By Amanda Freuler | tnAchieves class of 2013
In high school, most of us are mentally prepared to attend a higher education institution after graduation- until that day actually arrives. As someone who was not ready to graduate high school and take the next step into my future, I became surprisingly smitten with community college. At the start of my first semester spent on the quaint campus, I found myself enjoying the pace in this new world of education. During that fall, I would saunter to class under curtains of changing leaves and listen to bits of lessons taught by professors to classes outside. With this welcoming atmosphere, I knew my community college was quickly beginning to feel like home, and I had made the right decision to start my higher education journey there with tnAchieves.
Even though community college was just the beginning of my higher education pathway, I blissfully kept the thought of moving on tucked away.
Skip a year’s worth of whimsical freshman moments, and the decision of where to transfer was suddenly breathing down my neck. In order to avoid this decision, I simply prepared myself not to make one. I was settled on attending a local university after community college, living with my parents and staying at the part time job I’d had forever, but my faculty advisor had other ideas.
My advisor was aware of my aspirations to eventually become a journalist, and she also knew I hadn’t really looked into any universities except for the one close to home. I shouldn’t have been as surprised as I was when she suggested I consider applying to a school with one of the top journalism programs in the state, which just so happened to be two and a half hours away. Of course, I initially shrugged the idea off. Why was she trying to make me second guess my transfer plans? Against my own desires, I decided to tour the college so at least then I could say I gave it a chance when I didn’t apply there- but the tour was merely an introduction to where I would spend the next two years of my academic career.
As it turns out, my advisor wasn’t as crazy as I had thought. Six months after our conversation, I was thrilled and terrified to begin my first day of classes at my new university. Unbeknownst to me, I was about to experience two of the most rewarding and challenging years of my life.
The first few months of my junior year, I was desperate to hold myself together as my world rocked and turned upside down. After all, I wasn’t a freshman anymore- I could handle living on my own for the first time, figuring out a campus four times the size of my community college and take upper-level classes all at the same time, right? Wrong. Eventually, I would assimilate into traditional university life, but as a transfer student I had to get around some unique challenges first.
Besides the tsunami of change I was drowning in, one of the first struggles I encountered was trying to get all of my classes from community college to transfer to the university. I knew that with an associate’s degree any state university would have to accept all of my classes because this is part of the Tennessee Board of Regent’s policy and the community college Transfer Pathway. Advisors at these universities, however, are not aware of all the classes offered at community colleges. As a transfer student, you have to bridge the advising gap between your first institution and your second institution. I quickly learned that I could not be afraid to challenge authority, or to reach out to other university resources for help. If you face this issue or any other academic issues when you transfer, push the problem to the academic advising manager, or the student success provost, or even the university president until you receive the answers you seek. After multiple phone calls and meetings, I was finally able to get my community college classes approved and I was back on track to graduate on time.
Once my community college classes transferred, the time came to begin the upper-level university classes related to my major. As exciting as it is to be past general prerequisites, being enrolled in all 3000/4000 level classes can also be a bit of a shock on its own. Don’t be discouraged if you find it challenging to juggle your new course loads and catch up to where other students in your classes might be academically. If you really feel behind, approach your professors for assistance (that’s what they’re there for). Above all, be patient with yourself, and before long you’ll become adjusted to the difficulty level of your classes.
As intimidating as these transfer hurdles may seem, transferring to a four-year institution has its perks too. You’ll soon realize that with more challenge comes more opportunities that you may not have been exposed to at your first institution. From what I have experienced, it is easier to find internship opportunities once you transfer to a university, especially internships closely related to your major. Not only do universities have larger career centers with internship listings, but professors in upper division classes tend to have professional connections that you can consider for opportunities as well. Beyond that, universities have more options for studying abroad, student organizations and scholarships, some of which are specifically tailored for transfer students.
Personally, transferring benefited me in more ways than just continuing my educational path. I took a chance on a school I never thought to consider and learned that I can adapt to new, difficult situations. I can also adapt to eating cereal for more meals than I’d like to admit, but that’s besides the point. For me, accepting the fact that transferring wasn’t a flawless process was one of my tallest hurdles. I had to reluctantly face that being a transfer student meant sometimes asking for help with issues that other students didn’t have to overcome. When I found myself in these situations, I would often tell people that even though I was academically a junior, transferring caused me to become a freshman all over again; which usually made them laugh and eased any tension. By being forced to ask for help, I was able to create connections that I wouldn’t have if I wasn’t a transfer student.
While transferring is equally nerve-racking and worthwhile, don’t be afraid of the roadblocks that you may stumble upon. Everyone faces growing pains on the road to self-improvement, and you’ll only graduate from your second institution that much stronger after your transfer experience. Now, when I say farewell to my second college campus next year, I’ll be able to say that taking the tnAchieves path allowed two higher education institutions to strengthen my personal growth, career and higher education experience. Until then, enjoy your time at your current institution and be sure to crunch through as many piles of fall leaves as possible.