I think I went to the wrong college. Am I stuck?
January 14, 2011 9:48 AM   Subscribe

College filter: I think I went to the wrong college. What do I do now?

Long story short I am currently a junior. I am going to school for computer science - specifically the software engineering concentration. It's a big university in Chicago called DePaul.

The trouble is that I go to a huge school on the quarter system, and I no longer feel that the school is a fit for me personally. There was a time where I felt differently, but now in my junior year, I am really not having a good time here. I feel like some of the classes I am taking for my major are an incredible waste of time and money, and it is increasingly difficult to get anything out of my classes when the quarter is only 10 weeks long. In some ways I feel that the education I am getting is substandard.

I've had thoughts of switching majors, but I enjoy programming, I think more than anything else I would just like to try other things and not switch majors. If my school offered Electrical Engineering I think I would have seriously considered transferring to that a long time ago.

My question is, what are my options? I am almost mid way through my junior year and just randomly going somewhere else doesn't seem to make sense, but at the same time I'm really not feeling great about where I am right now. I think the only other place I would be interested in going would be IIT, possibly studying EE or CS there. I'm feeling a little trapped. I've made some good friends and I am not good at starting over.
posted by mister-m to Education (21 answers total)
You're more than 1/2 way though your junior year, right? Just keep going, apply yourself, and finish. Maybe the college isn't a great fit for you, but you're really, truly almost done and when you're gone, you'll get a CS job and where you went to school won't matter.
posted by The Michael The at 9:51 AM on January 14, 2011

I never regretted transferring. If you have to take an extra semester or an extra year, so be it. Most of your credits should be transferrable. Maybe plan on using your spring break to visit other schools.
posted by Ys at 9:52 AM on January 14, 2011

First, how are your grades? If they're awesome, you could definitely try trading up to a more highly-ranked school. Pick your favorite professors and ask them where the best schools for your interests are and apply for a transfer.

Second, you need to decide whether staying with your friends or going to a school that fits you better is more important. If you're not good at starting over, it might be a good idea to get some practice at it by transferring. It's a useful skill to have in a mobile job market.
posted by hazyjane at 9:56 AM on January 14, 2011

The thing I would say is I think almost everyone at some point questions their choice of college. You need to really think hard about whether at this point you're going to find a school significantly better in your major. Some of these problems, like:

I feel like some of the classes I am taking for my major are an incredible waste of time and money

are likely problems at almost ANY school, not just yours. You need to think if these are really problems specific to your school or just "college" in general. The quarter system that you refer to is obviously more a specific issue, and only you can decide if that is a deal breaker.

If you're looking for variety, consult with your adviser. There is nothing stopping you from auditing classes in other areas of interest, or adding a minor. If not within your school, look outside it. You've come a long way and if you need to determine if these feelings are passing or passable or truly irreconcilable. You are only a year and a half away from grad school where you can make a major change, or go out into the work force.

Good luck.
posted by the foreground at 9:57 AM on January 14, 2011

Make an appointment with someone over at IIT and see what they have to say. You might start with someone in the EE or CS department, or just an admissions counselor. Bring a copy of your transcript, and see what it would take to transfer.

Having that information would make it easier for you to make a decision of whether to just stick it out or to transfer.
posted by CathyG at 9:57 AM on January 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

What are the transfer application dates for the other schools you're considering? If they take applications in December along with freshman applicants, it makes it hard, because you might have to wait until next December. At that point, you might as well just finish out at DePaul.

If you know you're interested in IIT, it can't hurt to give them a call and find out about their deadlines.

Also, I don't know the geography of your area well, but is there another school nearby where you could take a few EE electives, and count the credit toward your degree at DePaul? A lot of colleges have agreements like this with others nearby, and it has the advantage that you wouldn't have to leave your friends or start over completely.
posted by pompelmo at 10:01 AM on January 14, 2011

If there are other schools nearby that you think you might like better (maybe U Chicago?), and it's not prohibitively expensive, go ahead and apply as a transfer student. If you're accepted, you can find out how your credits would transfer, and think carefully about what you want to do. You may choose to stay at DePaul to finish your studies, but you won't be left wondering whether or not you could have transferred to the school of your choice.
posted by abirae at 10:17 AM on January 14, 2011

Re: quarters. I teach at a semester-based school and it is a huge problem getting people to come to class or do any work after about week nine (spring or fall break). IMHO they are not learning any more in a 14-week semester than you are in a 10-week quarter. Just something to keep in mind.
posted by philokalia at 10:24 AM on January 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Just keep going, apply yourself, and finish.

I did this, and I regret it. If you can, go now. Find a way to stay friends with your friends, or don't.
posted by amtho at 10:30 AM on January 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Semester systems don't give you that much more time per term. I don't know how well this generalizes, but at the University of Washington we had three 10 week terms, but at Michigan we had two 13ish week terms. At the end of the day, there was actually more class per year on the quarter system. I suspect that it's a "grass is greener" issue at the moment — I actually preferred the quarter system, as it gave me a chance to take a few more interesting electives than I could do in semesters.

However, that does nothing to help you solve your problems. It sounds like you might really enjoy doing undergraduate research, as it would give you a chance to work in a focused manner on an interesting problem and not have any particular time limits to the learning process. Being in software engineering is probably a boon, too, since you probably could work on either pure or applied projects, and applied software engineering is part of a great many projects. There are lots of places to find out about how to get involved, but the easiest is to just walk up to a professor that you kinda know and kinda like and ask about it after class.
posted by Schismatic at 10:32 AM on January 14, 2011

I feel like some of the classes I am taking for my major are an incredible waste of time and money

One of the issues that transfer students face is making their list of credits fit the list of requirements of the school they transfer into, and it's fairly common that a transfer student has to take a few unexpected courses that aren't really on their "most desirable" list, just because University A asks for 9 hours of humanities and University B asks for 10, or there are certain required classes University B won't accept transfer credit for, or whatever. While you're looking into transfer options, be sure you consider what classes you will end up taking, and how much of an improvement it is.

While most transfer students are anecdotally satisfied with their decision immediately and after the fact, it's also true that 5 years later it won't really matter what classes you took or (excepting a major status difference, and I'm not in software engineering or familiar with what people think of IIT) what university granted your degree.

Despite the fact that this sounds discouraging, I'd actually recommend that you look into transferring. Look into it really really thoroughly. You shouldn't be satisfied until you have all the plusses and all the minuses and can make an informed decision.
posted by aimedwander at 10:34 AM on January 14, 2011

UIUC has a very good, well-respected EE/CS department. If you're in-state I'm sure it would be a good option for you, and it's probably not so hard to imagine keeping whatever contacts you have, since you'd only be going 2 hours away.
posted by thewumpusisdead at 10:34 AM on January 14, 2011

You're essentially almost done. Finish, get good grades. And then go get your master's in the perfect subject at the perfect school.
posted by iguanapolitico at 10:48 AM on January 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Can you cross-register at any other schools? That would give you a good way to try out or take advantage of other nearby schools at no additional cost.
posted by espertus at 10:53 AM on January 14, 2011

I'm feeling a little trapped. I've made some good friends and I am not good at starting over.

They'll probably say, "Oh man, you're transferring? Well, shit, let's keep in touch."

The really good friends are the ones who will say that and mean it — who will keep on sending email and IMs and whatever, and stop by your new neighborhood every once every week or two, and generally make an effort to keep things going.

Odds are you have a few really good friends of that sort. If you meet them halfway — keep sending them email and IMs, stop by their neighborhood once in a while — you won't really be starting over at all: just branching out.
posted by nebulawindphone at 10:54 AM on January 14, 2011

If you're in the middle of your junior year, it probably doesn't make sense for you to transfer. Most schools require transfers to complete at least two years/ four semesters at their school in order to get a degree, regardless of how many credits you transfer in with. That means you'd end up repeating at least a semester-- probably more than one because it's rare for all credits to transfer to a new school. Also, you may have missed the deadlines to apply to transfer for the 2011-2012 school year (they're usually in November or December for selective colleges).

A better alternative might be to look into "visiting year" programs. Almost all colleges have these; they allow students to enroll full-time for a year without transferring, and the new school can help you coordinate with your current school to make sure that you still meet all your graduation requirements. One warning on visiting programs: I know of none that offer financial aid.

I transferred colleges and-- like many transfers-- view it as a key life decision. That said, it was a lot of work and a not-entirely smooth transition. I generally tell people that transferring is only worthwhile if you're truly miserable, your academic plans have changed radically, or if you have the chance to attend an extraordinary school.

Bottom line: a year and a half is not a long time and college is not the be-all-end-all. Your energy is better spent gearing up for your job search/ gaining work experience than second-guessing your choice of schools.

Good luck!
posted by Sifleandollie at 11:05 AM on January 14, 2011

I feel like some of the classes I am taking for my major are an incredible waste of time and money

This is true of most post-secondary institutions.

Besides, if you transfer, School #2 probably won't accept all your credits, and you'll probably have to take even more stupid, useless, waste-of-time courses to make up for it.

Just stick with school #1 until graduation.

HOWEVER! Does your school have an international exchange program? You'd be wasting a bunch more money, but you'd at least be getting off campus.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:09 AM on January 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

If I were in your situation, here's what I would do:
1. Begin researching transferring now. Try to pinpoint exactly what it is that is making you feel dissatisfied and see whether these issues will be addressed by going to another institution. It might be your current school, or maybe you're just unsatisfied with the way undergraduate classes are run in general. I would talk to as many people as possible. The reason why I say do this now is because the deadline to transfer might be soon, or have passed already. If you can still apply, and you still want to, I would just apply. It takes time for your to be accepted and to begin at the other school. You'll still have time to make the decision of whether you want to leave or not after you send your application (unless money is an issue...in that case, I would think more carefully).

2. Research into ways to improve your current situation. This will be helpful if the deadline has passed or you're not accepted. Even if you apply and are accepted, you'll have time to improve your current situation, making you happier in the present, and when the time comes, you might decide you don't want to leave (I had a friend apply to transfer, only to turn it down later because she realized that changes that took place in her life made her want to stay). It could be that what will make you happy is getting involved in long-term projects, like joining a project team or doing undergraduate research with a professor.

3. If your friends are worth considering staying at a place that makes you miserable, than they should be worth putting in effort to keep in touch with (and they should be doing the same for you). I wouldn't worry too much about this. It doesn't seem like you'll be going far. People move all the time and make new friends. You'll be this anyway in about a year at your graduation.
posted by lacedcoffee at 11:12 AM on January 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

Considering that you have three semesters left to go (or I suppose 6 quarters?), I would consider this heavily before doing anything rash.

One thing that strikes me is that it's hard to tell what the root of your feelings is. Is it that you don't think the school is a good fit, like, personally (e.g. you feel you're missing out on the Big State School experience, or you regret not going to a small liberal arts school, or the like)? Is it that you're not having fun, socially? Is it that you're not happy in your academic program? Is it that you're paying too much and aren't sure the school is worth all this money? Because those are all really different reasons not to be happy at a university.

If the reason you're unhappy is that the school "isn't the right school for you" or whatever - stay. This is an education, not a marriage. If you feel that you'll always regret not getting to have X experience because your school didn't offer it or the culture of your school was different, well, it's sort of too late for that. You will always regret things you didn't do, the road not taken, etc. No reason to disrupt your education over it.

If the reason you're unhappy is that you're not socially fulfilled - stay. You're almost done. Soon you'll be out in the world making new friends. Don't put your education in jeopardy for the sake of cooler parties.

If you're not happy in your academic program, that could be a reason to make a change. But before you decide to transfer, you should consider changing your major or shifting into a different specialty within the same school. As a junior, you've presumably already put in a lot of the coursework. Maybe a minor would make you happy? Or could you choose a thesis project that enabled you to stretch your wings a little? I transferred schools (after freshman year) because I wasn't happy with my major. In hindsight, this was sort of a dumb reason to transfer, because there were definitely other things I could have majored in at the original school.

But, OK, let's say you are absolutely miserable, academically, and know you will NEVER use this stuff career-wise. And that you definitely want to do some other specific thing with your life that requires undergrad coursework you can't get at DePaul. Then maybe you should think about transferring. Maybe.

If you can't afford the school, that's probably the best reason to transfer. Though it seems that you're still going to be carrying three years worth of student debt no matter what you do.
posted by Sara C. at 2:10 PM on January 14, 2011

I agree with the "research your options and what transferring entails" crowd.
Also, make sure you like the overall student vibe of the prospective college.
I made the mistake of transferring to a party school, and soon grew sick of the kids who came in to class hungover mid-week. I only lasted one semester.
posted by luckynerd at 3:14 PM on January 14, 2011

Transfer! It'll be a good experience. Lucky for you, you are an Illinois resident so you can get resident tuition rates at Illinois' universities. In particular, UIUC has an excellent CS/EE/CompE program.
posted by chairface at 4:23 PM on January 14, 2011

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