For most Boston College students, April is the month of Marathon Monday, of long-awaited spring weather, and of desperately trying to keep those GPAs afloat. But for a contingent of freshmen, there is more at stake than which marathon shirt or fanny pack to invest in. For this group, April is crunch time for making an important decision: to transfer or not to transfer.
The transition to college is a little rocky for everyone. Students go from being whatever they wanted to be in high school—student council president, team captain, yearbook editor—to being rejected from community service opportunities. They leave behind the friends that they’ve had since they were in diapers and try to find new people that measure up to those they left behind. And they do all of this without having had a decent home-cooked meal in weeks.
Everyone hits their rough patches, and many may even question if they are where they’re supposed to be. Elizabeth Bracher, interim director of First Year Experience, meets with many freshmen who are considering a transfer. The first thing she tells them is that being unsure if you’re in the right place is very typical of freshman year.
“I think it’s a really normal question to ask yourself. ‘Am I happy here?’ I think BC students want to love BC because BC students and alumni love BC,” she says.
Looking around at other BC students, and at their friends from home, questioning freshmen see everyone else having a great time, and they begin to wonder if they’re in the wrong place. Especially considering the high price tag of a BC education, they begin to worry about whether they love it enough to make the sacrifice truly worth it.
Their self-imposed silence makes the transfer considerations all the more difficult. In Bracher’s experience, students are reluctant to talk about the fact that they’re not having the time of their life, or that they may have some doubts. Her job is to help them unpack those feelings and work through them.
“Will your experience at BC help you be your best self?” is the question Bracher uses to fuel the conversations she has with potential transfer students. The logistics will come later, but first it’s about discerning where a student will truly be able to flourish. The answer comes by working through students’ muddled feelings toward BC so far, toward their friends so far, and toward their involvement so far.
The first thing Bracher says students often tell her is that they like BC, but don’t love it yet. “Yet” is the key term to Bracher here. She likens starting college to going on a first date. Rarely, if ever, do you fall in love on a first date. That feeling may come with time, however. It is perfectly normal not to be in love with something immediately.
“It takes time,” she says. As BC helps you grow, and as you find your niche at the school, you may grow into the love that you see other people have for their school.
Another common concern for freshmen considering a transfer is that they have friends, but they just don’t seem to compare to their friends in high school. The important thing to remember about early friendships is that this too is normal.
Bracher reminds students that the last time most freshmen really had to make friends, they could do so on the swing set or in the sandbox. They have had the same friends for a very long time, and friends a student has had for a few weeks just aren’t comparable to those lifelong friends yet.
After these two aspects have been unpacked, if a student is still inclined to transfer, Bracher encourages them to remain involved at BC. Although it is difficult to be looking elsewhere and staying present, she encourages them to try to get into the culture.
“Start to engage in the larger life of Boston College,” she advises the students who meet with her. Go to a club meeting, get lunch with someone you don’t know so well, and take advantage of all that BC has to offer while you think the decision over. That is, after all, why many people came here in the first place. After they’ve become involved and really thought about their experience, many won’t even apply elsewhere.
But a portion of students will proceed with the transfer. Claire Marvin, Carolyn Müller, and Michelle Wu are three sophomore transfer students who went to west coast schools before deciding to transfer to BC.
Marvin went into her freshman year believing there was a good chance she would transfer. For Müller and Wu, once they arrived at their respective schools they just realized they weren’t a good fit.
“I found out the environment wasn’t really for me,” Wu says of her decision to transfer, and Müller agrees that that was the case for her as well. “This is not the place for me,” is her summary of her thought process in making her decision.
For Müller in particular, she found that the west coast culture was too different from her New England background, and it just wasn’t a “good fit” for her personality.
Wu intended to “stick it out,” but found the community of her school to be far different than she imagined going in. It was a school with many commuters, and a big school, and she found that it didn’t match up with what she wanted or expected. In both cases, they found themselves less than satisfied with their college experiences and began actively pursuing a transfer.
When asked about the transfer process and decision making itself, the girls emphasize how difficult and emotionally taxing it can be. “It’s tough. It’s emotionally very tough,” Marvin says of her experience. “It’s a very guilty feeling, even if you’re doing it for the right reasons.”
“You feel like you’re leaving your friends," says Müller. "You feel like you’re not giving it a good shot."
These feelings of guilt are echoed by all three girls. They felt like they were, in a sense, betraying their friends, professors, and schools by deciding that they would be happier at another school. They describe the topic of transferring as “taboo,” or even “embarrassing,” and admit that they didn’t tell any of their friends until they absolutely had to.
Bracher describes this as her experience with students as well. Potential transfers often don’t tell their friends they’re applying elsewhere because they don’t want to offend anyone, and they don’t want their friends to ditch them in search of friends who will be around for the long haul.
Based on their own difficult experiences of coping with feelings of guilt and isolation from their peers as they grappled with this big decision, they all insist on the importance of being really serious about the decision to transfer before you put yourself through it.
“I feel like people are like ‘oh this isn’t as great as I thought it would be, time to leave,’ which I don’t think is a good reason for leaving,” Marvin says, a proponent of really thinking over the decision before you commit. “Yes, I do think people transfer for the wrong reasons sometimes,” Müller agrees.
Both of these statements line up with Bracher’s experience of students coming in expecting to be in love with the school, and then finding out that not everything is as perfect as they may have imagined it to be right off the bat. She too emphasizes the importance of really weighing your options and unpacking how you feel before you make the big decision.
“When it comes to transferring, you need to know what you’re running to instead of what you’re running from,” Bracher says.
After serious consideration, the three girls knew what they were running to.
“I was complacent there and I had great friends… but in the back of my mind I was like, 'This could be better.' I didn’t want to settle,” Marvin says of her own decision to leave California and come to Boston. “BC was always my dream school. I just ended up falling in love with it.”
All three girls cite school spirit as an attractive feature of BC, as well as its proximity to the city. Müller was also drawn to the Jesuit tradition, and Wu and Marvin were both excited about being a part of CSOM. It is clear that they knew what was important and they found it at BC. They stress the importance of this process of consideration to anyone who is contemplating a transfer.
“Really evaluate what you don’t like about the school, and be real with yourself about the schools you’re looking at,” Müller advises. “Every school has pros and cons, so when you transfer there will be things you don’t like about that school.”
Bracher further advises any student who is considering a transfer to talk to people that can help them make the decision. FYE, RAs, University Counseling Services, professors, upperclassmen, and academic advisors are all important resources to take advantage of.
"More than ever, students need a mentor in college. And the mentor can’t be your peer," says Bracher. "A mentor is someone that has more experience than you."
Although the process of finding a mentor, or even talking to a professor, can be daunting for a first year student, Bracher insists it should be a priority of freshman year. Faculty, she reminds us, are here to help students. “We love students,” she says. “What gets us up in the morning is the opportunity to shape a student’s life. And so let us do it.”
Finally, both the transfer students and Bracher stress the importance of eliminating the stigma surrounding the transfer process. There is no shame in realizing that a school isn’t for you as long as you’ve thought carefully about the decision.
“Don’t be ashamed, don’t feel like there’s something wrong with you,” Marvin says. “If you know that’s right for you, then don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.”