feel like the atmosphere of your college is preventing you from staying well in any way, consider moving to a healthier, more balanced college campus.

I need emotional support.

  • Solutions: College is usually a stressful time for students who are far from home and inundated with coursework. It’s important to have someone to talk to when you start feeling overwhelmed. While friends and family back home are always there to listen, it might be hard for them to understand what you are experiencing without being there. When you need to talk, consider asking your roommate or a friend in your English class to lend an ear over a cup of coffee. If you find you are having a hard time reaching out to a peer, try making an appointment at your school’s counseling center. Most schools have many mental health resources on campus. Maintaining your emotional health is essential to your success in college.
  • Breaking point: If you don’t believe your school has the community or resources to support you during tough times, look for a place that does.

When you have made all efforts to improve your academic and social circumstances at your current college, you may want to begin your college search once again. Transferring can be a long and arduous process, often creating financial and emotional stress. You will need to determine if switching to another school will be worth the time investment and another adjustment period. Will a new college be significantly better than your current one? You won’t know until you start researching and networking on other campuses, but it is possible to find a better match. In the meantime, you will need to do everything in your power to become a competitive applicant.

Page last updated: 05/2019