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Tips for navigating the college transfer process

Five college transfer students share tips for adjusting to life at a new university.

Like any other new experience, transferring schools — from a community college, junior college, or another four-year university — can come as a big shock. You’ve done all the work to figure out which college campus fits best for you, your career aspirations, and has the resources and opportunities to support your individual growth.

Now you need to tackle another hurdle: adjusting to a change in environment, meeting a whole new pool of people, and navigating the social scene. If you ever feel out of place or overwhelmed, it’s important to remember that you’re not the first to feel this way!

When speaking to five transfer students with unique transfer experiences to a range of small, medium, and large colleges, one thing was clear: they all wished there was some comprehensive guide to transferring schools. Here’s what we’ve gathered from the challenges they’ve faced and the tips they shared in navigating your new institution. With a bit of preparation and a positive mindset, your transfer journey will go smoothly!

Ahead, read advice from students who’ve transferred to Claremont McKenna College, USC, and UCLA.

Go in with a go-getter attitude

“Typically, transfers only have two years at a university and you only have those two years to take advantage of the opportunities available at your university. As a transfer, you don’t have the grace period of a freshman to explore all different niches. The go-getter attitude is the way to go. Research activities you’re interested in and prioritize the ones that you most resonate with.”

Michelle Heravi, Transfer from Santa Monica College to UCLA

Transferring to an institution, you may worry you’re at a slight disadvantage to the general four-year admit students. Your time at the institution will be shorter, and you might feel the need to play catch-up with the rest of the students in your class. At the end of the day, always remember—you transferred to this college for a reason, and you deserve to be there, so don’t hold yourself back. Go get what you want out of it!

Plan ahead and get involved on campus

“I'd say the most important thing you can do for yourself is to plan ahead. Plenty of people told me at the beginning of my UCLA career to cast a wide net, and narrow my options as time went on. Looking back, I was so limited in my time and adapting to my new environment, that trying out a new club every week just wasn’t feasible, especially if the organizations you’re trying to join have competitive selection processes.”

Isaac Pang, Transfer from El Camino College to UCLA

Before attending your transfer institution, scour the internet for which clubs, organizations, and opportunities resonate with you. Narrow those down to your top six to eight and research in advance how you can get involved. Utilize your network, find contact information available online, and explore platforms like Handshake to learn what steps you need to take to not fall behind.

We recommend keeping a list or spreadsheet of opportunities you want to tackle when you get to your school and tracking your progress once on campus. By planning, you can maximize the time you spend at your transfer institution, and smoothly pivot if necessary.

“After doing some research, I happened to come across an application for a board position in The Pre-Law Transfer Society at UCLA. It was a relatively new organization on campus that was founded in 2017. Even though it was decades younger than many of the pre-law societies on campus, my goal from the very start was to make it the very best on campus through unique innovation.”

Saeed Ahmad, Transfer from Norco College to UCLA

Find an advisor or mentor

“Going into CMC, I felt incredibly lost in what to major in and was reconsidering my transfer decision. Claremont McKenna didn’t have any major remotely close to Business Marketing at Santa Clara. Yet, during my first semester at CMC, I took an Intro to Psych course and loved my professor. At the end of the course, I decided to make her my advisor, learn from her guidance, and am now happily majoring in Psychology & Data Science.”

Isabelle Jia, Transfer from Santa Clara University to Claremont McKenna College

It can be tough to only rely on yourself in an unfamiliar environment, so we recommend you find someone who can help guide you through it. Find someone you’re genuinely interested in developing a relationship with. Reach out to a professor, a peer, or a staff member you admire and see if they’re open to grabbing coffee, talking through your thoughts, or answering any questions you might have. Seek them out and take it from there.

Try something new—it might surprise you!

Look at your new school as if it’s a clean slate. You now have a whole new world of experiences ahead of you, why not go a step further and try something outside your comfort zone?

“I encourage you to join a different club that you didn’t gain exposure to at your previous college. For me, I was a part of the tennis club at SCU which was an integral part of my college experience. However, once I transferred to USC, I took up urban dance and don't regret it! I feel relieved knowing I tried something new and loved it!”

Shane Yee, Transfer from Santa Clara University to USC

Without trying new experiences, you may be missing something that can completely change your outlook on life. Whether it’s playing a new sport, participating in a workshop series, or attending a guest lecture that doesn’t outrightly interest you, the possibilities are endless. There is so much a college can provide that you haven’t explored yet!

By taking the risk of trying something new you can simultaneously add to your life, develop new skills that may be transferable for your future career, and increase your enjoyment of college.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

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