Looking back on my first semester at Barnard as a transfer in fall 2019, there’s a lot that I wish I could go back and tell my former self. Here are the top five things I think any new transfer should keep in mind!

I transferred to Barnard in fall 2019, and, cliche as it sounds, I really do remember it like it was yesterday. Perhaps that’s because we’ve been living in a time warp for the last two years, and I have only spent a total of one and a half semesters on campus, but the challenges and fears of my first semester at Barnard are still fresh in my mind. And, while I can’t quite believe I’m about to start my senior year, I think I’m finally feeling like a real Barnard student. As we all prepare to enter a new academic year with a new group of transfer students, I’d like to share some of the things I wish my former self knew during that first semester at Barnard.

1. Become friends with people in your own class and with first-years.

If I’m being completely honest, when I was a transfer, I often felt like I was “beyond” being friends with first-years. I felt like I had “been there, done that” and it was imperative that I, as a second-year college student, focused on making friends who were also sophomores and were thus in the same stage of college as I was. While there are certainly benefits to having friends in your own class, especially other transfers, you are probably experiencing many of the same obstacles, confusions, and uncertainties as first-years. Being friends with other people who are still trying to figure everything out, from how to get to certain buildings to navigating the Barnumbia social scene, can help you feel less alone and provide a sense of community that you may not feel right away with the students in your class year, as they have already been at Barnard for a year or more.

2. Utilize your class dean and the transfer dean in addition to your personal academic advisor.

Course planning as a transfer can be incredibly hard. You’re probably starting to register for some more upper-level courses (facing upperclassmen with earlier registration times filling up all of the spots), while still needing to fulfill more general requirements (thus also having to compete with first-years for room in a class). While all students have to deal with the stress of scheduling, you may be facing some extra challenges as you enter the new semester. Luckily, there are some people there to help you through this process, including your academic advisor, your class dean, and the transfer dean (Dean Christina Kuan Tsu). Each of these faculty members is prepared to help students navigate course planning, and Dean Kuan Tsu understands the specific difficulties facing transfers. If you’re feeling like your academic advisor isn’t being helpful, doesn’t quite understand the challenges you’re dealing with, or is simply too busy to find a time to meet with, don’t be afraid to reach out to the deans for some extra support! I’ve met with them multiple times when I couldn’t reach my advisor for course planning, and each time I left feeling calmer and had a more organized and complete schedule for the semester ahead.

3. Don’t be embarrassed or afraid to tell people you’re a transfer.

Though the transfer community is pretty big at Barnumbia, most students have been here since their first year in college. While that can feel intimidating and isolating at times, it also makes you extra interesting! Talking about being a transfer student is often a great conversation starter, as people want to know where you transferred from, why you decided to leave your old school, and how you’re liking Barnard/Columbia. Upon learning that you’re a transfer student, many people will also be more likely to help you find your way around, introduce you to new people, and generally want to help you find your footing here! This also includes emailing the professors of classes that you’re on the waitlist for and telling them that you’re a transfer, which could make them more likely to let you into the class. You can only use the transfer card for so long, so take advantage of it while you can!

4. Making connections as an off-campus transfer might take some extra effort.

Many transfers (including myself) are not able to live on campus, which can be pretty isolating. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and make plans with people from your classes, clubs, and NSOP group to go out exploring the area or just chilling at an off-campus apartment. Sometimes it takes some extra effort to “replace” the ease of meeting people on your dorm floor, but doing so can really help you to begin feeling like a part of the Barnumbia community. Don’t be afraid to speak up and make yourself known in clubs and other groups so you don’t fade into the background of people who already know each other. You’ve earned your place here!

5. Your college experience may not be going the way you expected it to, and that’s okay!

Most people do not expect to transfer schools in the middle of their college years, and this may not be the way you saw the next four years going when you graduated high school. Despite what television, movies, and many of the adults in your life might have told you, there is no one single “correct” college experience. And, unless we have some psychics among us who predicted a pandemic, most people’s college experiences are certainly not going as expected. Focus on pursuing your own happiness and success instead of pursuing the life you think you “should” be living, and remember that different definitely doesn’t mean wrong!

Columbia photo via Wikimedia Commons