WHS Alum Caitlyn Johnson ’19 shares her college transfer experience

Sydney Johnson, Contributing Writer

As the college process is in full-bloom, seniors are facing the hard decisions of where to commit. This decision is a difficult one, with many factors playing in to find the perfect fit. However, this decision doesn’t have to be the final one. Caitlyn Johnson, a Westborough graduate from the Class of 2019, has realized the University of South Carolina wasn’t the best fit for her. Currently amidst the transfer process, she shares about her experience and some struggles she has had.

There tends to be a stigma around transferring schools. Johnson herself was hesitant on transferring.

“I was worried about what people would think of me and thought that people would think that I couldn’t stick it out at my school. But, it’s about yourself being happy and not sticking it out. The point of college is to have a good experience and I wasn’t not having a good experience, but I don’t think I was having the best experience that I could and it made sense for me to try out a different university. But, I definitely think there is a huge stigma about it because if there wasn’t, I would’ve considered transferring after my second semester”, Johnson says.

She finds it important to be happy and feel like the decision you made is the right one; transferring gives you a chance to feel that way. She reiterates that being happy is much more important than what people think of you.

But why did she feel like transferring was the right decision for her? Johnson explains how the location and education wasn’t the best fit for her.

She comments, “The big school feel wasn’t my thing even though I thought it was. The people there weren’t like the people I tended to surround myself around when I was younger, so I never felt super at home. I really liked the time I spent there, but it felt like it wasn’t the best fit.”

Socially she didn’t feel like that was where she belonged, although she still had a good time. She finds it important that she recognizes that she still had a great time, but knew that this wasn’t the place.

There were also parts of her education she thought she could improve at different schools.

“A lot of private schools have more interesting and weird, random classes and I just love learning, so I’m excited to take more unique classes at different schools,” Johnson says. She talked with her friends who attended private schools, and she realized that she was interested in different classes and going to USC wasn’t giving her the opportunity to take them.

One of her main challenges of the transfer process was that she had to do it on her own.

She shares, “During the application process you don’t realize how much help you got in high school. It’s very hard in high school, but all the things your advisor does, I had to do myself. I had to track down my transcripts, make sure all my transcripts were mailed, make sure my recs were mailed and be on the phone for hours. A lot of things a middle-man would do for you I had to do it all myself.”

Although there were challenges with the application process, she did find some parts more beneficial than an application for your freshman year.

“The transfer application is different than the common app. It’s more like a resume and I really got to showcase and explain how I was involved in my after-school activities. I didn’t just get one hundred characters, I really got to showcase who I am and what I stand for through my activities and explanations of them. I think it gives a more holistic view of who I am and I thought that was really cool. One of the things that pushed me over the edge and got me into these universities is that you’re more than your grades and it’s about what you’ve achieved,” Johnson reflects.

Johnson applied to schools that she didn’t apply to when she was a high school senior. She felt as though her grades and resume from high school would have made R.P.I., B.U., B.C., Northeastern, and Cornell all high reaches. However, after working hard at the University of South Carolina, she was able to earn high grades and become involved with USC’s Student Senate. Ultimately, she was accepted into all the schools except for one, and she made her final decision to attend Cornell University.

Update: March 30, 2021

Almost three months later, Johnson is finding comfort at her new university. She has faced a few difficulties, but has found ways to thrive in her new environment.

Socializing hasn’t been as easy during the pandemic, but Johnson has found ways to meet new people. She joined the Cornell Running Club and the Gymnastics Club team. Although the gymnastics team isn’t allowed to practice in person due to it being an indoor sport, they are still able to host socials where they can meet up and socialize. She has also been able to make friends at study groups as well.

Johnson says, “Being a second year transfer student has been difficult because many people already have established friend groups and I feel like I have to try extra hard to join one.”

However, she feels as if the COVID-19 pandemic may have actually made the transition easier.

“I have to say that the pandemic starting my freshman year has actually made socializing easier because the students here have also had less time to make friends.”

One big difference between USC and Cornell is the increased sense of competition.

“I’ve noticed there is a lot of competition here. Some people here are willing to help you to do better while others want to make sure you don’t do better than them,” Johnson shares.

Cornell University is a more academically rigorous school than South Carolina, and Johnson needed to deal with a much bigger workload.

“The classes are almost comparable to my last school, but there is just a lot more work for each class. More assignments and more projects that I have to work on each day,” Johnson comments.

To manage this added work, she works in study groups and meets with teacher assistants to balance the work. Johnson has found that there are many resources at the school which have made her transition to this school much easier.

“It’s hard to imagine what I did when I had more free time, but I adapted very quickly and found ways to manage my work”.

Overall, Johnson has loved her experiences at Cornell.

She says, “There is a great sense of community here. On a warm day everyone is outside by the Slope doing their homework, playing the ukulele and playing sports. I love it here.”

She also mentions how she likes how people live on campus for more years at Cornell than they do at USC. Most students at USC live off campus after their freshman year and she felt as if there was a smaller sense of community. At Cornell, she has found enjoyment of sitting outside and experiencing everyone having a great time.

For any students considering transferring, there is a school where you will feel that you belong. Don’t be hesitant to do so because of the stigma.

Johnson concludes, “I absolutely love this school and transferring was a great decision. I have found that I fit in with this school more and I feel like this is where I should be. I feel at home.”