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Transferring? Don’t let first look keep you away

Published: December 6, 2013
Section: Opinions


In a few short weeks, I will graduate; however, I am not focusing this article a semester prematurely on finishing college. Instead I want to talk about my college journey that started 447.7 miles away in Fairfax, Virginia, compared to where I now am in Waltham, Mass. In other words, I will dwell on the transfer student experience from a retrospective viewpoint.

My short, but cherished, five semesters at Brandeis included castles, classes I never knew existed (such as sociology of food) and wonderful peers. On a side note, yes “Brandeis awkward” is a thing, and Sherman meals can induce a feeling of slight illness. Regardless, Brandeis has been nothing short of great for me.

While at times in the beginning, I felt like a helplessly lost first-year readapting to a new university, I was able to find a school where I could make the most out of the entire experience, rather than just be handed a degree. While you may not be a transfer, the lessons learned through this process can be applicable to anything from enrolling to a grad school to choosing a career.

According to a Chronicle of Higher Education report in 2012, a third of college students transfer before graduating. For lack of a better phrase, that is a whole lot of students. This statistic certainly makes me feel less alone when I think about my own situation. As a senior in high school, I made a rash decision to spend the next four years of my life at an institution that turned out to be not quite the best fit for me. In the broader scheme, this statistic reveals a high rate of transfers, which got me to start thinking about whether more people than I had realized were initially choosing schools and careers for the wrong reasons.

For me personally, deciding to transfer was not an easy decision, but I knew it was the right one. I wanted a change and was ready to explore my options, so I decided to take a chance. George Mason University, where I first matriculated, was very close to my home in Maryland. It felt like a safe decision as I had never lived far from home. Later, though, I wanted to look out-of-state in order to expand my options. My experiences at George Mason were by no means some awful story out of a scary movie; I actually learned a lot about myself and, most importantly, what makes me happy. In addition, I had one professor in particular who was a great mentor to me and really helped me figure out what I am passionate about.

I also learned after a year of college that nowhere would be perfect. As much as a college utopia of highly intelligent students, pristine well-kept lawns, perfect weather and professors who only handed out A’s is a nice image, reality proves otherwise. I realized that solely choosing a school based on factors such as weather, proximity to home and prestige in certain circles would not be sufficient for my goals.

I had heard of Brandeis, primarily from being Jewish and knowing of its Jewish roots. I had, however, never been to Massachusetts and the state immediately reminded me of jackets and frostbite. I was never one to appreciate frigidly cold weather unless it was accompanied by hot chocolate and a fireplace in the comfort of my home. It was not easy to convince myself that images of trekking through the snow to get to class should not sway my decision. With some reservations, I boarded a plane a few weeks later, Logan Airport-bound.

While I knew it would be impossible to say for sure if I would enjoy Brandeis, I knew now that I wanted a school where happiness was the number one regard in my decision. Happiness was the reason I chose Brandeis. Now this may seem like a very simple agenda, but I think the meaning of happiness tends to get lost. Happiness for me was an intellectually stimulating environment, the ability to connect with passionate individuals who care about what goes on in the world around them and a plethora of welcoming clubs in a supportive environment. Happiness was not an everchanging college ranking, someone else’s opinion on the amount of prestige the school has or distant chances of landing a future job with a salary that would one day make me happy.

A future salary will not be there to support you when you are lonely or doing homework on a Sunday hungover. And while it may provide initial happiness and an ego boost, a college ranking and prestige will not be what motivates you to create lasting experiences and learn as much as you can in four years. I am confident that happiness is an influencing force on assuring a better future. Without happiness, I knew that whichever college I chose would be yet another misfit.