Finding My Way Back Home: My Reverse Transfer Story

I started to write this story a year ago in the beginning of the fall semester of my sophomore year, sitting in class at Syracuse University.

I didn’t get very far before I had to tuck my laptop away and pay attention to my professor, but I also never wrote more than the two grafs I did that day:

Since my spring semester of freshman year, I knew my second year of college would be different from my first because I decided to apply for a transfer.

However, now being a sophomore in college, there has been a lot more change than I bargained for — not only am I at a different institution, but I have also returned amidst a pandemic.

Now, I will be writing a very different story. 

I was in for even more change than the September version of myself could imagine: by the end of October I would be applying to transfer back to my original school, Lehigh University.

I bet you have two “why?” questions. Why did you leave Lehigh in the first place? Why did you go back?

I will first address the former. Fall 2019 at Lehigh University was one of the best periods of my life, for all of the usual reasons that people give: I had more freedom and independence living away from my parents, a blooming social life and control over what I wanted to learn. It felt like my opportunities were endless.

Then spring came around. Let’s just say, when it rains, it pours.

My spring semester started with sorority recruitment, which didn’t go as I had hoped. Not only was I unhappy with the process and the results, but I wasn’t proud of who I was when I was going through it. I gave into superficial ideas and behavior, and it ended up affecting some of my friendships. 

On top of that, I wasn’t selected to be a tour guide or TRAC fellow (a peer writing mentor). My mental health was at a low after it felt like things were just not going my way.

Then, we were sent home as a result of the pandemic.

In my head, all of these things had one thing in common: Lehigh University. I felt as if it simply was not the place for me, and I placed blame on it.

The idealistic image that I had fallen in love with as a junior in high school — the same one that led me to apply early decision — tarnished.

Being home with nothing but time alone with my thoughts, the idea of leaving Lehigh played over and over in my head.

Specifically, I began to romanticize the idea of going to Syracuse University. Syracuse felt like a safe haven to my anxiety-ridden self. It was the home of my brother’s wild college stories, the alma mater of some of my longest friends and a place that held a great reputation for my field of study: journalism.

Without telling anyone — which seems rash in hindsight — I logged back into the Common Application and began writing supplements. After just a few weeks, I was admitted. 

I remember feeling no hesitation accepting my SU letter, submitting my withdrawal application to Lehigh and sharing the news, which came as a surprise to many.

I felt excited about going to college again and optimistic that this time around I would feel like I belonged there. I started making plans with my friends who attended the university, wore my bright orange Syracuse crew neck around the house every day and started attending pre-orientation events.

Then I encountered my first hiccup. I was placed in an apartment on South Campus, which is adjacent to the main campus and away from all of my friends, and not assigned a roommate. As a transfer student, these were the perfect circumstances to make meeting new people even more difficult.

However, I was still riding my high of excitement and optimism, so I didn’t let this faze me. I would just email housing and try to get moved or assigned a roommate. Once the semester started people were bound to get moved around, right?

Wrong. Due to COVID-19, housing wasn’t allowing any living changes. That was okay, I would just make do. I made friends with my neighbors, connected with people through mutual friends and saw my friends on main campus when I could. I did, however, still spend a lot of time alone in my apartment, despite my best efforts.

Then, there were my classes. I thought my professors were absolutely brilliant and I did some of my proudest work in journalism there, but there was a culture within the school that left me anxious. It was one ridden with competition and up-turned noses being in the “most selective” college at the university. It made me miss the constant collaboration and support that I felt in the journalism department at Lehigh.

Most of it can surely be attributed to a lack of comfort I felt at the school, but my anxiety was amplified to the point where I wouldn’t drink coffee until after my classes were over as to not enhance the sense of panic I was feeling on a daily basis.

One Thursday night in October I was FaceTiming my best friend from Lehigh, Katie Goettle. What started out as a normal update call reached a peak of excitement when she blurted out, “I’m gonna get in my car and pick you up right now!”

At first, I thought she was joking, but she was one for spontaneity. Next thing I know, she was outside my South Campus apartment at 2 a.m. Three hours after that, I was back in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, where I proceeded to have one of the best weekends spending quality time with my closest friends and roaming a familiar and ever-beautiful campus.

I never wanted that weekend to end, but, alas, it did. By Monday morning I was back in Syracuse, New York.

I spent a good portion of that week in my bed emailing my professors with excuses as to why I couldn’t attend class in person and crying while researching reverse transfers.

Once I collected myself, I emailed one of my most trusted professors at Lehigh, Jack Lule, asking for guidance on the situation. He offered me an extensive response full of advice and support for whether I wanted to stick it out at Syracuse or try to come back. That correspondence turned into a Zoom meeting with him and my parents where I decided returning to LU would make me the most happy.

Professor Lule compiled a team of people from admissions, advising and financial aid to bring me back. Their help was a testament to the sense of community I had missed so dearly at Lehigh.

Transferring to Syracuse was super difficult. It cost me a lot of tears, anxiety and discomfort, but it was imperative to my growth and self-exploration, and it led me back home. For that, I don’t regret a thing.

I’ve gone one and a half semesters back at Lehigh being able to see my best friends every day, attend classes I’m enthusiastic about, take on an editor position on my school newspaper and start a new work study. I finally feel established and excited about college again.

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