When I left Pomona College, the dean of students took me aside for a chat. “Barnard might consider you a transfer student, but we don’t see you that way. For us, you’re trying out another school,” she said, stating that I could return anytime within the next two years. I’ve memorized her words as a backup exit route. What if I made a mistake? I left for a number of reasons: I needed to catch my breath from its high-strung emotional environment, I missed living in New York, I disagreed with the administration’s approach to handling cases of assault of female students. But as I see visiting “prospies” come to campus and high school seniors making their college decisions, I’m conscious that I’m exactly what they fear to become—someone with a gap year and nearly two years of college under my belt, still debating if I’m in the right place or not.
In many ways, Barnard lives up to the dream. I love the environment of strong women, an advisor with whom I can discuss an academic plan, and the deans’ eagerness to improve the transfer experience. But I also find that some of my best days are off campus, when I can get away from the reality of being a transfer student. It’s a label that we can’t shake off. It’s a running joke among friends who are transfers that we ought to get the words transfer student tattooed on us.
I don’t regret transferring, but I often wonder if it’s worth staying. Every time we stumble across yet another obstacle as a result of being transfers, I am reminded that expectations for the typical college experiences do not apply for us. And we’ve stumbled a lot.
As transfers, our housing isn’t guaranteed. Entering our first semester, we are the last to select courses. Institutional financial aid isn’t available for spring transfers. Just this week, my transfer credit was finally approved, having taken four months of waiting. Furthermore, the University’s student organizations aren’t always transfer-friendly. Some only accept students in the fall and many are competitive, targeted toward recruiting first-years and sophomores. Although I transferred this spring as a sophomore, I will be a junior in the fall. For one organization, I’ve been told they expect to take only one junior when fall comes around. With student organizations as some of Barnard’s strongest ties to the University community, it’s frustrating to know that those connections aren’t as accessible to me.
I’ve been luckier than some of my fellow transfers that the major things—like housing and course selection—have worked out for me. Still, the common message across Barnard and the larger Columbia community is clear: Transfer students are not a priority.
These difficulties are a reminder that the college and University were not made for students like us. Especially here, where students are individualistic, a type of tunnel-vision pervades. As a transfer, it’s hard to break into that framework and find a sense of community.
Still, we’re trying to shape ourselves to fit the college as the college is trying to accommodate us. For myself, being a transfer means learning to adjust my expectations and perspectives. Being a transfer means realizing that studying abroad or double majoring might not be viable options. Being a transfer means learning to navigate classes for my major that are ten times the size they are at Pomona. I’m learning how shopping period is actually done, not just in theory. I’m learning that, while Pomona students might have reached out to someone sleeping or crying in the library, here, those who live in Butler foster a twisted pride. I’m facing the reality that while I held leadership positions for student organizations at my previous college, I might not ever be accepted into organizations here. I’m learning to accept that some doors have closed before I even arrived. There was no way of knowing these things before I transferred, but they’re what I’m facing now.
During a Barnard SGA event for transfers in April, an administrative officer responded to students’ concerns about housing by pointing out that if Barnard guaranteed housing for transfers the way it does for first-years, they would not be able to accept as many transfer students. In fact, this would mean that some of us might not have had the chance to even be in that room as concerned students. The rest of the discussion was helpful and open minded, but the last part of that comment struck a nerve with me. It was unnecessary to make students doubt their place in the college. If we’re told to be so grateful that we’re even here, why should we ask for the same opportunity given to students who have been here since their first years? Yes, we are an obvious minority among the student population, but we’re here. We deserve to be at Barnard and Columbia as much as the next student—transfer or not.
The author is a Barnard sophomore, majoring in political science and, if she can pull off a miracle, double major in English. She is a transfer student from Pomona College, but you already knew that.