Sherman Ave’s Transfer Student Guide
To the average listener, that pre-conjunctionary pause between phrases is negligible, but to the transfer, it can feel like a fucking eternity. And? Am I, withered, washed-up sophomore who’s been through it all, really just as welcome as these hungover but inexplicably bright-eyed freshmen? Am I an afterthought, an addendum? Oh Jesus, what have I done and what am I doing here?
Now, because I am not there to do so, lift up your hand, palm open, and slap yourself across the face. Sorry, but you were getting hysterical. Also apologies if you were drinking anything just then.
The short of it: You’re going to be okay.
The long of it: Here are 1,554 more words of advice to assure you that transferring is the best decision you’ve ever made.
Don’t freak the fuck out
During a fateful 2007 trip to Disneyworld, I was cajoled into spending money on a shit-your-pants-inducing experience—eating literally any Disneyworld food item. After I’d finished my grease-infused turkey leg, my brother bullied me into getting in line to ride The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. Contrary to popular belief, the terror does not start at the commencement of the 199.5 ft. accelerated drop. No, the moment you get in line, the ride begins to wage psychological warfare as television screens play out horrific scenarios and—Actually, this is a really poor analogy because I was so freaked out by the time I got to the top that I took the sissy exit down and never went on the ride.
ANYWAYS the point is, the weeks leading up to arriving on campus can feel a lot like waiting in line for a horrifying amusement park ride in that they’re saturated with undulating phases of excitement and fear. Your brain is going to do all sort of crazy things in the next few weeks, and yes, possibly even months until you’re settled in. With little else to do but think before school starts, you’ll be excited, but you’ll also wonder if transferring was the right decision, if you’ll make friends, etc. It was and you will.
There is nothing wrong with you (probably)
The WORST part of Welcome Week is seeing how many of these freshmen are so fucking happy. Of course they will experience bouts of homesickness, as well as literal sickness after a night of mixing vodka with peach schnapps, but on the whole they’re going to have a great first year of school, and they’ll return next year for another one.
Unlike you. Which of course triggers a thousand bitter thoughts to run through your head: How is it fair that they’re so happy when I had to transfer? Most people don’t transfer. What’s so wrong with me? Even if your former academic campus straight up anthropomorphized and whispered in your ear in a deep baritone, “It’s not you, it’s me. We were just the wrong fit,” you’ll worry it’s you.
Sometime between marching through the Arch and convocation during my first day at Northwestern, I realized I was drowning in a sea of freshmen proudly donning their “Class of 2016” t-shirts while I wore my university-issued “NU ♥’s transfers!” t-shirt. And although I’m sure the shirt was well intentioned, at the time it felt like a blazing, humiliating scarlet letter. Without making a peep, the shirt seemed to scream, “Hey everyone, look at me! I’m a transfer! I’m different and there’s something really wrong with me!”
But of course, the only reason the shirt felt like some punishment lifted out of a book you complained about reading in high school is because I (and I alone) had it in my head that transferring meant there was something defective about me. And if I felt this way, then everyone must feel this way, and if everyone feels this way, then it must be true. This is what’s known as a logical fallacy, or in layman’s terms, total bullshit.
In actuality, here is what most people think about the shirt: 1. Oh cool, that shirt has a heart on it, and 2. They are not thinking about you and your slightly different shirt at all because they are freshmen and are way too caught up in the exciting, overwhelming newness of college to bother.
The truth is people transfer all the time for all different reasons. I read somewhere that nearly one-third of college students transfer these days. Fact check that yourself, I got things to do. No one else will think any less of you for being a transfer student, and you shouldn’t either.
Be able to explain why you transferred in no more than seven seconds
Whenever you make small talk with a new person over the course of the next year, the topic of your transferhood is sure to surface by virtue of being more interesting to discuss than the weather or whatever this freshman you’ve been chatting up for the last hour thinks is her major. Sooner or later you will mention that you transferred, and when you do, you will be faced with The Question. Posed in the same sensitive, apologetic tone reserved for inquiries about the state of a dying grandmother, they’ll ask you:
“So, uh, sorry, but… why did you transfer?”
Count the seconds from the moment you first utter the T-Word: Just as the dark lord Cthulu is summoned by the hubris of man, so too is The Question summoned by the cries of “transfer.” But don’t be fooled by The Question’s persistence. Most people don’t actually want to hear that you transferred because freshman year you went to a large, out-of-state public university where the exorbitant cost of tuition wasn’t nearly worth the underwhelming experience of sitting in giant lectures and being treated by the entire institution as a number which at the end of the day wasn’t what you needed to feel like after your awful roommate sexiled you at 3 a.m. the after puking on your stuff which might not have been a big deal if it wasn’t the third time it had happened that semester and you made friends but didn’t really find your “group” of friends all while trying to maintain a long-distance relationship and—
Save it for your diary. Just say: “I wanted more challenging academics.” Memorize that phrase. Practice it in the mirror. Siphon the ink out of a Bic and use a paperclip to prison-tattoo the words into your forearm. You will say these words several hundred times this year. Rule of thumb: If your answer has more syllables than a haiku, then it’s too long.
Embrace being a transfer student.
Being a transfer can be weird and scary and no one really understands what you’re going through except other transfers. As a transfer, you exist in a strange limbo between freshman and sophomore. Sure, you’ve mastered the quintessential college experience, testing the limits of your liver and conquering mono and shower shoes, but you also have no fucking clue where Shanley Pavilion is (Okay, no one has any fucking clue where Shanley Pavilion is, but you get the gist. You’re maneuvering your way around campus like some blindfolded idiot spun around a bat three times). Yes, it can be discouraging to be a sophomore or junior and not know your way around campus, or be a part of any student groups, or even have a close group of friends.
But in a way, transferring fills you with a sort of foresight and determination that enable you to succeed. Think of transferring like rebuilding a sandcastle after the first one was knocked over. You put in all that initial time and effort digging a moat and sculpting elegant towers, only for an ocean wave to sweep the whole thing away. Most people might give up then and there, but you're stronger than that. You start over from scratch. Rebuilding can feel frustrating and repetitive, but now that you know what did and didn’t work the first time, you can rebuild better, faster, and stronger. Rebuild a castle that will withstand stand the waves. The first one probably sucked anyways. Killed that analogy.
In my first few weeks at Northwestern, my friends were transfers out of necessity, but now many of my closest friends happen to be transfers by choice. Your fellow class of transfers is filled with great people. Seek them out. Form a community so tightly-knit that other students long to be a part of your exclusive group. I shit you not, I’ve had people who’ve been at Northwestern all four years tell me that they’re friends with so many transfers, they wish they were a transfer too.
You will not be a transfer student forever
Now that I’ve hopefully instilled you with a healthy sense of transfer pride, prepare to one day let that pride go. Eventually, people will forget that you were ever a transfer student at all. This is my third year at Northwestern since I transferred. When asked where I lived on campus freshman year, I have to think it over before responding “Uh, the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.” As proud as I am of being a transfer student, most days I forget I was ever was one. I’ve settled in, built a life at this school, and at this point, my days spent elsewhere feel like little more than a hazy dream.
Northwestern is not perfect—no school ever is, and as a transfer you will know this better than anyone—but there’s no place I’d rather have spent the majority of my college experience. I’ve never regretted transferring, and I can almost unanimously say that every other transfer feels the same*.
Welcome transfers and Class of 2018. Northwestern is a great place. You’re going to be okay.
*Then again, I have no idea what sort of depraved losers read this blog. Maybe there are all sorts of things wrong with you, and being a transfer is just the beginning. This is unlikely, but for propriety’s sake, I can’t just dismiss the possibility entirely. So, I don’t know, use your judgment.
**I say "almost unanimously" because out of the 300 or so transfers I have ever met, only one was discontent enough that he transferred back to his old school. The rest of us truly love it here.