Transfer Into Engineering Program

My daughter is a freshman at UNC and is pretty miserable. She has had a tough semester with anxiety and depression (and the 4 recent suicides at UNC has made the overall environment at UNC feel really somber to her). She also has decided that she would really prefer to major in engineering (she thought she wanted engineering all through high school but then wasn’t completely sure and ended up choosing UNC even though they don’t offer engineering). Actually she only applied to UNC, strangely enough, because she was so sure she wanted to be there. But now she would like to transfer to a school that offers engineering for next fall, but it’s looking complicated because she would be behind in terms of the first year typical engineering courses (this past semester at UNC she took tough courses…calc 2, statistics, economics, accounting…but no chemistry or physics). She’s looking at schools like Virginia Tech or Notre Dame or Vanderbilt. She may or may not complete one more semester at UNC this spring (she’s working with a therapist and trying to get healthy from a mental health standpoint, so I’m not sure how things will end up). Since she’s taken more than 12 credit hours after high school and at college, I know most schools will consider her a transfer…but could she essentially start in a new school in the fall almost like the equivalent of a freshman engineering student (even if they call her a transfer)? We don’t care if this means she has to take an extra semester or year at the new school. I just don’t know if this is possible. In spite of all of her struggles, she still got As in all courses this semester at UNC and she was very strong statistically coming out of HS (top of her class, very high ACT, etc.).

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I don’t see any reason she couldn’t start in the fall, as a transfer, and fit right in with the first year engineering students. It would probably be an ideal time to jump in and move forward with classmates. Maybe if she takes a break during the upcoming spring/summer she could find a place to work some sort of internship or other job to get some exposure in the area of engineering she is interested in?


Are you sure she’s ready to transfer? Going to a new school will bring a new set of problems of their own. She needs to be healthy above everything else.

Issues for you:
Finances- the best scholarships and funding are reserved for new entering freshman.
Transfers-Some schools accept junior level transfers.
Major-Engineering is impacted at many schools, hence, too many applicants, not enough seats.
Distance-access to home and therapists is crucial to continue her upward gains.


I worry you are trying to run from a problem.

Mental health services at many schools are stretched thin with months just to get an initial appointment. I’m wondering if a small school would be better? Will being away from home will make it difficult for your daughter to access you or her therapist ?

What about engineering excites her ? Can she take science next semester ?

Engineering is brutal. Depending on the study l, 40-60% drop out of the major. I bring this up because no matter where she goes…it’s going to be intense, rigorous, and kids with 4.0s in HS, lots of APs and a high ACT struggle. Will your daughter be able to handle ? Lots of weed out classes.

You might look to ensure you find a collaborative program and one that offers mental health support. Also you need to ensure your daughter is willing to reach out because this support doesn’t find you.

I’m think even smaller schools perhaps…the LACs from Union, Trinity, Bucknell, etc. I would certainly ask the three you chose plus other pointed questions - don’t assume leaving will cure the issue.

Good luck to her.


Yes, she can certainly transfer and start an engineering program from the beginning. Changing majors is not uncommon. Perfectly normal. Also not uncommon to take more than 4 years to complete college. Mental health issues are also not uncommon among the college age population. She is seeing a counselor, which is a good thing. The ones to worry about are the ones who are not getting help. A member of my family encountered issues at a similar age, lost some time, but is now completing his doctorate. It happens.


I know how stressful and exhausting this is as a parent as well. Make sure to take care of yourself, too.

She is not alone with these struggles. There will be many peers on a similar path that does not fit into a neat 4 year, 8 semester package. There are plenty of kids who stepped away from virtual options offered by their dream schools after rough experiences and they are just applying to hit the reset button someplace new. The colleges understand this. Getting healthy and finding a supportive environment where she can thrive are priorities.

She can look at courses for some of the colleges and take a class or two at a local community college or 4 year school this Spring if she does not go back. She will need time to process this and to work on the applications.

Have her look at some of the places who accepted her last year and reevaluate those options based on the new criteria. Look at some fresh options that she did not consider previously. Engineering does not need the prestigious brand name, but it does need to be accredited. Hopefully, she can go visit campuses and talk to engineering students.

My D21 is in engineering and has enjoyed being in a live learn community dorm with other kids in engineering. They have all been so supportive of each other. Definitely look at the housing options for transfer students. Being on campus is important next year so she has a professional support network, too.

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I am so sorry to hear about your daughter’s struggles. Any particular things at UNC she is struggling with?

As other’s have pointed out, engineering is brutal at LARGE top schools. Your major or admission to the program is not guaranteed. Many intro courses are taught by TAs and they have their own challenges. If she was unsure going into UNC, what changed her mind regarding engineering? If she is struggling now at UNC, what guarantees do you have those things will get better? I know these are tough questions to ask but they need to be addressed either directly or via the therapist she is working with.

Does it make sense for her to take a year or semester off since the ethos of your post suggests that extra semester or time is not a major issue? There are some engineering programs out there that are more accommodating. One option is to look at less competitive schools – UNCC, ECU and WCU all have engineering programs. UNCA has a very laid back relaxed vibe and a 2+2 transfer program with NCSU.

OOS smaller supportive schools are worth a look too. But is that something you want to recommend to your child who is struggling with mental issues? I would not.

Especially if your local I would look at NC State. They have a co-joined program with UNC for some engineering like biomedical but their program overall is good so you know the credits will transfer. Lots of engineering kids take 1-2 classes at a community College over the summer and this might be advisable but… Not all schools take everyone’s else’s credits so check that out first. Also the AP credits she has now might just count as elective or Breadth credits and might not help her get ahead in engineering per se. I would also check this out. As stated engineering is tough for the best students. Many take 15-18 credits each semester with this being a normal schedule.

Of course her health is the most important thing. That would be what I would concentrate on. If she is going to go to school this next semester then she should take more of a engineering curriculum. Her counselor should be able to help or just look at NCState curriculum to get an idea.

Good Luck.

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