How to Transfer Universities

This week's blog post starts with a confession: this isn't my first blog. Before I had built up enough of an ego to title a blog after myself, I ran an anonymous site that chronicled my adventures in undergraduate education. Because that very education and all its associated midterms is what prevented me from writing a new post this week, I thought it might be fitting to resurrect one of my favourite posts from my old blog:

There comes a time in every person's life when it's better to flee than to fight.

For some people, this moment might entail an uncomfortable family dinner with at least two of their drunkest embarrassing uncles. For others, that moment might come when they find themselves confronted with a large, hairy bear chewing on the femur of one or more family members. And for people who lead much scarier lives, that moment might come when they arrive home and discover their old substitute high school gym teacher playing strip poker with the cat.

I hand-drew the pictures this week. You're welcome. 

For me, my moment to flee came in the form of a university transfer.

I should explain, partially to add context to this post and mostly to fill up space. Those of you who have hacked into my undergraduate transcripts will know that I spent my first two years as a doughy little undergraduate majoring in computer science. Now, life as a computer science major had its perks - no one says anything if you choose to replace most of your meals with canned green caffeine-sugar sludge, you can go about your day-to-day life fairly confident that you won't have to transition to a diet of dog food after graduation, and a sizable portion of your friends and family begin treating you like you're some sort of pasty wizard. For me, there was only one real downside: the fact that I would have rather launched a career in the lucrative "making money on a pole" industry than spend the rest of my life programming.

Cleaning telephone poles is a last resort for many desperate young women. 

So what was a young undergraduate in crisis to do? In all my infinite wisdom, I landed on the simplest possible solution - I would pack my bags and transfer from my gigantic undergraduate babysitting facility in Western Canada, trekking 3,500 km East to attend the smallest, liberal artsiest university I could find.


Needless to say, I was absolutely stunned when I discovered that a person couldn't just hop on a plane and stroll out onto her new campus, announcing her arrival as the university administration viciously fought each other for the privilege of kissing her feet. No, like everything else in academia, the process of transferring had to be needlessly complicated, hopelessly bureaucratic, and absolutely chock-full of lemurs. 

Just an average day in Canadian academia. 

I would say that this article is devoted to helping any of the future school-betraying cowards in my readership avoid the logistical nightmare that is transferring schools, but that's an impossible dream. Transferring is a nightmare that exceeds even that one sex dream you had about that hefty Tim Horton's employee that one time. Instead, let me simply brace you for the inevitable onslaught of academic shit that's about to hit the proverbial fan. 

How to Transfer Universities:

Step One: Sheepishly Order a Transcript.

You already got into a university once. You've proved that you're a prodigal genius on the road to curing mousetraps and building a better cancer. Why should you have to apply again? 

It's because your new university wants to check and see if the old one made a horrible, horrible mistake when they admitted you. Sure, you slept through enough high school classes and presented an acceptably hearty pulse to clear that 73% hurtle, but then what? Maybe you spent the first year or two of your degree pioneering the respectable new field of Ke$haology and solving one of the 21st century's most puzzling mysteries. Or maybe your spent that time challenging Ke$ha to a venereal disease arms race. Your new refuge from the real world has only one way to find out - they'll need to see your mortal soul reduced to a series of numbers and letters on a page. 

Looks just like this.

Yes, the almighty transcript. If you're not entirely sure what that is, I wish you good luck with that transfer, Skippy. For the rest of you who didn't major in paste-eating, you're probably vaguely aware that you'll need to get that document from your current university into the hands of your new one. Easy enough, right? Just print that sucker off your online student account and shove it into the nearest mailbox! Good to go, right?

Wrong. If you think that's all there is to it, the only form you should be printing off is the application to change your major to Eating Paste. Infants these days know how to Photoshop bigger breasts onto their baby pictures before they can walk; the new university doesn't trust you now, and they won't even begin to trust you until they've finished sucking back the contents of your bank account through a straw. No, you need to get an official copy of your transcript signed, stamped, sealed and flossed through the butt cheeks of the Registrar himself before being mailed out by your school.

At this point in your journey, it's time to get yourself down to the Office of the Registrar. Remember that building/desk/plexiglass bank window you mistakenly referred to as the 'Office of the Register' for the first semester of your undergraduate career? Go there. It couldn't be easier; you'll just need to fill out a form specifying which university will be getting your traitorous self as a student. If you're standing in a province whose primary exports are things like food and oil, you probably won't even need to pay a fee. If your province mainly exports the bottled tears of laid-off pulp mill workers and automotive factory staff, you might want to bring your wallet. 

Simple, right? Now hand your form to the lady behind the desk. She'll skim it over for a second, no doubt noticing that you're planning to jump the institutional ship and set sail for clearer waters. That's right, you and the tens of thousands of dollars of tuition money that pay her salary and feed her children and sick grandmother and quadriplegic ferret are about to turn your backs on the institution that guided you from a young naive freshman into a drunker, naiver sophomore. This place offered you a home, dammit; we were a family! We sold you the clothes on your back, we drove you to your first therapy appointment, and this is how you repay us? 

She's very disappointed in you. 

Or, y'know, you could put in your transfer request online and avoid the judgement-filled gaze of the Registrar lady. Your choice. 

Step Two: Wait.

Universities move at speeds approximate to those of glacial drift. Now that your transcript has arrived at your new school, you can expect weeks and weeks of fun-filled waiting. To fill the time, you could try taking up an exciting new narcotics addition, making daily measurements of continental drift, or actually studying for those finals exams that you still have to write. Don't think leaving makes you special.
Moves faster than the average university.

But waiting is the hard part, right? When that's over, you can pack your bags, flip your old school the bird and head off on an adventure! Not so fast, I'm afraid...

Step Three: Bemoan Your Transfer Credits.

You probably already realize that universities are not all the same (if they were, you wouldn't be transferring) and that applies to their course catalogs as well. They teach different subjects with different teachers and textbooks. Some schools offer Engineering and Nursing programs; others don't. Some schools teach courses like 14th Century Tibetan Beading; others recognize that as a colossal waste of time. Maybe the U of [Initial] has a lab component to their first year Biology course, and the U of [Other Initial] prefers to round up the students for a weekly 3-hour Hunger Games-style death match. 

What part of this isn't educational?

After you get accepted to your new home-away-from-entering-the-workforce (assuming, of course, that your application didn't send the Registrar into fits of hysterical convulsions) you'll need to be evaluated for transfer credits. This is a list of the courses that your new school has deemed not total horseshit, allowing you to count them towards your exciting new degree in Interpretive Dance. Now, if you're fortunate, the transfer credit process will simply be more waiting. Return to Step Two and start another brand new dependency on narcotics, you lucky bastard. And if you're unlucky? Hope you held on to every assignment you ever did, because a team of trained university administrators need to verify that your school isn't handing out calculus credit for crayon drawings of dinosaurs. 

Shockingly difficult to transfer.

Before you know it, you'll be emailing course descriptions of everything you've ever taken, the ISBN number of every textbook you were supposed to buy, scanned copies of the few assignments you didn't immediately burn, course readings, an exact transcription of your first dentist appointment, at least two recent letters to Santa and a screenshot of your Netflix viewing history. 

Once you've managed to send them all that and resumed the waiting process yet again, you'll eventually get an official copy of your transfer credits mailed to you. Hooray! But once you come down from the cocktail of illicit substances you've been shooting into your extremities to kill time, you might want to take a second look at that page. 

The first thing you'll probably notice is that you've been awarded fewer credits than you actually have. That's to be expected; not every school regards bagpipe lessons with the same academic reverence as your home institution. It's when you start to look at what specific courses transfer that you find yourself halfway down the bureaucratic rabbithole. If it was a simple matter of 'can we get away with refusing this course and bleeding another $500 from this student?", things would be simple. Every course would get either a 'yes' or 'no', you could have a proportionately long session of weeping, and you'd be set to register for classes. Oh, but what's this? They're combining two of your previous classes to give you a single course credit? How can that be? Does this university really believe that you spend exactly half of each of those classes watching Youtube videos while the professor drank herself into a coma? And look at this - they're crediting you two courses for just one of your old courses! Huh? Do they have firm evidence that you spent double the required time for that course reading ahead in other textbooks? What sort of scattered education do they think students are receiving at your old school? A school that dropped random reading materials and final exam papers on a crowd of undergraduate students from a crane could put together a more coherent education than what's represented in your transfer credits. 

They wouldn't transfer Introductory English, but they did transfer...this.

Step Four: Brace Yourself, First Year is Coming (Again)

Starting first year is universally awful. It's awkward and lonely and difficult. You're forced to learn a series of chants that you will literally never recite again (unless you're lucky enough to be attending wizard school) and do humiliating team-building exercises with people you will literally never speak to again for the rest of your academic career. You don't know where any of the buildings are. You don't know which professors are supervillains in their spare time. You don't know which of the campus eateries serve burgers made mostly from seahorse meat. 
Although you can probably make an educated guess.

But you did it! You survived! While your friends all abandoned their dreams of piloting space shuttles to Neptune and performing open-heart surgery on basilisks, you prevailed! You left the horrors of first year behind you, never to be repeated or spoken of again.

Only now you'll have to endure all of that again, plus much, much worse. 

Unless you're fond of chest-length beards and body lice, you're going to need a place to live while you earn that almighty Bachelor's degree. Easy enough, you'll just stay in residence. You know who else will be staying in residence? First years. By second and third year people are already moving out into apartments, but since you don't know anybody to room with, you'd have to take a chance on Craigslist and risk living with a perma-stoned trust fund baby whose sexual behavior violates at least four municipal bylaws.

I am not drawing that. 

Nope, it's easier to just live in residence among the wide-eyed newbies who won't share any of your classes and still think that being cool matters in university. To them, you'll be the mysterious creature holed up in your room doing - horror of horrors - actual studying at all hours of the day and night. To your same-year peers, you'll be that mysterious man- or woman-child still living in one of the university's 24-hour daycare centers where things like noise rules and alcohol restrictions are a thing. There's clearly no way to win, short of learning to stick your feet to the underside of the roof overhang and curl up like a bat every night. 

So good luck with that transfer, champ. You're gonna need it. 

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