Small fish, big pond: how transfer students adapt

BRETT JENKINS
STAFF WRITER

When I first arrived at Alma College as a transfer student, I had no idea what was in store for me. I was nervous and excited, and I was dreading the Michigan winter, which had a reputation that preceded it all the way back to August. Now, with a semester under my belt and a long, restful winter break, I’ve had time to reflect on my experience.

Transferring to a school like Alma from an out-of-state community college is a unique experience and one that I’m really grateful for. And at last, I finally feel like I have an answer to the question I’ve been asked more than any other, “why Alma?”

Aside from the usual boilerplate answers I usually gave people, I couldn’t put my finger on it. I cherish the time I spent at Salt Lake Community College (or “Slick” for you Salt Lake City locals), but Alma had something unique to offer: the sense of community that comes from all the students who live on and around campus. The community of learning at Alma College is one of its greatest amenities and one that I think goes under-appreciated. However, becoming a part of that community and taking advantage of everything it has to offer isn’t always easy.

As many of us remember first-hand, the first few weeks at school can be overwhelming for incoming freshmen. It is an avalanche of new information—new faces, new places, and new expectations. It really does feel like being thrown into the deep end of the pool on the first day of swimming lessons, except this time you’ve got a $300 stack of books and a hundred other kids splashing around with you.

It’s a lot to handle and the college knows that, which is why there are so many resources available to freshmen, especially in those first few weeks. Things like orientation and the first-year seminar classes that all freshmen have to take are life-preservers to help keep everyone’s heads above water.

Transfer students, thankfully, are equipped to deal with a lot of the stress that plagues first-year students. They have already gone through that crucible, and they know what to expect.

But that doesn’t mean their transition is painless. There’s still a lot to learn and, in some cases, a lot to un-learn.

Unfortunately, most of the resources for new students aren’t perfectly suited for transfer students. Even the resources that would be really helpful can be hard to find. That is why Alma has the Transfer Assistance Program (TAP).

“The transfer program is supposed to give you a sense of belonging,” said Johnnie Upshaw (20), a TAP mentor and a transfer student himself. “The first time I actually left my room in my first semester was for a TAP event and I met like four people that I’m still friends with today,” said Upshaw.

My personal experience definitely affirms that goal. When I arrived Alma, it was immediately clear that I was an outsider. However, I didn’t feel excluded. Quite the contrary—I felt welcomed by both the staff and the students, largely thanks to outreach from the TAP mentors.

For some students, transferring from a community college to a four-year school can improve the experience overall.

“It gives you a transition from dependence to independence. At community college, you’re still under your parents’ roof. You have more independence on campus, and then you go back

home to being dependent. When you come to a university where you stay on campus and you live there, it’s like full independence. You’re learning adulthood.” said Upshaw.

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