Transferring to a new university is not a decision to make on a whim. If you are coming from outside of Canada, as I was, it can be an even bigger challenge, but I am proof that transferring is feasible, and that it can be the best decision of your life.
I applied to McGill on Dec. 1, 2015, only two months after I started studying at the University of Surrey. Surrey was my safety school, as I hadn’t been accepted to any of my top choices in the UK. It’s a smaller university of 15,000 students, located about 30 minutes southwest of London. Overall, Surrey was a great university, but from my first day there were several factors that made me question my choice to spend the next four years of my life there.
The University of Surrey states that it guarantees on-campus accommodation to all first year students; however, I wasn’t given this opportunity because I had applied to Surrey at the last minute, and all accommodation was full by then. I ended up living in a hotel for the first month of university, which caused me to miss out on a lot of opportunities to meet people and settle into this next stage of my life. I joined a few societies and the volleyball team, but felt like neither the students nor the university took either of them very seriously. My courses were interesting, but weren’t very challenging, so I found myself wasting my time more and more as the year went on.
After two months of feeling like I was on autopilot, I realized how unhappy I was, and decided I needed a new start. I reapplied to some universities in the UK, and—on a whim—branched out to McGill as well.
I’d be lying if I said that my transfer to McGill was easy once I’d applied. McGill makes it painfully obvious that transfer students are only admitted if there is space left in each faculty, and even then only if you show extremely high academic standards. When transferring, most places ask for both your high school and university grades, so maintaining a good GPA is vital to be able to be accepted elsewhere.
Another problem I faced was the timing of my application. My final exams at Surrey were in June, but by mid-May I still hadn’t heard back from McGill and needed to know whether to withdraw from Surrey or register for next year’s courses. At that point, I called Service Point, academic advisors, and any other relevant numbers I could get hold of almost every day. My persistence eventually paid off, and I believe it helped me stand out among other potential transfer students.
My parents were extremely supportive throughout the process. When I told them about my negative experience at Surrey, they were sympathetic, but wouldn’t let me drop out for the rest of the year and apply somewhere else, which was my initial plan. Instead, they suggested I apply to transfer and use my time at Surrey to boost my transfer application. Dropping out without a good reason isn’t reflected well in university applications, whether you are a transfer student or not.
Motivations for transferring vary case-to-case. Some students may thrive in a quieter environment with fewer people and less academic stress. Others may feel that they aren’t being challenged enough and are frequently bored. Social settings are also worth considering: How easy has it been to make friends or feel comfortable at your current school? The best thing to do is pinpoint why you are unhappy where you are currently, and decide whether uprooting your life to start again will be worth it. It is a huge decision to make, and you have to be confident that you have more to lose by staying at your current university than by moving to someplace new.
I’m much happier at McGill than I was at Surrey. I prefer the busy city life to the quiet British countryside, my courses are more demanding, and I am never bored with the wide variety of extracurricular activities available on campus.
If I had to give one piece of advice to students looking to transfer—either to or from McGill—it would be to follow your instincts. I knew that deciding to transfer would be the biggest decision of my life up to that point; there were plenty of obstacles in the way, such as application timing and moving to a new continent, that could have easily stopped me. Despite everything, I persevered. In the end, you are the only person who truly understands the situation you are in. If you are unhappy, you owe it to yourself to change your life.