In the weeks leading up to the NISTS 2023 virtual annual conference, we're highlighting the transfer stories of this year's National Transfer Student Ambassadors. All four students will attend the conference in Portland and participate in a student panel conversation. You can read more about Emily's story and meet the other 2023 ambassadors on the NISTS Blog.
Hi! I’m Emily, and I am a senior at Union College in Schenectady, New York. While my time at Union has been the absolute greatest experience, it has honestly been quite a path to get where I am today. I began my college career at the Pennsylvania State University in the biotechnology program before making the difficult decision to come home and take classes at Hudson Valley Community College (HVCC) for a semester while I applied to local four-year institutions. I finally found my way to Union during the winter of my first year and am now studying biochemistry with minors in dance and psychology.
After Union, I am planning on attending graduate school to pursue my PhD in biochemistry/biomedical sciences. I love research and hope to use that to help others, so long-term I hope to pursue a career in cancer research. I am particularly interested in the development of treatments for pediatric cancers and hope to contribute to that work someday.
Outside of being a student researcher, I am also a dancer. My favorite styles are contemporary/lyrical and jazz, but I am also on the hip-hop team and choreograph for some of the showcases at Union. I was previously a tour guide, but this year I am a senior interviewer in the admissions office and I work with both prospective and new transfer students. This past fall, I was the transfer orientation advisor, and I have also been a mentor for winter and spring term transfer students for the past two years. Through this transfer connections program, I have been able to meet many other amazing students and help develop a new program that was not here when I transferred in the winter of 2020.
Deciding to Transfer
Transferring was definitely not something that I had planned on, and I did not know much about it until I actually went to do it. I found myself at a very large institution about five and a half hours from home and quickly realized that it was not the right place for me at that time. I decided to come home and enroll in classes at HVCC while I figured out my next steps. This is when my research on transfer really began. Because I was a non-matriculated student, HVCC was never going to be a long-term school for me, but I am grateful for my time there and for having it as a stepping stone as I created a new path for myself. I began researching schools within a commuting distance from home, and that’s how I came across Union.
In many ways I feel lucky that Union worked out as well as it did. I did my research on the school and even spent a day there going to classes, meeting with students and professors, and getting a feel for it, but in some ways I was still fairly unsure of my decision at the time. In hindsight, I think it was more of my own fears and insecurities than my trust in the research I had done. I never had that feeling of “oh, this is the right place” in the process. I still remember the night my deposit was due; I stared at the screen, nervous to make a decision, and I’m pretty sure my mom ended up clicking the submit button so that I could finally start a new path and get some closure. I was still unsure in my decision until I was finally at Union for a bit. I try to share this with people now because I remember being so afraid of making the “wrong” decision again that I didn’t want people to know it was taking me some time to love it at my new school. I think it’s important to talk about this uncertainty and to give others what I needed so badly at the time: to know that I wasn’t alone.
Adjusting to My New School
I was excited to start at my new school, but I was nervous too. I didn’t feel like I knew what I was doing, and I found it difficult to identify with a student population. I wasn’t a traditional first-year student, since I had started at another institution, but I also wasn’t a traditional transfer student since I had made the decision to transfer schools so early in my college career. In addition, Union only enrolls a small number of transfer students each year, and most enter in the fall term, so there was not a formal orientation program when I got there in the winter. However, the faculty, staff, and students at Union made my transition so much smoother than I could have imagined. Almost immediately after enrolling, I heard from the dean of studies, my class dean, my academic advisor, and even a few professors. They helped me through every step and met with me to ensure I had a smooth transition.
I quickly learned that my peers were incredibly welcoming and supportive, and this community remains one of my favorite parts of the school. I still remember my first day at Union when I was in biology lab and got paired with classmates who are now my closest friends. They welcomed me with open arms and helped me that term (and beyond) in more ways than I can explain. Aside from this, the piece that was most helpful to me was getting involved in organizations on campus. One of the first things I joined was the tour guide program. I learned about the opportunities Union had to offer, which certainly encouraged me to get involved even more, but one of the most important things to me were the connections.
Some of the admissions deans encouraged me to embrace my unique experiences as a transfer student and share my story to help other students in the same situation, and this was the start of my work with transfers. I later joined the dance program and met some of my best friends, started working on a research team and gained incredible mentors and friends, and so much more. Finally saying yes to the opportunities in front of me allowed me to truly make Union feel like home.
Looking Back on the Experience
Looking back on my experience now, I can’t say that I had much of a plan at all, so I like to say that it just went the way that it needed to. Now that I have made it through some of the more challenging times, I can honestly say that I wouldn’t change my experience for the world. Union ended up being the perfect place for me, and while there were certainly difficult times along the way, I am so grateful to be a transfer student because of the unique experiences and opportunities it has offered me.
The biggest challenge for me as a transfer student initially was the uncertainty and fear of failure. I think I was caught up in what other people thought about my decisions, but I still remember someone telling me they were proud of me for deciding to pursue other avenues and were confident in my decisions, which I think allowed me to start to embrace my journey. I felt like we only hear about when students go off to college and have the greatest experience, but no one ever really shares about the tough parts or when things don’t work out as planned. I had heard about transfers from a community college to a four-year school, but I hadn’t seen much representation of students transferring from one four-year institution to another, much less heard of students who moved away and came home before the end of a semester. I’m sure there were people who thought I didn’t give my first school enough time, but I wish that I had had someone who had gone through the same thing to help me understand that it wasn’t failing. Rather, it was doing exactly what was right for me at that time and taking a slightly different path to where I was meant to be.
For me, one of the best things about being a transfer student has been the connections I have made. On numerous occasions, I will meet a student/family who starts to tell me, “So I’m sure you’ve never heard this before,” and then share about the student being unhappy at their current school and deciding to come home just a few weeks/months in. I remember how upsetting and intimidating this experience was for my family, so I love being able to be an example for others of how a difficult experience like this can work out well. I have met the most incredible people, heard amazing stories, and shared a lot of laughs throughout this process, but having a transfer student share with me that they end up genuinely happy at Union has been the most rewarding part.
If there were one thing I wish I could have known when I was going through this process, it would be to know how accepted, embraced, and encouraged I would feel after transferring to my new school. I think I had a different view of the word “transfer” than I do now, and I didn’t understand all that it could provide and turn out to be. I now realize that there is a community in all of this, and I love being able to connect with others through shared experiences. My biggest piece of advice to other transfer students is to get involved, embrace your unique experiences, and find your support network. It may take a little while to find, but I promise it’s there.