Should I transfer? or Do I hate my college or am I just depressed?

I read many a story like the one below:

  • I am finishing sophomore year. I go to a really small school (~1700) and have recently become very very fed up with how tiny it is. I see the same few people all the time and I really just don’t like that. I hate the campus atmosphere and just can’t see myself doing another 1.5 years there (I am graduating early). However, I have very severe depression so i am not sure how much of my hatred of the college is because of me or just because of my depression. I have applied to transfer to a larger school (same price etc.) and have until the 7th to decide. However I have really great grades and a small but close group of friends up here who I’d hate to lose. Plus I don’t know if I’d be any happier at the new school given my depression and the extra anxiety associated with transferring. *
  • I regret my decision. As I mentioned before I do have diagnosed depression and anxiety (which I have tried to get campus help on, but the counselors are always busy). What if my hate for the school is stemming from that? Now I would’ve transferred for no reason. Also, what if I don’t like this new school?*

People want to transfer because:
• They have no friends
• They think professors don’t like them
• They aren’t doing as well as they like
• There is “nothing to do”

They know they are unhappy and don’t feel like they have friends.

But is it really the school?

Or would they have the same problem anywhere because they are depressed/have anxiety?

Most likely you have gone to HS with many of the same people, lived in the same house for quite some time, had the same friends and now you are changing everything and going away to college. If you had some depression/anxiety you were able to deal with it from the support of your family/friends.

But now you are away from all of them…and you have to make new friends, That is harder when you are depressed/anxious. It takes more effort.

So if you are trying to decide if you should transfer:

  1. First address any possible depression/anxiety.
    Go to your College’s Counseling Center. They may have individual, group, or workshop counselling.
    They may refer you to a Psychiatrist for diagnosis and medication if that is needed.

  2. Maybe you need to try some different strategies to make friends. Here are ideas:

3)Maybe you need to try different tactics for academic success:

Maybe you do need to transfer.

• Maybe you chose the college based on prestige and not fit for you.
• Maybe you thought going away to college was “cool” but really you would rather be closer to home.
• Maybe you thought this college could support your major but really it won’t.
• Maybe you thought a small school would have advantages but you prefer the options of a large school or visa versa
• Maybe this college is really too expensive.
• Maybe this college is really too/not academic enough for you.

But also consider:

Will my financial aid change? Merit scholarship are often only offered to freshman.
You will need to re-create your social group.
You may need to take additional courses.

But it may be that it is worth it because your new college will be a better fit.

1 Like

Very thoughtful post @bopper.

But, in some cases, it definitely is the school and, in the case of small schools, the campus culture.

I attended & graduated from a rural LAC which had about 2,300 students. Very preppy, athletic, Greek dominated social scene. Had my fill by the end of the first semester. And I was very athletic & came from a prep school. Was given the best dorm room on campus. Received a lot of attention & respect from faculty, coaches, administrators, etc. But I just needed more. And I really needed a change of culture & geography.

Instead of transferring, I studied abroad for three terms (one term per year as I finished in three years) and during one summer I studied at WFU. Went to law school in a different region of the country at a large, state university. Heaven on earth. Division I athletics !

Life is too short to not be happy. If I could redo my college years, I would look primarily for a large school within driving distance of an ocean. And I would limit my search geographically to the South or the West.

So, at least in my case, it really was the school. Or maybe it was me. Or maybe both.

Couldn’t agree more with this first point. If a student is feeling depressed, transferring schools isn’t going to make that suddenly go away. That absolutely needs to be addressed before transferring since it’s likely having to start all over with finding a support system will make any undiagnosed depression worse.

Transferring may make one’s depression go away if a cause of the student’s depression is SAD (seasonal affective disorder).

College is a big change for young people. Not only are they thrown into a competitive academic boot camp, they are plunged into a completely different culture with all kinds of pressure to do things to “fit in.” No wonder depression is so rampant. In fact, the students who seem to make friends and go to all the fun parties are the ones with the most severe depression. Drinking, drugs, and promiscuity are all self-destructive behaviors indicative of depression, and all of them should be seen by professionals. Ironically, the student who wants to transfer is doing this because he’s the most sane among his friends…and he’s the one labeled as “sick” and “depressed.”

Another consideration: maybe you don’t need to transfer, and instead stick it out and realize it’s all part of becoming an adult. Depression and anxiety are real and serious problems, and it’s a good idea to consult a mental health professional to rule those things out. I do think kids should consider though that sometimes they need to just get through a tough time. Counselors can help them do that, so find one privately if the college counseling center is too busy.

This post somewhat gives the impression that small schools are a bigger problem than large schools. And @Publisher , large colleges have a campus culture too. I’ve read many posts from kids that say something like “the whole campus wants to party/tailgate/go out on the town every Friday and Saturday night, but I’m not comfortable with that, etc…” It’s wrong to assume small schools have campus culture and big schools don’t.

I’ve seen plenty of posts over the years centered on those who feel lost in a sea of nameless faces, stuck in huge lecture halls and feeling they are getting nothing out of it, or being overwhelmed with choices, none of which seem good to that person. They feel intimidated at the prospect of trying to see profs during office hours, or they’re at a large local public where everyone seems to know everyone else, or they can’t find a group they fit in with, despite being surrounded by many different types of students, clubs, etc…

These issues are often not the school, but the student. Many don’t give their college a chance, regardless of big or small. Many students transfer for ridiculous reasons. They think the grass is greener elsewhere, or they follow a significant other, or they don’t want to do the work and think it will be easier elsewhere, or they are trying to “trade up.” We live in a time when people often expect instant gratification and they feel unable to accept that sometimes, you have to stick things out.

@Lindagaf: I think that you and I will just have to agree to disagree with respect to the pervasiveness & dominance of campus culture at large universities versus small LACs.

I believe that quite often it is the school.

Nonetheless, I acknowledge that 18 & 19 year old students are growing, maturing & finding themselves. Somewhat counterintuitively, I think that this is easier done at large universities for those who do not fit the mold at small LACs. Or, someone like me, who definitely fit the mold, but wanted to grow in a different direction. I just really love diversity in all of its forms. And I like that folks have always recognized that aspect of my personality.

I wrote this because I saw a bunch of posts of “Should I transfer” but even the poster mentions that they are depressed. Depression will follow you no matter where you go. But there are other posts where they have legit reasoning for transferring.

Is that true for those whose depression is caused by SAD (seasonal affective disorder) ?

P.S. According to the Mayo Clinic website: SAD occurs more frequently in younger adults & is diagnosed more in women than men.

No…but in any case I encourage people to get evaluated. If the evaluation turns out to be SAD, then that is something to consider. Good thing to add to this post.

@bopper - what a great post. My daughter has been struggling all year and this really resonated with me. She’s struggled with depression and anxiety since high school and college just brought it all and then some to the surface. I do think one thing that isn’t mentioned a lot is “luck”. I think when you head off already anxious and depressed, you really need things to fall into place easily - a good roomate, a friendly floor, a random connection that blossoms into a friendship. You can be at the “right” school but in the “wrong” lane and I think for someone who is already down, negative, afraid, anxious, it requires more work to create a good experience and that is harder and then the cycle continues. While a fan of small schools and a small school being the best place for my daughter in theory, I do think it’s harder when it doesn’t “work”. The benefit of a small school is the close-knit enviornment and feeling of community but when you feel on the outside, I think it’s more obvious that something is “wrong”. While a larger school has downsides too, I think there might be more ways to blend in at a larger school and also more opportunities to “luck” into things based on the numbers.

While I agree that depression will follow you wherever you go and the stress of transferring may make it temporarily worse, I found it was much easier to manage when I was at a school that was a better fit (in my case, not size, but a completely different campus culture.
You can be depressed AND unhappy, and depression can be managed anywhere, but if you are generally unhappy where you are, it’s not much help.

One reason that I brought up SAD (seasonal affective disorder) is that it can be treated without any prescription medication–just a change of location & an understanding of what the primary cause is of one’s depression.

Anti-depressants can be dangerous medication. One needs to be monitored very closely when starting with such meds.

I encourage regular, disciplined exercise, a healthy diet & a change of location with counseling, but urge caution regarding any prescription anti-depressant meds as the effects can be quite serious.

Also, with Covid, would you hate any school because it is hard to make friends/do things with people and you are lonely?