Not all new Pitt students are having their first college experience — roughly a thousand of them every year are seasoned students who have transferred from colleges and universities from around the world.
And while many transfer students find their place in Oakland just like the students who started at Pitt as first-years, their experience is always going to be different from those who were here since day one.
I made the switch from Drexel University to Pitt halfway through my sophomore year, before the spring semester last year. Deciding to uproot my life and academic career to move across the state was not an easy decision to make.
When I got to Pitt, I hardly knew anyone, and the people I did know from my hometown had already established lives here — so I was on my own to figure things out. I spent a lot of time alone the first few weeks I was here, going to different clubs and events to try to meet new people.
I worked really hard my first semester, and it paid off. I loved all of my classes and professors, and I made some really close friends. By the time finals week rolled around in April, I knew with absolute certainty that even with the struggles, transferring was worthwhile.
Making the switch from another college allows students like me to focus on options that may have been different from what we first went to school for.
I started my freshman year as a materials science and engineering major, but after a drastic turn, I declared a fiction writing major when I got to Pitt. And it’s not only me — a lot of transfers change their area of study when changing schools.
Hayley Pontia — a senior at Pitt who transferred from Penn State at the start of her sophomore year — wanted to steer away from the classes she was in her freshman year.
“I wasn’t happy with my classes. There was an unhealthy competition that was exuded from the courses I was enrolled in,” Pontia said.
The academic competition Pontia experienced carried outside of the classroom, and she struggled to find her place during her first year at Penn State.
“I couldn’t find my niche — I had few people that I saw having the same values and interests as me,” she said.
But Pontia found what she was looking for at Pitt.
“At Pitt, I have genuinely found that most people are competitive, but will also take time out of their busy schedule to help another classmate,” Pontia said. “It’s refreshing, and encourages me to grow in my studies instead of being self conscious of everything I say.”
Pontia said that it’s the welcoming nature of the students that reassures her she made the right choice in transferring.
And while the inclusive environment of the school encouraged Pontia in her decision to transfer, the large size of Pitt was a deciding factor for Brendan Stautberg, a politics and philosophy major who transferred from Franklin & Marshall last fall.
“I transferred … mostly because F&M was too small and it didn’t feel right to me after spending a year there,” Stautberg said.
And it’s not just student population — the physical size of the campus influences students as well. This is true for Grace Anderson — a junior English major who transferred from Duquesne following her first year.
“I had always loved Pitt’s campus, and to be honest, I felt really closed off when I was at Duquesne,” Anderson said. “It was a very small private school and I felt like I really wasn’t getting my money’s worth.”
But while Pitt is larger and seen as more welcoming than some of the transfer students’ old schools, they find that when they make it to the campus, everyone else has already adjusted to Pitt.
“I definitely wished I would have been at Pitt for O-Week and PittStart. That made it a little difficult as a transfer student,” Anderson said.
Anderson also attended an orientation day specifically for transfer students, which she said was very helpful in adjusting.
“But it was a lot easier than I thought it would be to transfer, and I’m glad I did while I was still a freshman,” Anderson said.
Stautberg also found it easier than expected, pointing out that starting fresh in the middle of your college years can encourage transfers to get more involved.
“I didn’t know anyone at Pitt before I came, so I tried a few clubs and organizations to meet people. I probably wouldn’t have gotten involved if I already knew people here,” Stautberg said.
For Pontia, the most difficult part of transferring came in making the initial decision to transfer.
“At Penn State, I knew I wasn’t my happiest, but I was also scared that going to a different school wouldn’t change that — that in the end, it would end up that I was the problem instead of the university I was at,” Pontia said.
But despite the fear, she’s concluded the change a necessary one.
“To this day, I can say transferring was one of the hardest, most rewarding experiences I have yet to endure,” Pontia shared.