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May 23, 2014

It’s not U(Chicago), it’s me

Applying to transfer can be an experience that convinces you to stay.

This past March, I applied to transfer from the University of Chicago. It was cold, I was tired and lost, and when I looked at the transfer applications to other schools, the idea didn’t seem half bad. In fact, it seemed like the most right thing I had chosen to do in a long time.

In my two years on campus, I have heard of many friends and classmates who have filled out applications, asked for recommendations, even gotten acceptances to other schools. But much more often, I have heard from those who haven’t done any of those things—complaints about how difficult this school is, how people wish that they were at their respective state school. If you listen closely in the A-Level, cries of, “I could be at Berkeley right now!” hover over the end-of-year buzz.

Frankly, I’ve never had much sympathy for these people. If you want to transfer to a state school, why don’t you just do it? I’m sure they would be happy to have a bright young mind like yours, and it’s much cheaper. Why torture yourself when you could actually do something about your misery?

So I took my own advice. When I realized that my dissatisfaction extended beyond factors that I could control (things like sleep, diet, balance between work and life), I signed up for a new Common App account. I went through the motions (hello again, College Board) and in the meantime also started talking about my situation to family, friends, and professors.

Decisions came out a few days ago, and I didn’t get into either of the schools I applied to. It sort of sucked. But not for the reasons you might think—I was significantly more upset over the fact that I would have no final choice in where I would be studying for the next two years than I was over the actual rejections.

But even though I spent the past two months worrying about my future, writing applications, and talking to people—generally just brooding over the transfer process in an admittedly somewhat self-absorbed manner—I think applying to transfer has been the single most transformative experience I’ve had in my college career. And I highly encourage anyone who feels inclined to transfer to try, or at least think more seriously about it.

The transfer process really forces you to reflect on what you want out of college, and whether or not those things correspond with what UChicago can offer you. Presumably, if what you want doesn’t align with what you have, then it makes sense to try to change that. I thought that when I first clicked “submit,” but then I had two more months to mull it over. And when I really thought critically about my situation, whether or not UChicago was giving me what I needed was far from clear-cut—and I can imagine that’s the case for many other people.

For me, UChicago has been a great academic fit, but at the cost of feeling like I don’t belong to a strong community in college. Do I want to push myself intellectually, which is more or less an individual process, or do I want to spend more of my time cultivating meaningful relationships (in what seems like the last de facto community that I will belong to for at least the rest of my twenties)? These two options are certainly not mutually exclusive, and balance certainly exists for most people. But I do think that the demands of school at UChicago do take away from an opportunity to participate in a stronger community.

Of course, both school and a sense of community contribute immense value to my life, albeit in different ways. So the only way I could make a decision to transfer was to understand what I wanted. This is where things get complicated—because just what exactly does it mean to want something? I want to get good grades and challenge myself intellectually, but I also want to feel like I have roots at this school, to cultivate friendships and relationships that will last beyond my time here.

In short, I want both equally, but for the first time I was confronted with choosing one over the other, and two different paths in life.

Before I considered transferring, I never really had to ask myself what I wanted from college; I was sort of just here because I got an acceptance letter two years ago. And frankly, it’s pretty easy to function on this level. Classes, RSOs, friends, and sleep took up enough of my time that reflection is simply not something that I had to do on a daily basis.

But I think reflecting upon a choice between two things that are both vitally important to me has forced me to look inward in a way that no other decision in my life has pushed me to. This choice was different because it forced me to ask myself not whether my choices were “good” or “bad,” but instead a more daunting question: Which one of these choices do I want?

This question is bound to come up at some point in all of our young adult lives, transfers or not. Figuring out something as nebulous (and perhaps even frivolous) as what you want is part of the autonomy that so many philosophers talk about. It’s a difficult question to ask, and it’s pretty easy to avoid. But I think confronting it can fundamentally shift how you understand your life in college and beyond.

So if you have ever thought about transferring, apply. You probably won’t find a straight answer to your concerns about UChicago, but you’ll certainly learn a lot about what yourself, and perhaps even a little about what you want from life. Even if leaving seems like a clear concept to you now, you might learn otherwise. I did, and because of it I feel much surer of the decision I made to come here two years ago.

Kristin Lin is a second-year in the College majoring in political science.

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