When to Dump Your College: Transfer Mid-Year or Stick It Out?


September 27, 2009 in All Transfers, Community College Articles, Four-Year Transfer Articles, To Transfer or Not


A reader sent us an email, posing some very good questions about the college transfer journey. We got the thumbs up from her to share her situation with you just in case you’ve been wondering the same thing.

I am currently enrolled at Mercyhurst College, in Erie, PA. I am planning on transferring. Mercyhurst is on a trimester system. The first trimester would finish up at Thanksgiving time. I know I don’t like it here. I have been here since August 12th, and not once have I said to myself, “Wow, I am so glad I chose this school.” I am doing well scholastically speaking so far, but there is nothing, literally NOTHING to do socially speaking. I am from Buffalo, NY, and Erie is drastically different. I find myself very bored here, and I am not finding anything that sparks my interest.

Most (if not almost all) of the transfer students we’ve interviewed started thinking about leaving during their first semester at their first college. It’s not unusual to have these thoughts already. It took a month or two for me to realize that my first university wasn’t the best fit for me.

It’s also not uncommon to want to leave your current school because of the social setting. We forget that college is a place where you live and do your work. You’re signing away four years (that’s FOUR YEARS of your youth!) to your undergraduate career. You should be happy. That’s not to say you should transfer so that you can go to, say, the #1 party school and just hang out. Your reasoning has to be deeper than that.

It sounds like you’re doing well academically, but is there anything lacking in terms of academics at your current college?

When I was applying to schools I knew (or thought I knew) that I wanted to play soccer. Well, I am on the soccer team here and I know now that college sports are not for me. I dread going to soccer every day and I am not enjoying it at all. Also, I underestimated myself and thought I would need a smaller school to do well. And I am not from a city, so I figured that I would not be able to handle a school in a city setting. There is nothing to do in Erie, and there is hardly anything to do on campus either. This is a small Catholic school, so I realize now (a little too late!) that the social scene isn’t going to be as fun as say, Florida State (where my two best friends are). I am a very outgoing social girl and this is very strange for me being here in this setting. I feel like I need a school that’s a little bigger with more going on, on and off campus, and maybe even a school in a city setting!!

Many high school students have ideas about what they want to do in college. Then, they get to college and realize that’s not what they want at all. This shouldn’t come as a surprise! How are you supposed to know at age 17 or 18 what you want? How are you supposed to know what kind of college experience you want when you’ve never been to college? As a high school student, you don’t have a lot to go on when making your decisions about college. I hope you don’t feel alone in making this kind of “mistake.”

I know its still early, but if nothing has gotten better here yet, when will it? The problem arises here: If I know I want to transfer, should I stick out the whole year here? The trimester system makes it tough. My thoughts right now are that I should leave here after the first trimester is finished. I should stay home, work, get introductory courses out of the way at my community college, and really concentrate on making the right transfer choice. Is this not a good idea? Should I finish the year out here? I just don’t see the point in spending all the tuition money to go here if I know I’m not staying! Shouldn’t I be home, focusing on making the right choice for the college I’m transferring to? Will it look bad or will it be harder to transfer if I have transcripts from two schools (Mercyhurst and a community college)? I really need your help. I am the oldest child in my family and my parents and I are unsure of what the steps we should be taking to transfer are. I know its still early, but if the college doesn’t seem right… its not right! I have to go with my gut feeling on this. Also, shouldn’t I start the application process to these schools relatively soon? These are all hard questions and I am hoping you can give me some sense of direction.

You seem to be looking at two options:

  1. Stay at your current college for a year and then transfer
  2. Leave after your first term, go to a community college and work, and then transfer

Regardless of which option you choose, if you want to go to another school as a sophomore transfer, you need to start the application process NOW. By application process, I don’t mean that you have to fill out the forms right now, but you need to do the preliminary research, gather info, and such (stuff we’ll go into detail in our book). Many transfer applications are due March 1, which doesn’t leave you a lot of time. To help you make the decision, you should try to take a more objective look at your options by listing the pros and cons for each. As you think about the pros and cons, ask yourself:

  • Will doing this help me reach my goals in life?
  • Is this feasible?
  • Will I be happy?

Now, let’s look at the two options in detail.

Option 1: Stick it out for the year

This option is the “traditional” one for transfer students. The vast majority of transfer students we’ve interviewed took this route. (Some transfers stayed two years at their first school.) We’re very familiar with this path, since it’s what we did. This is also the “safe” route. You stay where you are, continue to work hard in school, and in the meantime, look into transferring and do what it takes to put together strong applications. There’s no sudden, drastic change of routine. If you’re determined enough and you work hard, you should be able to focus on making the right choice in your next college while continuing with your college routine.

Staying a year would give you time to establish yourself at your college and time to learn about what you want. I often ask transfer students, “Did the time you spend at your first college help to give you a better understanding of what you wanted in your next college?” The answer is almost always YES. Staying might also give you more time to get to know your instructors, from whom you will need recommendation letters. (At the same time, many students stop communicating with their professors on a regular basis once the term is over, so staying beyond one term won’t necessarily help you with building relationships with professors.)

You can stay and spend the rest of the year at your college thinking to yourself, “I can’t wait to leave. Why am I making myself miserable?” or you can say to yourself, “I’m learning so much about myself, and yes, there is light at the end of this tunnel.”

A similar argument could be made about staying at your first college for 2 full years (transferring in the fall as a junior) versus 1.5 years (transferring in the spring semester of your sophomore year).

Option 2: Leave ASAP, go to a community college and work, and then transfer

I know of three people who have transferred twice. One person went to a large university, decided to essentially drop out and go to a community college, and then transferred to William & Mary. So, it’s not completely unheard of to go to two schools before settling down (possibly at a top college, nonetheless). Finishing off the year at a community college and living at home would definitely save you a lot of money. If you choose this option, make sure you have a clear plan for the next steps and stick to that plan. Otherwise, it might be hard for you to get back on that bachelors degree track. A lot of the general requirements are similar for many schools, so some might say that it doesn’t matter where you spend your first year or two of college. From what I’ve heard and from my own experience taking summer classes at a community college, the classes are less rigorous than at four-year schools. So, you’d better do an excellent job at the community college. It would look really bad if you went to a community college and did worse than your first trimester at your first college.

Will it look bad or will it be harder to transfer if you have transcripts from two schools? I can’t give you a definitive answer to that, but I don’t see why having two transcripts will necessarily hurt your transfer application. I would say that your essay will be crucial in this case, because you’ll have to explain your decision VERY carefully and show that you did indeed make the right choice and learned from your first year. It doesn’t hurt to call up a school and ask the admissions office for their opinion. Also, if you’re going to spend a substantial amount of time working at a job while attending community college, it might even be impressive in the eyes of admissions officers, especially if you gain a lot from your job.

This option sounds like your way of “taking time off,” something that some transfers do to give themselves perspective and time to really think about what they want. One transfer student I spoke with left his university to do community service work. Meanwhile, he got his transfer applications together, and he’s now at the University of Pennsylvania. Others took time off to work for a political campaign or teach in India while applying to transfer.  Here’s a great book called Taking Time Off by Colin Hall and Ron Lieber. The book isn’t specifically about transfers, but it’s a worthwhile read for anyone interested in taking a break.

Just to conclude…

I’ve mentioned some of the advantages and disadvantages of each option, but obviously, you know your situation better than anyone else. Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide.

The transfer process is not as straightforward as the freshman application process. Transfer students have taken varying paths to get to where they are. Knowing how other transfers have navigated through their journeys can help you make the road less bumpy (that’s why such a big part of our book will be based on stories directly from transfer students!). But there’s one thing all the people we’ve interviewed have in common: they don’t regret their decision to transfer. We certainly don’t.

Please leave a comment with your input/advice!

(Photo: Tiago Rïbeiro)

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38 responses to When to Dump Your College: Transfer Mid-Year or Stick It Out?

  1. Points to ponder.

  2. How can I buy the book? Can you send me a link since I already clicked the buy button on the menu bar but couldn’t find a way to buy it?

    • UPDATE: The book is available for purchase here!

      Hi Klein,

      We’re still working on the book, we were aiming for the fall, but it should be ready around the new year! Keep checking back, or sign up on the Five Steps list and we’ll let you know when it comes out!



  3. im in the same well kinda boat he was in. i transferred to a 4 yr university after a year and a half at community college but now im 100% miserable and unhappy but im doing well in classes. i had a nervous breakdown last semester and i dont want that to happen again so im thinking of moving back home to FL and going back to comm. college. i just dont know if i made the right choice of coming up to CT for college then wasting my mom’s money just for going outta state for a year then coming back home after a breakdown?!? was i stupid?!

    • Sorry to hear that you are miserable and unhappy. Your mental and emotional health is important. If you really do believe that staying at your current school will hinder your ability to reach your goals in life and your ability to be happy and productive, you might consider going elsewhere. I would strongly suggest that you construct a clear plan of action before making any big decisions. Consult others and see what they have to say. Consider the pros and cons. All the best to you!

  4. My situation is similar to this one…

    I’m currently a freshman at University of Minnesota Duluth and am thinking about transferring to the University of Minnesota Twin Cities. My problem is that I don’t know if I should stick out the year or transfer when the semester is over. My dad seems to think that transferring in the middle of the school year will take away the financial aid that I receive now…do you know anything about that? If that is true, I don’t think transferring after fall semester is a good idea, but if not, I don’t see why I can’t switch over Christmas break.

    • Transferring shouldn’t affect any federal aid or any aid that doesn’t come from your specific school.

      However, if you’re getting aid specifically from your school, then obviously that goes away once you transfer (though hopefully you can get aid from new school instead!).

    • I am currently a freshman and UMD and I have having the exact same thoughts… I don’t know if I want to transfer to the cities campus but I know I want to be in the cities. I am so confused on if I should stick out the year or if I should leave after christmas.

    • J said on October 9, 2014

      Wow Megan, I am also a freshman at UMD having the same thoughts. I just miss being home and the social life here isn’t what I thought it would be. Also I just feel like the education quality would be the same somewhere closer to home and I wouldn’t have to pay to live in a dorm. I also miss having my car. If I do transfer mid-year I will probably transfer to a community college to finish up generals and figure out a major and then transfer to the Twin Cities campus. Even having been a UMD student I think we still get priority over others for being in the U of M system which is one of the main reasons I chose UMD. Whatever you decide good luck 🙂

  5. Jen said on March 2, 2013

    I’m a freshman. During the middle of the fall semester, I realized that I really cannot stand being in this college anymore. I decided to stay in it for the spring semester, because I would be behind everyone else, but I am regretting that decision. I am never happy and getting sick from stress. I don’t know if it would be a bad idea to leave in the middle of the spring semester, or try and wait it out. I’ve already applied to another college, but I don’t know if they will accept me if I were to drop out in mid-semester. Help?

  6. My daughter is at Wake Forest Universation finishing her 2nd year. If she wants to transfer to UNC chapel hill would it be possible? are are the pros and cons? Thanks,

  7. I am a freshman at san diego state university, and I’m in my second semester. I had a lot of fun my first semester, but I was miserable this past semester. I realized that I didn’t really like my friends, and that there were many things about the school that weren’t what I wanted in college. Should I stick it out for my first semester of sophomore year and se if I like it or should i transfer?

    • At this point, your options for applying to transfer for fall 2013 are limited because a lot of transfer application deadlines have already passed: March 1, March 15, and April 1. If there is a school you want to go to and its admissions process is still open, you can decide if you want to apply to those schools, but it might be stressful to obtain all the materials, e.g. recommendation letters, and write application essays while preparing for final exams and such.

  8. I’m really glad I found this, I’m a freshman at Queen’s University and it’s been two months and I’m not happy. My academics are ok, I only like one course and the friends I made aren’t really my friends. I don’t fit in in my university and there are days that I want to drop out but I feel like I should stay for a year at least. My dad wants me to drop out because he’s worried about me but my mom saids I should stay. My cousin Jenny had a bad year but in her second year she was really happy. I guess I could that I’m scared that if I transfer, I’ll miss out but at the same time if I stay I’ll be miserable for another year. What should I do?

    • If applying to transfer won’t interfere with your academics, perhaps you could go ahead and submit transfer applications for fall admission as a sophomore. The process of applying might be a time of introspection that may help you make your decision. While waiting for the results, you can continue to consider whether you want to transfer, and once you get the results, you’ll have about another month or so to continue thinking about your decision.

  9. As a mom of freshman who was homesick, I wish you the best. Ask your parents for their support. If you decide to hang in there for the 2nd semester, take gen ed courses that will transfer and focus on earning As & Bs. Use the university’s resources to get those grades – writing lab, math lab & supplemental instruction sessions. Also, join & participate in at least two student organizations/ clubs because you’ll meet people & the membership can be used in your transfer essay. Do your best to enjoy the present and stay positive.

  10. I am in a similar situation. I am a freshman at Belmont University in Nashville and I am also on the soccer team here. I do not click with the school at all. I have not been able to make any friends, I don’t connect that well with the girls on my team and the school just doesn’t have what I am looking for. I want a better social aspect out of my college experience. I do not want to party every night of the week but I would not mind going out on the weekends. At my school now I feel like I am always in my dorm room or on the soccer field. The main thing making me hesitant about transferring is that the academics are good for me here. I am in the nursing program and doing really well, but I feel like I could be challenged more. Also, I am not sure if I am ready to give up on soccer. I hate the fact that it gets in the way of my social life, but I’m scared if I quit and transfer I will regret it. I am very confused on what to do and I am scared to stay at my school but also nervous about leaving.

    • I can relate to your experience. Currently I attend bowling green state university. The people here are nice but I don’t feel like it’s the school for me. There is no where to go in the city because it’s basically just the campus out here. I’m thinking about changing after the semester is over. Good luck

  11. Can you to go to a a community college and transfer after one semester? For example going to queens college from queens-borough community college?

    • Because you already have a specific college in mind, go ahead and directly contact that college (Queens-Borough). Someone in the admissions office there should be able to give you the exact answer to your question.

  12. Is the Taking Time Off ebook still available? I don’t see it.

  13. I attend bowling green state university and I’ve regretted being here. I know people who transferred after 2 years and wish they did it first semester. My sister graduated from her college and was miserable for 4 years trying to convince herself it would change for the better. We drove 5 hours every month to keep her spirits up. I’m homesick, there are no parties to go too, and I feel like I don’t fit. Also I don’t know what I want to do as a career and transferring to wright state university (hometown) I would be able to figure it out. It’s not all bad though, after I walk away from friends or get done working out, the depression hits me. Should I stay half a semester or a year ?

    • It sounds like you’re leaning toward transferring after 1.5 years rather than 2 years. It would not hurt to aim to transfer after 1.5 years. If you don’t get the results you want, you have another shot at applying to transfer as a junior (after 2 years).

      • This is my first semester of freshman year. I don’t want to give it a whole year because, although my credits would transfer not all would be applicable.

  14. It seems I’m in a similar situation as most except for the fact that my major is undecided. I thought I wanted to do something medical, but as of right now I’m trying to drop my Chem151 because my university is so big, I’m not getting the quality one on one I need, there are tutor hours etc., but when I’m in class struggling with the assignment at hand tutors aren’t much help. On another aspect, I haven’t made any friends. I don’t seem to click with anyone here, and the greek life is what this school is based upon, and everyone sticks to those so not many people are open to new friends. I came here because I thought I wanted/could handle a big university, I know no one here and I spend my days in my dorm room, I try to go out for the smallest of things in hopes of making friends but I don’t click.
    My problem is- is this a good reason to transfer? (ckasses/campus is too big, and because I’m socially unhappy?) and then theres the part of me that feels pathetic if I transfer, or go to the college my 2 other friends are at.
    2- It’s still early do I transfer at semester or stick out a year?

    I feel miserable here and I don’t want to waste my time, but should I just tough it out

    • Jade,
      I’m a freshman too, and plan on transferring to my CC back home for the spring semester. If you still feel this way, after making this comment three months ago, transferring might be the right choice. Don’t feel pathetic for transferring- I had that thought too, but what’s so pathetic about doing what makes you happy? (Exactly– nothing!) The social aspect of your school and your life is almost just as important as academics. I have several friends who go to the school I’m transferring to next semester, and some who’re still in high school in my hometown. Being away from them is part of why I’m so unhappy at college, which is fine. Friends are important, as long as that’s not the only motivation you have for transferring.If you feel detached or that you don’t click at your school, then there’s probably something that isn’t right.
      If you agree, and still feel the same as you did when you made your initial comment, just know that there’s nothing wrong with transferring. It’s your life, and you should be happy- whatever that entails.
      Good luck, friend.

  15. I’m currently a college Freshmen almost finishing up my first quarter and I’m miserable. I’m so homesick and just not happy. My grades are average but every day I find myself crying and wanting to transfer to the community college back home but I just can’t make up my mind on whether this is the right decision. I want to stick it out the whole year to see if I end up liking it here but honestly why am I putting myself through this if I can get an education back home and be happy? I just don’t want to transfer and have it affect later transferring from the community college to another 4 year university. Will the transfer mid-year look bad on my record? Should I stick it out? I’m so lost. Please help.

    • Selena,
      I’m in the same situation. I loved my school in the beginning of the semester, but I soon found myself feeling miserable and constantly weepy. I’ve been thinking about it for a while and finally decided, just yesterday, to transfer to my local CC for the spring semester. I did consider sticking it out for the year, but if I feel the same way come February, I’ll be kicking myself for not transferring when I had the chance. I don’t think having transcripts from two schools will hurt you- it’d make sense that the grades on the transcripts matter more than the quantity of them. It may be a little different if you plan on transferring back to a 4-year next fall, though. I’m going to be staying at CC for the next 3 semesters before transferring to another 4-year to complete my degree, so I have some time. If you want to go to another 4-year sooner, it may be a little tricky (although I’m sure your CC will help you with the transfer process the same way they’d help a student who’s been there for 2 years).
      I’d say go with your gut on this. If you’re not happy, and you’re not reaching towards a specific goal by attending this school, there’s no point in staying there. That’s how I reached my final decision.
      Good luck!

  16. Hi I am currently going to a community college and want to transfer mid semester and already recieved my cal grant. How will this affect me? Can I leave and transfer to another community college? If so do I need to pay back the grant? Or overall do I justvstick out the semester and transfer over after that? I am currently living with my dad and hate it here. Id rather live with my mom and she is a few cities away. Thanks for the help!

  17. I am currently a freshmen at university of florida. I am from New York and wanted a big school down south. I know no one here and nobody knows me, its very intimidating. In high school I was a social butterfly and was involved in so many things and loved being outgoing. I thought i would pick of friends immediately because I’m the type of person who could talk to a rock. I rushed a sorority before school started and didn’t get accepted back by any of the houses i liked. After that my spirits were crushed,but i still had faith. Ive been down here for a month and a half and haven’t made a single friend. I go out of my way to be friendly and outgoing but everyone seems to have their own friends because most of the people here are from florida. I feel like an outsider and I am very lost in this huge school. I thought this is what i wanted,but my main reason for transferring is social reasons. I really want to apply to a school where i have a least one friend to lean on and start a social foundation. What do you guys think? Should I stick it out? Or am I crazy for not finding my place in a school that offers so much.

  18. I’m a freshman at the University of Dubuque. Ever since the first month I’ve hated it here. I’m thinking about transferring at semester to a community college closer to home. I’m almost thinking about dropping out. What would be the best thing for me to do?

  19. I’m a freshman at the University of Washington Seattle, I accepted going there because I thought I would like it there but it ended up that I feel completely lost and not at all where I want to be, Im thinking about dropping out before this next quarter starts and take a quarter off to work and make a clear plan and then go to community college spring quarter, but I’m concerned that I will not recieve financial aid for spring quarter if I take a quarter off, is this possible?

  20. I’m currently in my second semester of freshman year. I’ve started thinking about transferring, and changing my major. I came to the school I’m at specifically for one major, not really paying attention to the fact that this school is in the middle of nowhere and there isn’t much to do on the tiny campus. I’m doing well academically, and I’ve made some good friends. However, I’m not happy with the major I’ve chosen, and the one I want isn’t offered at this school. Should I rush to get my transfer application in (deadline is May 1) for the school I want for the fall semester, or just wait and transfer for the spring of my sophomore year?

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