Why Did I Transfer?

I applied to transfer to Swarthmore College at the end of my freshman year, and after receiving my acceptance, matriculated in my sophomore year. My previous institution, unlike Swat, had tens of thousands of students, was located in a major city, and didn’t have a bordered campus. To maintain the anonymity of the school, I’ll call it Old Bay College (OBC).

As an admissions summer intern, I give a lot of tours. Understandably, when I give my tour guide introduction and tell folks that I transferred, I’m asked why. Then I give my droll, three-part answer: 1) I was sick of the city it was located in, 2) I’m pre-law and wanted a more meaningful undergraduate experience, and 3) as the youngest of five, I’m spoiled, and as a result, I craved more attention than OBC could give me.

This short, triangular answer is slightly wrong (I’m not spoiled), and it doesn’t come close to accurately describing how the transfer process eventuated in a myriad of conflicting emotions: excitement and doubt, anxiety and security, fine and fine

I’m looking back at what I wrote in my Common App transfer statement, and I’m now remembering that at the time, I had just finished reading Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. I’m also remembering how I thought the premise was uncanny: the characters are trapped in an endless cycle of history. Although my life wasn’t as tumultuous as the Buendías, I couldn’t help but note that OBC was in the same area as my high school, the same group of friends from high school went to OBC, and my OBC extracurriculars mirrored my high school ones. The words I would use to describe my first university experience were comfort and familiarity, and the indistinguishability of college and high school left me feeling stunted. It was pretty devastating to realize that I had reached an academic plateau.

I think that when I tell people I’m a transfer student, they often conflate leaving an institution with hating it. In reality, I did meet wonderful people at OBC, the faculty was caring, and the location was exciting. The truth is that I didn’t like the idea of leaving it all behind, but I didn’t like the idea of never growing or adapting even more. 

I have a confession: it was a movie that pushed me to transfer as a sophomore. I was planning on transferring my junior year, but towards the application deadline, I watched a movie about a teenage girl that desperately wanted to be accepted to OBC. I then realized that while I had been mindlessly using the resources of a college I was trying to distance myself from, there were students that could benefit from the institution in a way that I never could. I didn’t need to leave just for myself, but for someone that was looking at OBC the way I looked at Swat.

Transferring is hard. Writing an application about why you want to leave your institution without devaluing your time there is tricky. Trying to integrate into a community that seems to already have a foundation is extremely daunting. Disregarding all of the negatives, leaving a place of comfort in favor of a challenge is probably one of the most courageous acts anyone can ever do.  

I’ve now finished my first year as a Swattie and there are a myriad of reasons why I know I made the right decision to specifically go here. The long answer includes phrases like “academic rigor” and “student to faculty ratio” and “robust campus resources”. The short answer is that from approximately 140 miles away, I could see and feel and hear Swarthmore College. I could see Parrish and the Big Chair as well as I could feel the wax of my Last Collection candle and hear the Primal Scream. My mom is always asking me if I’m happy I transferred. Yes, I’m happy that I transferred, but it’s only because I ended up at Swat.

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