How to fit in at a four-year school

Tips on adjusting to life at a four-year university

How to fit in at a four-year school

Picking the right college is difficult. Picking the right college to transfer to is even more of a challenge.

New faces, new places and new opportunities lie ahead, and so do the challenges that come with adjusting to a new city, new living arrangements, new academic requirements and probably the toughest of all: new social settings.

For many college students, the most difficult transition when transferring is often the ability to fit in with a new set of peers.

Renee LeWinter Goldberg, a certified educational planner and founder of the consulting practice Options in Education in Cambridge, Mass., works with transfers on an almost-daily basis. She also is a mother of a student who transferred.

"Start with the familiar,” says Goldberg. “Your roommate, suitemates, orientation sessions…these all provide opportunities to meet peers that can begin your connection to the university.”

Representatives at George Mason University have found that services for transfer students must match or exceed those for freshmen, but should not necessarily duplicate them, says Andrew Flagel, dean of admissions at George Mason.


How do colleges help you transition?

“With previous experience in higher education, most transfer students do not require the same level of orientation and find too much hand-holding to be a waste of time,” says Flagel. “Instead, programs that connect them with faculty and services on the campus and streamline the advising and registration processes are greatly appreciated. Many of our transfer students work off campus, and it is essential that services be available to these students in forms that are accessible and convenient for them.”

Flagel says it’s important first to pick an institution that offers a process to introduce transfer students to the college through coursework and social engagement.

“I always encourage our transfer students to join a variety of campus organizations, and many find intramural sports to be a great way to connect with other students,” he says. “Living on campus can be an asset, and where offered, fraternities and sororities offer another strong networking opportunity. The temptation for many students is to just attend campus and leave, as they have family and work obligations. If they can find ways to connect to the campus beyond the classroom and come prepared to spend more than just class hours on campus, they will find their transition to a new school no more challenging than that of a traditional freshman.”


Get to know your fellow transfers

“As a former transfer student myself, I’d recommend potential transfer students to consider what percentage of transfer students each college contains,” says Barry Beach, director of admissions at Oregon College of Art & Craft, a four-year college where 75 percent of the student body is transfer students. “Colleges with small transfer populations will inevitably cause transfer students to feel left out socially, as most contacts are made during the first year.”

Tracey Jamison, assistant director of transfer admissions and re-enrollment services at the University of Maryland-College Park, says orientation is a crucial step to fitting in quickly.

“Do not take orientation for granted,” says Jamison. “Many transfer students meet friends during these programs since most of the people participating are fellow transfer students. Many students have told me that orientation is where they have met friends and found roommates for off-campus living. Also, if your new campus has an outdoor education or leadership program as part of orientation, I would recommend participating in that as well. You get the opportunity to meet people who share a common interest in an activity, and it is a great icebreaker.”


Students share their transfer stories:

Joel Moldenhauer is a prime example of your everyday college transfer. He graduated from Merced College with associate degrees in history and English and transferred to California-Berkeley where he planned to finish his undergraduate studies. He lived in the dorms his first semester, then moved into an apartment with some friends who had also transferred to Berkeley.

Moldenhauer planned on majoring in history and English at Berkeley but ended up concentrating solely on a history major.

Academically, Moldenhauer liked the variety and size of his classes—some were as small as 10 students, others were as big as 100. With confusion in his academic direction, having to work to pay for school and dealing with relationship woes, Moldenhauer encountered every scenario a transfer possibly could. The outlet that helped him through it all? Exercise.

“I tried to exercise a few times a week, and it made a world of difference,” says Moldenhauer. “I was more energized and able to concentrate more on my studies.”

When Rob Johnson transferred to Minnesota State-Mankato after attending Minnesota Duluth his freshman year, he moved into a house with friends from his hometown who had already been there a year and who had met people through dorm life, intramural sports, student senate, part-time jobs and other social activities.

“The nice part was my roommates already made friends with people down there,” says Johnson. “That made it easy to fit in because I already had that social connection. It took some time to get to know everyone, but my friends were there to break the ice.”

Not all students have that luxury. That’s why using the resources offered by your college, as well as being proactive and involved, will be the best way to fit in.

“Join an organization or volunteer in an area you love,” says Goldberg. Johnson agrees. “I was scared when I transferred, but I was able to become involved, meet people and fit right in,” he says. “It’s kind of like being a freshman all over again, but at the same time, it’s a whole new world with exciting opportunities, and hopefully opportunities that will help you enjoy your college experience.”


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