When I introduce myself to other students, the one thing I try to avoid saying the most is that I am a transfer student.
I can usually get away with not saying it the first time meeting someone because it doesn’t come up in early conversation. However, as they get to know me, it comes up. Anytime someone asks a question about “last year,” I inevitably have to reveal that I, in fact, didn’t go to Penn last year. After I say, “I transferred,” the response is usually “Oh, okay” or “Oh, cool, from where?” And when I tell them the name of the school, the response varies — those who recognize it say “Oh, nice” a little more emphatically than those who don’t.
I have mostly gotten over what I had perceived to be a stigma against transfer students. Coming to Penn made me incredibly worried — not because of the heavily discussed and debated “Penn culture,” but simply because I am a transfer and I didn’t want it to affect how other people saw me. People transfer for a variety of reasons, but I was worried that I would be perceived as not as intelligent, not as capable or just plain weird. (Although I don’t need to tell people I transferred for them to think I’m weird.)
Instead, I have begun to assess for myself the value that transfer students add to the Penn community, given that Penn sets aside a limited number of spaces for us. Do we enrich discussions, both inside and outside the classroom, with our diverse experiences, or are we entirely self-serving, having come to satisfy some need that our previous institution couldn’t fulfill? I’d like to think it is both, but I think it’s more the latter. Going to a different school for one year hasn’t made me more mature or more experienced than my peers who spent their first year at Penn. From what I have experienced, colleges are more similar than they are different.
But I’d like to tackle the lingering issue of the stigma. Two semesters in, I don’t actually believe it exists anymore, but that doesn’t mean being a transfer is easy. By sophomore year, most students already have established their groups of friends and are living in high rise apartments or off-campus, where it is relatively more difficult to meet new people. Most importantly, they’re not exactly looking for new friends. So when transfers come in, they are left mostly to fend for themselves.
Every transfer has a unique experience, but one characteristic they all share is having to work hard to meet other people. Penn is big enough so that I can pretend to be just another sophomore you haven’t met yet, but as a sophomore I’m expected to already have a group of friends. Though there are more than a hundred transfers, we’re quite spread out over campus, and it is more difficult to interact with each other than I’d like. Also, though I enjoy the benefits of this relatively small community, I would definitely want to be more integrated than I am now.
Also, sophomores are expected to have established myriad extracurricular involvements, but transfers aren’t on the same footing. A lot of my initial feelings of inadequacy came from the scores of rejections I received from the various clubs I’d applied to.
The recently created Transfer Student Organization has done an incredible job of handling the social and academic concerns and issues transfers have before and when they get here. While it is encouraging to know that there is a niche community alive and ready to welcome transfers, it would be helpful if the whole student body displayed a similar commitment to welcoming its transfers as it does to its freshmen.
When I reflect on why I actually transferred and what I told Admissions, there’s a huge difference. I rambled on and on in my essay about the various majors that I wanted to explore that my old school didn’t have and why I was interested in those fields. But from the beginning, it was very simple: Penn is just better.
RAVI JAIN is a College sophomore from Syosset, N.Y., studying economics. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. “Tall, Skinny, Mocha” appears every other Wednesday.
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