For this post, I conducted a series of interviews with current transfer students about what it feels like to go through the transfer process. As a transfer student myself, I was frustrated at the beginning of last year with how little acknowledgement transfer students got. It is hard to enter a small, insular college after a year or two somewhere else, and even harder when almost no one acknowledges that you are in a vulnerable position as a second or third year new student. So I wanted to do this project to highlight some transfer student voices, and provide prospective or incoming transfer students with advice and commiseration about the process.
Here are four interviews, which I've edited to 2-3 minutes from conversations that were originally more like 10-15 minutes. These students were very honest with me about the transfer process, and several of them had tough transitions. But please, if you are a prospective or incoming student, bear in mind that each transfer student's experience is different--I have heard transfers say that it took them one month, one semester, or one year to feel like an integrated part of the Oberlin student body. If you are serious about transferring, my hope is that hearing these transfers talk about their struggles adjusting to a new school will not deter you from making the decision, but rather give you insight and support into the process you are about to go through.
If you are thinking about transferring and don't know what to make of these interviews, let me break them down for you a bit. Here are some observations and words of advice that I have compiled from the full interviews, as well as from my own experience. However, I want to reiterate that every student's experience is different. While these are things that I and others I know experienced, there are many factors that will affect how you transition from one school to another.
First, some uncomfortable feelings that transfers often experience:
The feeling of having to prove yourself academically or socially.
The feeling that people aren't interested in becoming friends because their social circles are so well established that they simply don't need to meet more people.
The feeling of being out of place, of getting to a school that is theoretically better for you than your previous institution but where you are not yet plugged in to the social and academic circles that fit you.
Second, some advice about how to move from feeling uncomfortable to feeling like an integrated part of the Oberlin community:
Don't beat yourself up about feeling uncomfortable at the beginning. Several transfers who I talked to said they would advise themselves upon entering Oberlin to just "chill out." As Max said, feeling uncomfortable is an inherent part of being in a new place.
Think carefully before deciding to live in transfer hall. All students I interviewed did not recommend it, saying that it enforced the idea that they were "transfers," that they were somehow "other" on this campus. Also, look up transfer hall on a map: it is in North, which is located near the gym and the athletics fields, and not at all central to campus. The combination of these factors made the living situation feel isolating to the students who I talked to.
Strongly consider joining a Co-op. Co-ops are certainly not for everyone (you have to put 4-5 hours of work in a week, and most meals are vegetarian), but they are instant communities of students. At the beginning of the semester, there will be friend groups within a Co-op but also definitely students who don't know each other, so being a transfer student who has few acquaintances will not make you feel as out of place. Furthermore, because Co-ops are set up so you cook, clean, and eat food together, there are many situations where you meet new people and bond over things like eating salad with two knives because all the forks have disappeared, or trying to cook pizza without cheese because the delivery never came (this happened to me last weekend...).
Work to put yourself in any situation where you can meet new people with common interests, like clubs, intramural sports, and excos. It is exhausting to try to break into a social scene that is already somewhat established, but I can assure you that it is not as exclusive as it seems. My own personal words of advice: people at Oberlin are awkward! They are shy! If someone is not being friendly to you, don't assume it is because they just aren't interested in getting to know you. I had many experiences where I thought people weren't interested in getting to know me because I was a transfer student, and then became friends with them later and learned it was their shyness, as much as mine, that made them come off that way.
And finally, the rewards of being a transfer student:
Because you started out at a different institution, you can compare it with Oberlin. If you are happier with Oberlin than your previous school, even if there are some things that you don't like here (and there will be, no school is perfect), you know that there are specific reasons you chose Oberlin and you won't take the school for granted.
The process of applying to transfer, getting into a new school, and successfully adjusting to that new school can be pretty empowering. Personally, I was wait-listed at Oberlin the first time around. Knowing that I was able to work hard to make changes in my life--do a year at another school, reapply, successfully get in--made me more confident in myself and my ability to make decisions.