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What To Know if Your Kid Is Considering a College Transfer

Halfway through my son’s first semester, his vision of his college experience shifted. Suddenly, the desire for a u-rah-rah four years at a very large state school in the Midwest seemed uninteresting, as did the sub-Arctic temps and sustained winds all winter long.

When the “T” word popped up, it would have been easy to dismiss this change of heart. Transferring is one of the bravest — and most stressful — things your kid can contemplate, so it would have been way more convenient to hope he wasn’t serious about a) starting the application process again and b) adjusting to an entirely different school — two years in a row.

Because I know my child as well as I do, I knew this wasn’t idle chatter or the words of a homesick kid. So, instead of dismissing these sentiments, I leaned in — and learned. What unfolded were hours of discussion about what he really wanted, where he wanted to spend his next few years and, most important, what institution would give him the biggest boost into the real world.

Those conversations were intense and important. I did my best not to impose my own feelings or reminisce about my own college journey and, instead, really hear what he was saying. And, while I knew the next few months of transfer applications and essays would be challenging, I prepared to sit in the passenger seat as he drove his way to the ultimate goal of finding a college that would be a way better fit.

As the flurry of activity kicked in, it really helped to consider the fact that the choices you make as a senior in high school don’t always track when you actually set foot on a campus. That’s as true for our kids as it was for us and, if you start with this premise, it will help you along the way, agrees Laurie Kopp Weingarten, CEP, president and chief educational consultant at One-Stop College Counseling, a college counseling company in Marlboro, New Jersey.

“It’s essential to recognize that students evolve throughout their college years,” she says. “They may not be the same person at 19 or 20 as they were at 17 or 18 years old. Their likes/dislikes and priorities may have shifted.”

And, while I didn’t have an expert like Weingarten to guide me along the way when I was going through this a few years ago, I’m happy to report that my son is thriving at his new university. Read on as Weingarten shares a few key things to keep in mind if your child is getting ready to switch schools:

SheKnows: What would you say to parents who might think there’s a stigma to transferring schools?

Weingarten: There’s no stigma attached to transferring. College is arguably the most significant investment a parent [or young adult] makes, second only to buying a home. All parents want their students to be content and to thrive at their college of choice. It can be a long four years for a teenager if they’re miserable, so the option to transfer should be considered. Everyone, teens and adults, performs better when they’re happy. No one should feel “married” to their university; if it’s not the right fit, it’s reasonable to explore other options. Students should not feel obligated to remain at their school.

SheKnows: What advice would you give to parents to help their student who is contemplating a transfer?

Weingarten: Parents should begin the discussion by asking (and listening carefully!) about the reasons behind their student’s desire to transfer. Some reasons may be clear-cut and logical, such as wanting to pursue a major not offered at their current college or choosing to be closer to home to support a sick relative. However, other reasons may require further exploration, such as experiencing roommate challenges or not having a Starbucks nearby! Parents should help their teens decide whether transferring makes sense for them and encourage their student to explore the idea further. Teens should be able to verbalize what they find dissatisfying and they should be able to express their aspirations for their new college and experience. 

SheKnows: Once this conversation occurs, what are next steps? It can be scary to consider a second school, especially if the first one didn’t work out.

Weingarten: Students should thoroughly research colleges they hope to transfer into, ensuring that they won’t experience the same issues at the new institution. They should also try to speak to students on those campuses to learn about the college’s culture, lifestyle, and academic environment.  

SheKnows: What about the costs involved — new sets of application fees, or perhaps the new school will be more expensive?

Weingarten: Parents and students should establish clear expectations. It’s important to discuss potential financial implications, academic and career goals, and any other important factors. This ensures everyone will be on the same page regarding the decision to transfer and the anticipated outcome.

SheKnows: What’s something parents should work hard to avoid?

Weingarten: In my experience working primarily with high-achieving students, I’ve encountered situations where parents have advocated for their teens to transfer, often with the goal of “trading up” and having their child graduate with a degree from a “brand name” school. Parents should focus on the student’s well-being and academic fit and make sure they are transferring for the right reasons. That’s what matters most.

Before you go, check out what these celeb parents had to say about their kids heading off to college.

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