Adjusting to a new college or university can be difficult. Students who’ve enrolled at CC after attending another higher-education institution talk about why they made a move and what challenges they face.
After the rigorous process of trying to get into a college during senior year in high school, the last thing most students think about is starting the process all over again—especially if that school has a nationally, or globally, recognized name.
When junior Isobel McBride applied to Vassar, a small liberal arts college in New York, it was more than just the extreme selectivity of the school that drew her in—it was what she thought the school represented.
“Vassar was an all-girls school up until the 70s, giving it a strong feminist mentality,” McBride said. “It used to be a haven for the arts. Recently, Vassar has been trying to seek more mainstream candidates and heterosexualize their program.”
A third of all students in the country will transfer before graduating college, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education. So what encourages the switch?
According to the following transfer tales, the “brand-name” schools may not be all they are cracked up to be.
“As transfer coordinator and a transfer myself, many students who come are attracted to the collaborative learning style that CC offers,” Emily Anding, an alumna and CC staff member in the admissions office, said. “Some come from environments where they are talked at, rather than discussed with, and the one on one style of learning better fits many transfers.
For some, applying to college was a no-brainer. For others, it was one of the hardest decisions of their academic career.
Junior Nina Halty, who found herself at Williams College in the fall of 2011, then back at home attending a state school, and now at CC, has had a similar experience nomading the strange landscape of elite, liberal-arts schools.
“It was really competitive—I felt like I was working against the other kids in my class instead of working with them,” Halty said of Williams. “I was looking for a more communal feel.”
Coming from Florida, she was allured by the idea of a “little northeast liberal arts school.” She waited until spring semester of her freshman year to determine that the school, despite its name brand, “just wasn’t a good fit.”
Williams College has an acceptance rate of 17 percent, giving it the prestige of one of the top five liberal arts colleges in the U.S.—not exactly an easy thing to walk away from, according to Halty.
She took an entire year at home in Florida, attending a local school, to figure out what she wanted. It turned out CC was “just right.”
“When I say I go to CC, a lot of people say, ‘Don’t you mean UC Boulder.’ And I say ‘Well, no,’” Halty said. “It doesn’t matter what the name of your school is if you’re not enjoying your experience there.”
This year, CC also accepted two sophomore transfers from the Rhode Island School of Design, also known as RISD. Home to such notable alumni as Seth MacFarlane, James Franco, and the members of the Talking Heads, RISD is renowned for its successful alumni and networking.
Sophomore John Jennings found that RISD didn’t satisfy his need for a strong base in academia.
“I was unsure of myself the entire time I was there, but I decided to give it a full shot,” Jennings said. “I applied into their dual-enrollment program with Brown [and] didn’t get into that, but decided that if I was talented enough to get into a school like RISD, I’ll go with that.”
Sophomore Jackson Foster was similarly unsatisfied with RISD’s narrow program.
“Before even entering RISD, I knew I was going to leave,” Foster said. “My passions and interests changed so dramatically after that year that I knew that art was no longer something I wanted to study.”
Foster took a gap year after his senior year in high school to travel. On the agenda was a bicycle trip across the country, solo backpacking in the California Sierras, and a job at an orangutan orphanage in Indonesia.
“I educated myself on different forms of sustainability and health, and developed new passions that I hadn’t found during the conventional school curriculum,” Foster said.
Both of the RISD transfers, in addition to McBride and Halty, have found CC to be the community they were looking for.
“At Williams everyone would ask what you got on your last exam, where I feel like here that would be a faux paus—or just no one really even cares here,” Halty said. “In class, instead of figuring out what the professor wants to hear, it’s about coming to an idea together.”
“There was such a culture of happiness here whereas as at Vassar it was really cool to be narcissistic,” McBride said. “I liked the idea of going to a place far removed from the New York culture I wanted to leave behind.”
When transferring, finding the perfect school can be a satisfying, yet daunting experience—especially when leaving a college known for its prestigious academic program. McBride found the decision to leave difficult to bring up with her parents.
“A combination of the arts program and what I felt my parents, community wanted in terms of the brand-name college, the expectation of high-academics, was what drove me originally to the college,” McBride said. “I was so disillusioned by the brand-name after a while that it became more problematic than helpful.”
Along with “brand-name” colleges comes a certain sense of job security, especially with Vassar, Williams, and RISD.
It can be difficult to leave that behind, transfers say.
“I thought in terms of getting a job, having Vassar on your résumé would be good, but instead, it attracted a lot of people who were there for superficial reasons,” McBride said. “I didn’t feel free in the classroom to have raucous debates or get real with people. Abandoning that was really hard. I knew my parents would be really upset with me leaving Vassar and the schools I had chosen to apply to—but they knew I was unhappy. They were surprised I wanted to look at such ‘alternative’ schools.”
According to McBride, what it takes is courage—and a decision to start the college application process all over again.
“I think there’s a stigma against transferring; I think there’s a feeling of needing to make it work,” McBride said. “When you commit to something, you owe it to yourself; you made the decision. There’s this sense of throwing in the towel like you’re quitting. I think when you transfer you’re beginning again in a really courageous way.”
McBride spoke of senior friends at Vassar who deemed her “lucky” to get out while she could. Even professors said they were “sad” to see her leave, but knew why she was doing it.
“I think 90 percent of my friend group was unhappy there,” McBride said. “I don’t think I knew what I wanted before I went to Vassar. I didn’t really know what I needed until I didn’t have what I needed. Not having what I needed helped me to realize what I needed to help me make myself feel at home.”
Transfers say that choosing a new school can also be difficult because of the nature of finding a new friend group.
Though Jennings found the RISD student body more diverse than that of CC’s, he still finds himself in a welcoming community.
“I don’t have a full feel for CC yet,” Jennings said. “As a transfer, I think it’s a little bit harder to integrate into everything and find your space whereas at RISD it was provided for you.”
Though McBride, a junior, is far from her initial CC shock, she still remembers the contentment of finding her niche.
“I don’t think I knew what I wanted before I went to Vassar. I didn’t really know what I needed until I didn’t have what I needed,” McBride said. “Not having what I needed helped me to realize what I needed to help me make myself feel at home.”