Last week, the University of Rhode Island opened its doors to 3,650 new students—3,150 first-year freshmen and 500 transfers. I make up the minority, transferring from a small two-year community college in Northeast Connecticut. As I transition into this whole new world, I can’t help but struggle with my identity.
I can’t claim first-year status, since technically I’m a junior. Yet this is my first year at the URI. I’m an upperclassman, living fairly comfortably in my single in Eddy Hall, as opposed to being crammed with two other girls in a freshman dorm. However, I’m just as disoriented by the maze of buildings and pathways as those fresh out of high school. I don’t have friends from previous years here and I didn’t participate in freshmen activities like First Night. I just leapt into the herd, not knowing where I fit in.
When I met with Jennifer Legare, an academic advisor at the URI who specializes with transfer students, she identified the condition as transfer shock. She reassured me that I’m not alone.
“There’s national research done that shows transfer students, not just at the URI but across the country everywhere…go through…that transition period,” Legare said.
When discussing my symptoms of “awkwardness” and “lack of understanding of the community and culture,” as she put it, Legare was sympathetic.
“I think people underestimate the impact,” Legare said. Â “Usually the mentality of the transfer student prior to the semester starting is, ‘I’ve been in college, I know what to expect. I got this.’”
Listening to Legare’s impression of the transfer psyche I must admit reminded me of my mindset before arriving on campus. I might have lacked the same level of confidence, but I did feel somewhat more prepared for the change than if I had entered as a freshman. I was wrong.
Danielle MacInnis, a fellow transfer student and new friend, discovered the same harsh reality.
“It’s actually a more difficult adjustment to be a transfer than it was to be a freshman,” MacInnis said. “As a freshman [at Endicott College] I had almost five full days before the upperclassmen came to campus and…an orientation leader who explained…the ropes [and] took us for tours and showed us where our classes would meet. Here…we were just thrown into the mix.”
Both mine and MacInnis’ concern for the lack of attention on the transfer student’s transition was addressed by Jennifer Legare. She acknowledged how “freshmen do tend to get a much more detailed-oriented orientation to the university.” However Legare teaches a URI 101 class specifically for transfer students as one approach to resolving this issue.
“We spend the entire semester … learning about the University and the culture and the policies and the procedures and all the opportunities,” Legare said. Â “We try to make it more comfortable for them here…and form a little bit of a community [when] they’re in a classroom with fellow transfer students.”
While listening to her description of the class, I wished I had known it even existed. Legare explained, “There’s only one section, so we have to be careful how much we publicize…we can only have so many students in the class.”
I understand the concern, considering the 500 transfer students this semester, nearly twice as many than in the spring semester of 2013. Maybe MacInnis’ idea of a Transfer Student Club could be the next solution to consider.
In speaking with Legare and MacInnis, my case of transfer shock seems less oppressing. I realize that I’m not the only one undergoing transition and that there are people willing to give me support. MacInnis made a good point to me: Â “It’s like I’m forced to go out of my comfort zone a little bit, and I have to rely more on myself. So, the independence is actually very good for me.” So, instead of considering “transfer shock” as a limitation and something undesirable, maybe I should think of it as just another learning experience that college has to offer—one that will make me stronger and prepare me for the next shock in life.