The Stages of Transferring

The night I graduated in 2017, there was a mixture of anxiety and excitement clouding my senses.  You see, I was ecstatic to move on from high school and have the opportunity to grow, learn new things, and broaden my world experiences.  I felt mostly unstoppable.  I was looking good, giving an empowering speech, and getting to hang out with all of my classmates at once.  I was in a good place.  Yet, my thoughts were still overwhelmed with the notion that I wasn’t going to the college I wanted to.

A lot of people will say they got a “special feeling” at the college which they ended up attending.  This spark let them know that they and this university were meant to be, and then after going there, they were fully enamored with the school.  Someone who’s experienced this might expect everyone to get this same feeling and end up at the perfect college.

For those of you who haven’t made a college decision yet, I’m of the firm belief that this feeling is rare and fleeting.  Don’t wait for it to materialize.  It happens to few and it likely won’t serve you well in the long run.  Let’s say you pick a college based off of “the feeling”, but then later discover that they offer no research opportunities in your major.  You’re not going to feel very special, after all.

And although I now recognize that The Feeling is mostly a myth, I’m a very romantic person, so at Decision Time, I was distraught over the fact that I never got The Feeling.  And because I never got it, I had this lingering thought that no matter what college I picked, it was going to be wrong.

Maybe it was and maybe it wasn’t.  

Either way, even after I committed to the University of Pittsburgh, I still felt like I had made a bad choice.  My parents didn’t help, as they had both wanted me to go to a different school.  But I wouldn’t have been completely happy at either their choice of school or mine.  Even before attending Pitt, the concept of transferring was always present in my mind.  My mom and I had discussions about it as we were touring Washington and Jefferson for the second time (before I decided where to go).  I would joke (but not really) with my friends about how even President Obama went to a different school for two years and then transferred to Columbia University.  I never believed I would actually follow in his footsteps.

Therefore, I moved into Pitt with a hopeful mindset.  Without a roommate and with just one high school classmate attending the same university, it felt pretty lonely at first.  After joining multiple clubs, I got to know some friends, and the days got easier as time went on.  I had a nice year, but even after two semesters, I felt out of place.  There was this sinking feeling within me that I was thriving just by showing up.  Not as in I was attending class and getting As without studying; I was still putting work in, but I was using the minimal amount of effort, and I still felt like I was succeeding.

I understand that this is more of a ‘me’ problem than a Pitt problem, but I knew I had to leave what I knew in order to push myself to be more.  I kept envisioning myself like a mound of clay, being thrown around and shaped by New York City and the professors who would leave impressions on me.

I decided to submit a transfer application to my dream school just to see what would happen.  Honestly, my application was the single hardest thing I’ve ever worked on in my life.  I spent countless hours on it.  I edited it every single day of February.  I asked Cooper to edit it and help me cut my ranting paragraphs about twenty times.  I kept writing and cutting, erasing and creating, shaping and moulding my essay like I wanted Columbia to mould me.  Lo and behold, I was eventually accepted.  From there, it was an easy choice what to do.

I always wanted to go to an Ivy League school, but (and this is going to sound really dumb) I never knew that I would have to work hard to get in.  I wrote my senior year Columbia essays the night they were due, had my family proofread them, then submitted them.  The whole process probably took three hours, max.  And they were well-written essays, but looking back, just the principle of the whole thing shows me why I didn’t originally get in.

However, I’m glad it worked out this way.  There was a point during senior year when I thought I had my whole life figured out.  I thought I knew where I was going to attend college, what my career was going to be, where I would retire, who was I was going to marry, how many kids I would have, and so on.  I mean, seriously, I was ready to write my autobiography ahead of time.  Funny how God always finds a way to show you that you’re never the one in charge.  :-)

You never really do figure your life out, you just kind of keep moving forward.  However, I do think I’ve gained a better insight on who I am as a person, and I’m glad I had the opportunity to do so before diving into the murky Ivy League waters.

Thanks for hearing me out, and lastly, my friends, please come visit.  Please stay in touch.  I mean that.  I want to hear everything.

With love and admiration,

Alexis <3

P. S.  Thank you to Cooper, because without watching him achieve his dream, I know that I never would have realized mine.  But you kinda suck for getting into an Ivy before me.  
Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Are you transferring?
A: As an elf said of Buddy in Elf, “If he hasn’t figured [it out] by now, I don’t think he ever will.”  Lol.  Yes, I will be transferring to Columbia University in the fall of 2018, and I couldn’t be more excited!

Q: Will you have the same major?
A: So, yes and no.  I wasn’t officially ‘declared’ yet at Pitt, but I was on my way to majoring in Political Science and English, with hopefully some Spanish and Arabic classes thrown in there.  At Columbia, I’ll be studying Human Rights, which as a major, is comprised of basically political science, economics, and anthropology courses.  I’m also going to have a concentration in English, so that’s the same.  :-)  I’m also taking Spanish and hopefully studying abroad to pursue Arabic!

Q: Why did you decide to transfer?
A: Honestly, it was no one thing.  We’ve all experienced the feeling of not fitting in.  I kind of felt like that with the whole school.  I had friends, joined many activities, and had a social life, but nothing felt like it was truly clicking between Pitt and I.  

A big part of Pitt is the sports culture.  It’s cool that the whole school comes together, but I’m not really a big sports person.  I would rather be exploring the city on Saturday, and the majority of people at Pitt were going to the games every week!  I am also a huge people person, and although I didn’t feel like “a small fish in a big pond”, as a lot of (negative) people like to put it, I like saying hi to people I know on the way to class.  As minor as that sounds, deep connections are really important to me, and I like to be able to ask people specific things about their lives, not just a “hey, how’s it going?” to a familiar face.  I needed to downsize a little bit.  

I was also craving a deeply academic environment and to meet others who are equally passionate about learning.  Don’t get me wrong, Pitt was challenging, but people all came for different reasons.  When you ask a Columbia student why they chose their university, there is no doubt the majority of them will say “for the academics”.

Also, Columbia was always on the top of the list for me.  [see below]

My biggest fear is that people will think I am “escaping Pitt” because I hated it.  Yes, it was an extremely difficult year for me, for many reasons, but there were so many good nights for all the bad ones.  Big/Little reveal, Pitt News Banquet, and ADPi formal, just to name a few highlights.  I had some world class professors, many of which I have to thank for my acceptance into Columbia.  Overall, it was a good time, but it just wasn’t ‘me’.  I hope you guys will understand that and be happy for me in this new environment.

Q: Why Columbia?
A: Funny, I actually wrote a whole essay on this a few months ago.  I forget what it was for…

Kidding, kidding.  For those of you who don’t know, I’m enamored with New York City.  It has always been a dream to live there.  Additionally, I always wanted to go to an Ivy League school (I mean, like, who doesn’t, but I mean… I *really* wanted to go to an Ivy League school).  I wanted the rigorous academics, the ancient buildings, the founding father alumni, and the amazing connections.  Speaking of connections, I also realized that I didn’t want to live in Pittsburgh after I graduated college.  I wanted to live in New York.  So transferring to Columbia would allow me three years of making connections and getting references before getting a job…or…more likely, getting letters of reccomendation before continuing my education.  Yikes!

Lastly, another super important reason was that I am EXTREMELY passionate about Human Rights!!!  And Columbia offers studying human rights and the processes surrounding them as a MAJOR!  Sounds too good to be true!!!  Also, Kate McKinnon went here, which is truly as good a reason as any.  

Back to seriousness, though, my appreciation of Columbia was truly deepened whenever I visited on Accepted Transfer Day and everyone was just so extremely nice.  Have you ever had a day where so many things go right that you feel it’s just some kind of important sign?  That was my day at Columbia.  From meeting the woman who is now my advisor (yay! she’s awesome) to talking to the other accepted transfer students, everyone was just so incredibly kind and genuine.  They seemed like they really cared about me as an individual and wanted to help me, which I honestly didn’t always feel at Pitt.

Q: Is Columbia an Ivy League school?
A: Yes.  (This sounds pretentious, but I honestly get asked this question a lot.)

Q: …wow.  You must’ve had a really good SAT score, huh?
A: Nope, not really.  I know a lot of aspiring Columbians are probably concerned with specific numbers, so I’ll tell you that I got about a 1320 on the new SAT, which I think is better than average, but definitely not Ivy League material.  I was also 5th in my high school graduating class of 70.  Good, but not *that* good.  I got all As in college, though, and ended up with a 3.83 GPA.  I’m not sure that I really could have been accepted into Columbia my senior year, and I am grateful for the extra life experience I got which helped me to eventually get in.  I don’t have that crazy of academic records, you guys, I just worked really really hard!!!!  This is proof that anybody can achieve their goals with persipiration and prayer.  :-)

Q: Did your credits transfer?
A: Why, yes they did, thank you for asking.  The only ones that didn’t are my dual enrollment credits from high school, which is unfortunate, but I’ll take it as a tradeoff for being educated at my dream school.

Q: Okay, that’s great and all, but what was the actual process of transferring like?
A: I knew I was at least going to apply to transfer by Christmas break.  I talked it over with my most trusted confidant and we devised a plan to apply to Columbia (and he insisted on Harvard, too…).  I began outlining what I wanted to say in my essays during Christmas break and typed up my first draft whenever I got back to school.  For my common app essay, I probably wrote about 8 separate essays edging on the same theme which I just kept going back and forth about.  I eventually decided on one, then changed that essay a whole bunch before I was satisfied with it.  I kept cutting and pasting from the other essays until I had a working thesis.  

The Columbia-specific essays were much shorter, but also more difficult in that I didn’t have a lot of space to impress the admissions committee with characters.  These were focused a lot on how it was important to me specifically to go to school in New York City.  Funny, they actually kind of started as a poetic text describing to someone who doesn’t like New York why I love it (you know who you are).

I also wrote a kind-of essay for the Common App describing my background and special circumstances, which did not change much content-wise in the long run, but was edited many times so I could articulate just what I meant.

One of the hardest parts of the Common App was figuring out what to list on my activities section.  Did I list high school or college clubs??  Both?  Eventually, I figured it out, then I had to do the math to determine how many hours I spent participating in them each week, and how many weeks out of the year I participated in them.  This part stressed me out, because math/guesstimating is not my strongest skill.

Then, I had to send my transcripts and academic record, which involved hiking to at least three different offices at Pitt in the dead of winter.  Then, I had to go back again because I needed another copy of them.  :-)

I also had to get two letters of recommendation from professors, which was one of the hardest parts of the process.  You have never felt anxiety until you have walked into the office of a professor you admire and had to explain to him why you want to leave his school, while making sense, sounding professional, and not insulting him.  Luckily, both of the professors I asked were very understanding about it, and even a professor I didn’t eventually receive a letter from had a heart to heart with me about transferring and helped me to figure some things out.  It really didn’t end up being as scary as I had thought it’d be.  I also sent an optional letter of recommendation from my advisor.

Then, I sent my high school transcripts and transcripts from all of the colleges I was dual enrolled in.

I really have to thank Mrs. Birkhimer, Professors Rouse, Rogers, and Dristas, and my advisor, Theresa Fabrizio for all of their hard work.

Q: So did you get into Harvard, too?!
A: No, but I didn’t work nearly as hard on those essays.  Additionally, in a way I’m almost relieved that I didn’t get in, because that would be like choosing between my favorite city and my best friend.  But no worries; there’s always my PhD.

That’s the story of how/why I transferred from the University of Pittsburgh to Columbia University.  If you guys have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them below, or anywhere where I’ve shared this blog post.  Hopefully I will be more committed to blogging regularly when I’m in the city.  I’ll try.  And lastly, thanks for hearing me out.  I’m grateful to everyone who helped me achieve this goal.


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