Should I Transfer?
April 22, 2010 11:54 AM   Subscribe

Could I get some advice on whether to transfer?

I am a sophomore at a small LAC. I've applied as a transfer to a top university in my hometown, and although I have yet to receive anything regarding my admission, I've been deliberating over what I will do if I'm accepted. There are several issues tied up with this question, so this post may be on the long side.

My initial reason for transferring was because of loneliness. I've tried joining extracurriculars and I do have a small circle of friends (whom I've met through my roommate, because I'm a shy person), but I often feel like I can't socialize because my time is consumed with schoolwork. Minus my meals, the occasional weekend excursion, and the moments when I procrastinate on the Internet, I spend almost all of my time doing schoolwork, which I attribute to two factors:

a) I'm not the academic superstar I thought myself to be in high school, where I was really good at taking tests/regurgitating information/finding the answer in the textbook. College is of course a whole different level--I'm really not skilled at critical thinking, and I get anxious whenever I have to write a paper. One reason my work is so time-consuming is that I like to make sure I do all the readings (and because I'm not a very fast reader to begin with, I divide up my readings and start on them early) so I can be as well-prepared as possible whenever I have to write a paper. The few times that I had to write papers for high school taught me that writing the paper at 12:00 a.m. the morning it's due is not something that works for me. I need to have plenty of time to think about the subject matter, because I always fear that I won't meet the page minimum (even though I always inevitably do, I still find the entire process incredibly nerve-wracking). I'm taking a learning skills course to help me with my reading, but thus far I don't feel that my reading abilities have improved.

b) I have internalized my mother's stating in my earlier school days that I don't necessarily have to get A's, as long as I try my best (although my mother herself has always been extremely nitpicky about my getting good grades, but I won't get into that here). But I feel like I equate doing all my readings and thinking/fine-tuning (and therefore stressing about) a paper until it's due with doing my best. I don't even have any aspirations for schooling beyond undergrad (at least not right away), so it's not like getting an MA is what's motivating me. If my undergrad experience has taught me anything about myself, it's that I absolutely hate academia because of the way it eats up my time.

For an assignment last year, I remember attempting an experiment where I tried not to tweak a paper that I knew was my best work--but I just couldn't. A few years ago I developed OCD, and though I no longer have the same compulsion as I did before, I lately have wondered whether my obsessive dedication to school is just another manifestation of OCD.

Thus, I don't think the usual "Get out more/join an extracurricular activity!" advice would apply in my case. I initially thought it would, because in high school I went through a similar dilemma where all I did was schoolwork and joining a EC helped me enjoy high school so much more. But high school was different, because it wasn't so reading/writing intensive; I could do the work, be involved, and still do well in my classes. But the expectations for college are so much higher that I don't think I could achieve the same balance.

Though the lack of a strong support network has been the main source of my unhappiness, the school's location hasn't helped either--it's in a tiny town with awfully gloomy weather. So I'm wondering whether it would be better to transfer to the college in my hometown, where I would live with a sibling I'm very close to--I consider him to be one of my best friends. I know not living on campus would be social suicide, but considering the rather sad state of my social life at the moment, it wouldn't be too much of a change. I know college is a time to break away from your family and the comfort zone of your home, but I figure if I can't break myself of this behavior, then I might as well be in a place I like with people I love.

BUT there are some things that make me hesitate to transfer. One relates to the fact that I'm more than halfway done with getting enough credits for graduation. I've fulfilled the dreaded natural science requirements, so I'm pretty much free to take whatever classes I like. Additionally, I could have a fairly relaxed class schedule my senior year--which wouldn't be the case at the transfer school.

And it shames me to admit this, but I must say that one of the things that attracted me to this school was the fact that the courses in my major there don't seem to require any 15-page papers--one of which would be a research project that I would do during the month of January as a capstone project--like my current school would. I'm particularly worried about the capstone project; given the long time it takes me even to write a five page paper, I feel like a month and a week wouldn't be enough time for me to research and write. Part of me thinks I should stay here and face this anxiety/fear I have of writing papers longer than 5 or 7 pages. If I were to transfer, I would be taking the easy way out. But another part of me is resistant to making myself do something I don't want to do, and that probably won't affect my chances for success in the real world anyway (or would it? See, this is why I need input!)
posted by anonymous to Education (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I transferred for similar reasons and wound up regretting it. The reasons I wanted to transfer were kind of similar to yours - I was miserable, didn't have alot of friends. I also wanted to transfer because the school's meal plan and my finances were such that I was starving nearly all the time and it seemed like there was nothing I could do about it. These weren't good reasons to transfer, I found out. I was miserable for other reasons that didn't magically go away upon transferring, all brand new reasons for being miserable presented themselves, I now had zero friends instead of a few who at least pretended to like me, and even the food issue didn't really get better. Like you, I would have faced a primarily easy final two years along with a big final project. I also was on track for two useful double majors plus honors which I traded in for one useless one with no honors, although from a bigger, slightly more well-known school. But in my experience, people put more value on your degree than the place you got it from. Not worth it. If you say you're on track for an easy senior year taking classes you like, you might find that things start to get better. Writing that 15-page paper might be less stressful than you imagine because of the change in course load. And you might find that you have more time to socialize.

Long story short, my advice is to investigate and implement any possible thing that can make your time at your current college better - whether that's help with time management (you're still going to procrastinate at your new school), seeing a therapist (to help with the gloomy feelings), and having a good long chat with your advisor about your course load.
posted by amethysts at 12:08 PM on April 22, 2010

Adding to amethysts' to-dos in the list above: Have you ever tried studying with people? It's an excuse to hang out with someone new and build a friendship, could give you people to divide up important readings with, and better, to use as sounding boards when you are (all) trying to process the material for your papers, then serve as "dude, you need to edit this" and "leave it alone!!" support groups when the papers are nearly done.

Transferring IS the easy way out: same comfort zone as high school, spending more time in school because you lose credits... and at least you recognize it.
posted by whatzit at 12:44 PM on April 22, 2010

Oh hey, you're me. Sort of. I've also toyed with transferring from my small liberal arts college- but I've ultimately decided to stay, because I realized that leaving wouldn't make my problems go away. Like you, my problems are mostly procrastination and not doing as well in my classes as I'd like, and social issues. If I went somewhere else at this point, I'd have to start over and I'd be dragging these same problems along with me. My school also has significant benefits that ultimately outweigh most of the negatives for me.

A few thoughts: If you're working with the school's learning skills department (or whatever they call it), can you start now on coming up with a plan for writing that 15 page paper? In my experience, this kind of support is absolutely possible at a LAC- you are definitely not the first person to dread a major project like that and feel the need for some extra help.

It seems to me, also, that you seem to be more hampered by your anxiety over papers and readings than by your actual inability to do them. Getting counseling from your school's psych services and reevaluating your OCD is something you should be doing wherever you end up, to deal with this anxiety. If you're still struggling to handle the workload with psych support and learning services support, well, that might be the time to consider a new plan. Don't be afraid to make use of the resources that are available to you.

As for the social problems, are you actually unhappy with your social life, or do you feel like it's inadequate only in comparison to others? Your school sounds like mine, where everyone spends all of their time (minus meals and Friday and Saturday nights) doing work. If you think that everyone else has a dazzling social life, you're probably mistaken. For all of the people you see hanging out during the week, there are plenty more holed up in the library all day every day. Try and improve your social life, sure, but don't get caught up in meeting some impossible standard.

Ultimately, you only have two more years there, and then you can do whatever you want with your life. Make sure you consider that in your cost/benefit analysis. Finally, if you want to leave, do it, and remember that I'm you on the opposite side of deciding not to leave- I'm not an unbiased advisor.
posted by MadamM at 12:59 PM on April 22, 2010

I transferred from a small, religious school to a huge state school after my sophomore year and my only regret is that I didn't do it sooner. The following 2 and a half years (it cost me an extra semester b/c of major credits, etc.) were among the best in my life so far.

So there's that, just to cast off any notions that it's not worth it for just 2 years, etc.

As for your particular situation, nobody can know for sure what's best for you. You haven't made a lot of friends and you think the town is small and gloomy. That'd be enough for me to transfer, everything else being equal.

As for the OCD and your general fears about completing papers, I would strongly recommend therapy, of course. Those issues won't be cured by transferring or by not transferring, and they're making your life pretty unhappy. It seems to me that if you got your OCD under control, a 15 page paper should be manageable in 5 weeks. But better than that, you'd feel a lot less anxiety about it the whole time.

In conclusion, I'd focus on getting your OCD and any related issues under control, regardless of what you decide to do regarding transfer. But leaving a school you don't particularly like in a town you dislike for a school near your brother and best friend? That sounds like a no-brainer to me.
posted by callmejay at 1:23 PM on April 22, 2010

I can't give you concrete advice, just my own experience:

My first year at college - a liberal arts college in a small isolated town with a long harsh winter - was easily one of the worst and loneliest years of my life. I applied for transfer at two different schools: the university fifteen minutes from my family's house, which was familiar but not exciting, and a different liberal arts college that I'd figured I'd like better.

At the very last minute at the end of the semester, after we'd packed the car and the few friends I'd made gave me a goodbye card, I decided I'd stay. It wasn't out of affection for my school; it was out of the fear that I would repeat the past year at my new school. I didn't think I could handle heading out somewhere else to be disappointed and lonely all over again.

My decision was either cowardly or insightful. Maybe both.

The good news is that it got better. It didn't get fantastic, and I don't think it was the perfect school for me, and I don't have as much affection for my alma mater as many of my other former classmates, but it got much better, and I look back fondly on those three other years. I met new people, including some of the most wonderful friends I could hope for. I tried different things. I became more like myself, if that makes sense.

I have no idea what would have happened if I had gone forever. I might have thrived at Hometown U or Other College. I might have had an even worse time. I may have made the best decision of my life, or the worst decision. I couldn't tell you.

This is not to say that transferring is the wrong choice, or that it will get better if you stick around. Just that it can.

Also: if your college has any sort of mental health program, take advantage of it as soon as you can. Can't hurt.
posted by Metroid Baby at 2:14 PM on April 22, 2010

Just popping in to say that attending a larger university won't shield you from loneliness, friendlessness, and lack of a support network. Plenty of people at large universities deal with the exact problems you stated in your question, so definitely take that into account when you make your decision.

Also, in terms of your academics, do you go to office hours? If you really have nothing else on your agenda and you seem to be struggling so much through your studies, what's stopping you?
posted by tastycracker at 7:47 PM on April 23, 2010

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