Waiting: On Choosing Colleges

The second thing no one tells you when you try to transfer schools: If waiting for college decisions in high school is painful, waiting for decisions as a transfer student is agony.
Those of you considering early decision at Pomona College have already begun waiting. Those considering regular decision will start waiting soon. You will have about a month and a half until the good news, or bad news, comes back. You will hear from countless people that waiting is the most difficult part of college applications, and you may scoff, thinking to yourself “My three leadership positions, five AP courses, straight As and constant volunteer work — now that, that was the hardest part of my college application.”

This is where transfer apps differ from regular college decisions. While my high school prepared me for college apps through the school counselor, extracurriculars, and AP courses, keeping me on track for college success, no one tries to make transferring easy. In a way, I’m still transferring. To this day I continue getting emails from USC asking after student loans and tuition. It’s a massive bureaucratic process, something of an outlier in the world of four year colleges, and no one really knows how to make it simple.

No academic advisor really wants to help you to leave their school, and while many high-achieving high schoolers spend four years knowing in their heart of hearts their dream school, I did not know I needed to transfer, let alone what school to transfer to, until a month before the deadline. Couple all this with the fact that the acceptance rate for transfer students at Pomona hovers around 5%, less than half the admitted percentage of high school seniors, and you have perpetual worry over whether or not you will get in, whether you applied to the right school, and whether your application had the mettle for the job.

I had one month to research, write essays, compile transcripts, contact the College Board to send in SAT scores (which yes, most colleges want even when you transfer; take the SAT seriously, because it comes back to haunt you), receive signatures from all of my current professors along with my prospective grades, all while maintaining grades in six upper-division courses and working on three shows at the campus television station.

Yet that month of filing paperwork and submitting apps could not compare to the agony of waiting. Another difference between high school applicants and transfer applicants: As a high schooler, one waits as part of a community. At my high school, everyone would photocopy and post college admission letters to a wall in the breezeway. We celebrated when we got in, we commiserated when we did not. No one waits with you when you transfer from a four year college.

But even with all that, I say that waiting has an important role, both for transfers and regular admissions. The worry that comes with waiting, and the constant anxiety, gives you time and reason to think. And I suggest that you use it, be you a senior in high school or a potential transfer student, to ponder what you really want to get out of college.

Here’s the thing: College, for often a hefty price tag, gives you four years to do anything. Tomorrow, I could go to the mountains, I could read Heidegger, I could protest, I could party. Not that it’s a four year vacation, but it is four years of relative freedom. As someone who works full time over the summer, I can tell you that the working world does not look kindly upon people who study art history in their free time. And when you’re in college, you feel the agony of choice: every moment can burst with meaning, and you have to use these four years wisely.

When I applied as a high school senior, I did not take a moment to think of how significant four years of freedom is. I did not visit schools that offered me a place in their admitted students programs. I did not consider what a good college experience ought to look like. I paid two years (and tuition) at an institution I hated all because I forgot the purpose of waiting is to deliberate. While waiting to transfer I did as much soul searching as I could, and I decided that I did want four years of a liberal arts existence.

My advice to seniors from my high school, who still occasionally contact me to ask for admissions advice, is that college is the most important decision of your young adult life. Take it seriously. You must go to schools that offer you a visit, you must research online, you must call admissions advisors, you must discover whether that school you apply to is a good fit. Because if it is not a good fit, you’ll find yourself transferring, and once again waiting for the admissions decisions to roll in.