Adjusting to Stanford University as a Transfer Student

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September 21, 2012 in Adjusting, Costs, Four-Year Transfer Articles, Ivy Plus

In this article, Chris (co-founder of TransferWeb) interviews me (Lan) about my transition to Stanford as a transfer student. These are the main topics I discuss:

  • The academic adjustment
  • The social adjustment
  • Financial aid

You’ll see why, in reflecting on my experience trying to adjust to Stanford, I tell other transfer students, “Basically, don’t be like me. Don’t be a fool.”

Without further ado, here’s the interview.

Chris: Some people have asked about what it’s like to transfer into Stanford. How was it for you transferring in, the process of adjusting, and getting used to Stanford?

Lan: It was really, really hard. In hindsight, I wish I had done many things very differently. Going from UCLA to Stanford was very difficult because just the name Stanford alone was very intimidating. I, in some ways, was surprised that I got in because I could not accept the fact that I got into this extremely prestigious school, especially coming from a very humble background with very little education.

Once I got there, I was overwhelmed by how amazing everyone else seemed. I was scared, actually. It seemed like everyone around me was so accomplished. Everyone around me had already started a business or a non-profit, or they had done some amazing internship while they were in high school, and they were continuing to pursue such amazing endeavors while in college. I felt very little. You often hear the cliché that you’re a superstar in high school, and then you go to this awesome college, and suddenly you’re not a superstar anymore. That was a blow to my confidence.

I made the wrong move by giving myself a light load the first semester. I thought, “I need to adjust, so I’m just going to take three classes instead of four.” I think that might work for other people because they have transfer shock. Right when you come in, you’re shocked, and to lighten up the ramifications of this shock, you might want to take fewer classes to ease yourself into taking a more difficult load later. You have to assess your situation. For me, I like to be in intense situations, so actually, taking a lighter load was not good for me in retrospect.

I took a lighter load, and I think it made it harder for me to adjust because I wasn’t pushing myself hard enough. The following semester, when I wanted to take more classes, it was a hard transition. I should have just taken the regular load, which was four classes, the first semester.

The social transition was the hardest. We heard a lot of transfer students that we interviewed talk about how hard it is because you’re not a freshmen anymore, but you’re also not a continuing student like everyone else. I lived in a dorm with a lot of other transfer students and also non-transfer students. My roommate was a transfer student. I think because I was also very focused on doing well in school, I didn’t take the initiative to be social. I should have been actively pursuing social endeavors, but I didn’t. That’s why I’m glad we’re talking about this now, and we wrote this book on what you should do and shouldn’t do. Basically, don’t be like me. Don’t be a fool. Don’t lock yourself in the library. That is what I ended up doing, just going to the library all the time to study. At the same time, I was very involved in a lot of different clubs, and that’s another mistake I made, because I was spreading myself too thinly, trying to be an active member in everything. I wasn’t just a member; I was in leadership roles in a few clubs. That made it very difficult to be focused and emotionally and mentally devoted to an organization or to a cause.

Chris: Let me try to sum up. If you had the chance to do it over again, you would’ve taken your normal course load right off the bat. You would have made more of an effort to put yourself in more relaxed, non-formal social situations. Clubs, for example, is a formal social situation. You think you should have hung out a little bit more. Was there anything else?

Lan: The last point I made was about spreading myself too thinly.

Chris: So, don’t spread yourself too thinly in terms of clubs.

Lan: Correct.

Chris: It obviously varies every year, but some people might be curious; do you remember the schools that other transfer students transferred from when they came into Stanford the same class as you?

Lan: I remember someone was from Mills College. Everyone else was like me; they came from “lower” ranking schools.

Chris: What did Stanford do in terms of orientation services for you guys once you arrived?

Lan: We had a specific orientation just for transfer students. One of the deans was in charge of transfer students, and there was an advisor that was specifically working with transfer students. She led the orientation for transfer students. In addition to the orientation that was going on for freshmen, they had one for us. It was nice to start off with a little community.

First, there was a general welcoming of everyone, and then a meeting with our advisors. It’s a little strange. I guess the school had no choice; in the beginning they give you random advisors, and you meet with them. For me, it was useless. I got someone who was the coach of some sports team. I was not happy with that. I eventually transitioned over to an actual professor in the economics department, but that was not good to have that as my start in academic advising.

Chris: Because you’re not big into sports, right?

Lan: Not at all. We also had a peer transfer group. I think Stanford should have done a better job of maintaining a core of transfer students, a support network of transfer students, throughout the year. It was only at the beginning that we had a couple of group meetings or activities with this transfer peer group. Then, after that, it just tapered off.

Chris: Overall, how happy were you with your decision to transfer and transferring to Stanford?

Lan: I think it was one of the best decisions I made in my life, although when people ask me, “How was your experience at Stanford?” I often start with, “I didn’t know how to navigate the resources that were available to me, because I didn’t come from an educated background.” It’s nice to go to Stanford. You really move up from going to a public university when you go to a place like Stanford whose endowment is ranked third after I think Harvard and Yale. Stanford is totally loaded. Money translates into a lot of different services and resources. It’s nice just being in that kind of environment that is so rich in resources.  Resources include human resources. Think about these people that surround you; they are so accomplished, they’ve done so much, and they have all these connections. It’s really inspirational. I think going to Stanford inspired me to–it’s a cliché–branch out and to broaden my horizons. It allowed me to try a lot of new things because of all the different opportunities that were available.

For example, I did a fellowship where I was a resident director assistant for a program where college students from Taiwan and Japan came and stayed for a summer. It was an intensive program in American language and culture for them, and I was one of the five Stanford assistant directors. From that experience, I was able to go abroad, because it was an exchange program. I ended up going to Japan and Taiwan with these people and the other Stanford students. From there, I ended up going back to Japan and learning Japanese. Since then, I’ve been to Japan five or six times and Taiwan at least three times, and all that started from going to Stanford and having this amazing opportunity to be a part of this program. I think going to Stanford afforded me with all these different opportunities that allowed me to open my eyes to new things, new experiences, and new people.

Chris: Can you give us a ballpark of how generous Stanford was in terms of financial aid? Was it cheaper to go there than to UCLA?

Lan: Money is huge, and again because Stanford has so much money, if you’re low-income, you’re very much taken care of. I spent three years at Stanford. There were two terms when I took time off, but I figured out a way to still be able to use financial aid from those two terms. I think in the three years I was at Stanford, I took out $13,000 in loans. I can’t remember the exact amount, but my loans from my one year at UCLA were more than $13,000, which is what I had to take out to go to Stanford for three years.

Chris: You weren’t paying for anything out of pocket at Stanford?

Lan: I had to work at Stanford, but I worked when I was at UCLA, too. I did work-study, and I worked summers.

Chris: Three years at Stanford for you cost about the same as one year at UCLA?

Lan: I would say less.

(Photo: LeeBrimelow)

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8 responses to Adjusting to Stanford University as a Transfer Student

  1. It really gives me much information about college life after transferring, especially as the one who is trying from even lower institution called ‘community college.’

    Too bad there was no information about her spec as transfer applicant, but that was not the theme of this interview anyway.

    Thank you for this nice posting anyway.

  2. Glad you found this article helpful. As you read more of the articles here, you’ll learn more about my situation and profile as a transfer applicant.

    All the best,
    Lan

  3. How exactly were you able to pay 13,000 in student loans at Stanford? Specifically, what did you apply to?

  4. To clarify your question, you’re asking how I was able to have about $13,000 in student loans at Stanford and not have to borrow more than that? If that’s the question, I submitted a FAFSA (http://www.fafsa.ed.gov/) and received need-based student aid, which included financial aid from Stanford (after I was accepted) and the federal government as well as loans.

  5. if you are an international student and you intend to transfer to Stanford from a community college, and also need to apply to financial aid! how that works?
    Is it that impossible, because it seems very intimidating for me! and at the same time I wanna try so hard to get into Stanford University!

    • Applying to a “top” university is definitely intimidating. I thought so then, and I still think so now, but it is worth a try.

  6. Anon said on May 5, 2013

    Hi Lan,

    I’m going to take a stab at applying to Stanford as a transfer for the class of 2017. Although I will expect to go up against a 1-3 percent acceptance rate, I still want to try to apply because I think there will be less than 1500 freshman which means there might be a few more seats available when I apply in two years.

    If you could, I would like you to read my strategy to appeal to Stanford and give me the best feedback you can.

    The first part of my plan is to show Stanford that I compassion to help people. As a high school senior, I was part of a program created by Stanford students that helped first generation high school students matriculate to college. I was so influenced by the program that I’m currently working with the same non profit to create a new one that does the same thing but focuses on helping high school seniors work through their first two years of any college to help them transfer to a four year university. I plan to write about this in the third supplement essay that asks “What’s important to you and why?” I plan to talk about how important it is to give resources to underprivileged groups and mention how I collaborated with Stanford undergrads to make it happen.

    The second part of my plan is to show Stanford that I’m culturally sensitive and very empathic. When I was in high school, I always helped my parents run our taco truck in the morning in the rough streets of Oakland. Throughout those experiences, I learned through my parents how to talk and relate to many different people and nationalities. Although my parents spoke broken english, they got along perfectly well with the blacks and latinos in the community. This translated to me having a diverse group of friends and being able to hold my social prowess in any setting. In college, I hope to join and start ethnic-based clubs that aren’t focused on Asian Americans. I want to do this because I believe it is important to be exploratory of many types of backgrounds and what not. In plan to write about this in my roommate essay by first taking about my taco truck experience and how I took those lessons with me in college. After I talk about myself, I would mention how I’m excited to explore the open-mindedness of the Stanford community, and I plan to finish off my essay by talking about how I want to invite all my fellow transfers to a taco to share our stories over beef tacos and enchiladas.

    The third part of my plan is to show Stanford that I’m an entrepreneur. I have this amazing start up idea that relates to city government and I will work with techy CS people to make it happen or to at least try to. I plan to write about this experience and talk about how it relates to how I want to be part of the entrepreneurial hub at Stanford in the intellectual vitality essay.

    The next part is to simply get a 3.8 plus GPA. Nothing to much to say here, if any.

    Finally, my main key to my entire application. The school that I plan to attend in the fall is the University of the Pacific in Stockton, and just last year, a Stanford alum of the class of 2012 was elected as a city council member in the city. I plan to get a letter of recommendation from him since I will be working with him during my first two years. He was one of the most prominent students of his class with a Truman Scholarship, Dinkelspiel Award, and making it as a Rhodes Scholar finalist. Also, this alum was endorsed by Oprah and worked in the White house as an intern. I expect him to write a phenomenal letter since I’m really cool with him and I’m interested in pursuing public service like him.

    If I can pull off all of this, do you think I even have a chance of a chance of making it as a transfer student? What could I improve on or do to improve my resume?

    Thanks,
    Anon

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