Thoughts on Transferring

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Attention current college students: Have you ever thought about transferring?

I was a transfer student, so I know a bit about the topic. There are multiple reasons to consider transferring and I thought I would take a look at some of them today.

The urge to transfer can strike suddenly or it can take a longer time to manifest. In my case, it had a lot to do with lack of direction and focus, and perhaps a lack of maturity.

I went straight from high school to a small liberal arts college. My freshman year was exciting. I had been recruited for tennis and experienced the sport on a well-organized and highly competitive collegiate level. I liked that a lot. Social life was a big positive too, since I got along well with the dorm residents and my roommate. I wasn't a frat boy but found lots of entertaining non-Greek things to do.

The problem was curriculum, not grades -- a nagging feeling that I wasn't pursuing the best-fit educational direction. For lack of a better choice, I designated Business Administration as my major. Even though freshman year should be mainly about distribution requirements, I ended up in a yearlong accounting course that was more irritating to me than sitting on a thumbtack.

As I've said here many times before, I'm not a numbers guy; I'm a word guy. This became painfully apparent during freshman year as I struggled to balance my accounting sheets. I sailed through my other classes' writing assignments with A's. I knew something wasn't right, but kept going with the flow out of consideration for my parents' investment in my higher education and the old “all my friends are doing this" rationalization.

I finished freshman year with a 3.0 GPA, not bad, but certainly not great. Had it not been for those UNbalanced sheets that plagued me, I might have made the Dean's List, but that was angst under the bridge. So I headed home in early June, having already made my plans for sophomore year, but as rode in the car with my parents, I had a strong feeling of being unsettled about my future.

Slow-Growing Transfer Urge

This was the second kind of transfer urge: The slow-growing kind. The seed had been planted by my ambivalence about a career direction. At that time, vocational emphasis was very strong. You went to college to “become" something: A teacher, a doctor, a scientist or maybe -- yuck -- an accountant (no offense to accountants).

Thus, as I watched the scenery flow past our car on that post-freshman year ride home, my thoughts were fuzzy and uncomfortable thinking about another three college years learning about “business" and all that it entailed. The feeling was not unlike having gone to what was reputed to be a great restaurant and being served highly regarded food, but leaving with puzzling indigestion. I knew something wasn't right with my collegiate “meal."

That summer was a lot of fun: Much tennis, part-time jobs and travel to Florida with my former high school doubles partner. Jay and I were invited to Orlando to stay with a family that we met at a local tournament. The family included two high school players who were nationally ranked in the USTA junior girls division. How could we pass that up?

We spent a week with this great family and played tennis every day and evening. Upon returning home, my unsettled college thoughts, which I had more or less suppressed, came roaring back like a tsunami. Sophomore year was about to begin in several weeks and I was suddenly in the jaws of a conundrum crisis. Change majors? Nope. Change to what? I had no clear directional focus or even motivation.

At this point, circumstantial reality kicked in. It was 1966. [Okay, insert all your “You old fogey!" and “Hey, Gramps!" remarks here. I'll wait.] The Vietnam War and the associated military draft were in full swing and I faced a choice: (1) Go back to college, possibly flunking out due to a lack of motivation -- and get drafted, or (2) Take a proactive time-out, gain some maturity and transfer to another college that could better accommodate my needs.

I chose door number two. With my Dad's counsel, I decided that I had to pause my higher education before I crashed it and wasted a lot of my parents' money, which was more than precious at that time in their lives. To face the reality of being eligible for the draft, since I would not have a college student deferment, I discussed the pros and cons of joining the military rather than waiting to be drafted into it.

My father was a veteran of the Navy from WWII, having served in the submarine fleet. We had several long conversations about which branch of the military might be best for me. He was completely objective in his opinions about all the branches, expressing no overt bias toward becoming a sailor. After weighing as many angles as I could, I withdrew from college on the eve of my sophomore year and chose to join the Navy, opting to aspire to journalism school as a nod to my penchant for words. This, I thought, would help me avoid combat and provide me with some solid career credentials.

Life can be a real hoot, though. After boot camp and skills classification, I ended up on an aircraft carrier working with nuclear weapons during two tours of Vietnam. Nice planning on my part, huh? That's what it may have looked like on the surface, but it turned out to be the reciprocal of an old cliche: What didn't glitter turned out to be gold.

My almost four years in the Navy (I was given a six months' “early out" due to the ongoing de-escalation of America's war involvement) provided me with multiple key benefits: (1) Two months of educational assistance for each month of my military service, (2) A state educational grant for serving in Vietnam, (3) Valuable security clearances that allowed me to gain important employment after college and (4) Maturity, focus and self-discovery.

As I neared the end of my final war tour, I decided to transfer from my little liberal arts college to my state's flagship university: Penn State. I also chose to follow my passion and selected Music History and Literature as my major, and then got my degree.

For the benefit of the two readers who are still with me here during my sleep-inducing biographical retrospective, let me explain how all this relates to my advice on transferring. I really do have a point!

Carefully Evaluate Your Desire to Transfer

A sudden urge to transfer needs to be examined with care. Perhaps a negative experience with a professor, fellow student, school administrator or other circumstance has inspired thoughts of, “I gotta get outta this place." In situations such as these, by transferring, you may be creating a permanent (perhaps hasty) solution to a temporary problem. Be cautious and contemplative rather than impulsive. Also consider the possible effects of lost credits, loss of academic standing and most importantly, loss of money. More about that below.

On the other hand, if your desire to transfer has been an ongoing, slowly gestating urge, then it may be that your instincts are correct. It's all about “fit." You may have chosen an ill-fitting school. It's not a crime to admit that you made a mistake or that your perceptions were incorrect. It's like getting lost on a car trip (although GPS has fixed most of that problem). The sooner you admit that you're lost, the sooner you can get back on track and reach your destination.

I did that with the help of a supporting option: A time out. A gap year (or longer, as I did) from college can cure a lot of problems. Your problems might include lack of funds, personal or family circumstances or something completely unique. College is like a great multi-course (so to speak) meal. Many times it pays to pause while eating rather than taking in all that food in one sustained action. This allows for savoring and good digestion. My gap years cured my collegiate INdigestion and allowed me to savor and act upon my options much more objectively.

How Can You Decide?

Check out this recent article from CNBC covering How to decide if you should transfer to another college. A few key points:

- Around 25 percent of students who start at a four-year public or private institution transfer at some point, according to the Department of Education.

- Students decide to leave their school for a variety of reasons: Their current institution doesn't offer the major they want; they're unhappy with their social life or, their family's financial circumstances have changed.

[If you commit to transferring …]

- Try to make sure your course work at your current school isn't erased by the new school.

- Find out from any school you might transfer to not just how many credits it will accept … but how many of those courses will be applied toward your degree.

- … 39 percent of transfer students receive no credit for the classes they've taken at their old school, and the average transfer student loses 27 earned credits, according to a 2014 federal study.

- Since transfers take longer to graduate, that can mean more tuition costs, students loans — and a delay in salary.

Be sure to read the entire article for additional insider observations.

My final advice today for current college students, both those who have already returned and those who are about to return, is to check your internal “digestion indicator." This relates to my dining metaphor. Ask yourself:

- Is your college “meal" sitting well with you?

- Do you have any “stomach pains" about your current higher education situation?

- If so, how long has this been going on?

- Do you feel the need to make a change?

- Are you willing to make a change?

The answers to these questions should tell you a lot about where you stand with your current college. Again, if you're not satisfied for some reason, there's no shame in admitting it. However, transferring is not an inconsequential action. Think about it and do some soul searching so you can consider the possible results.

Whatever your situation, I wish you well.