By Kayla Del
The conventional freshman year, consisting of living in residence halls and taking part in various orientation activities, marks the beginning of college for many students. The College places a strong emphasis on the development of a vibrant social life from the moment new students arrive on campus.
Commencing with Welcome Week — a weeklong dedication to meeting friends and settling into campus before courses begin — enthusiastic students have the chance to make friends without the demands of school work.
However, transfer students, who may go unnoticed during the college experience and struggle to fit in and make friends, often have a different experience. Aside from the tedious academic requirements of filling out applications, sending transcripts and transferring credits, transfer students are faced with the intimidating task of making new friends and adjusting to a new campus culture.
Transfer students commonly experience feelings of isolation as they struggle to catch up with their peers who have attended the university for a longer period of time. Transfer student orientation programs are frequently provided by colleges, but they are sometimes brief and do not give the same amount of assistance as those provided to traditional freshman.
Anticipating the anxieties and isolation transfer students often deal with, the College strives to provide transfers with immediate opportunities for social engagement. Orientation activities are created with the intention of introducing transfer students to the many opportunities the College offers to enhance student social life.
Jess Szpila, a Spring 2023 transfer and a sophomore elementary education and English major, described her initial experience at the College positively, attributing much of her satisfaction to the warm welcome she received at winter orientation, an event specifically dedicated to transfer students.
“Adjusting to life here at TCNJ hasn’t been too difficult,” Szpila said. “I felt extremely welcomed from the minute winter orientation started, and it was where I made new friends that I am still friends with today, even though orientation is over.”
Occurring before this year’s spring semester, winter orientation consisted of bonding events, fun activities and informative academic sessions over the course of three days. Between trivia games, bowling nights and group meals with the Orientation Leaders, the College’s intention is to ensure transfer students can develop meaningful friendships.
For other students, the initial transition process was not always easy. Freshman accounting major and Spring 2023 transfer student Morgan Lesler pointed out that the experience of a transitioning transfer student can be quite isolating.
Lesler, living in Eickhoff Hall, a majority sophomore dorm, explained that socializing in her residence hall is difficult when her floormates are not in her grade.
“Making friends has definitely been hard because everyone seems to know each other already, and I am in a sophomore dorm, so no one else around me is my age,” Lesler said.
Despite this initial difficulty, Lesler describes her current outlook as hopeful. She believes that as she gets involved in student organizations on campus, she will quickly acclimate to the College’s social environment and feel that her decision to transfer was the right one.
“Getting involved helps students meet more people and build more connections,” Lesler said. “I think in the long run, transferring will have definitely made my college experience better and benefit my future.”
Szpila highlighted the impact that her involvement in student organizations like TCNJam and Teachers of Young Children Association has had on her experience at the College.
“I recommend that current and future transfer students who are struggling to make friends go get involved and meet new people,” Szpila said. “It was a way for me to see more friendly faces around campus and a great way to get to know my peers.”
While it is inevitable that initial difficulties will arise as a transfer student, junior special education and English major Isabella Marretta is another example of how transfer students can find their place and acclimate to the College over time.
As a fall 2021 semester transfer student who is now fully adjusted to the campus culture, Marretta can testify to the ability of transfer students to develop meaningful and long-lasting connections. By deciding to join the College’s cheerleading team, she was able to get involved in the campus community immediately.
“The cheer team is like a family and we’re all there for each other,” Marretta said. “It’s given me so many opportunities to meet new people and be involved in campus life. The team has also helped me grow so much as a person, and I’m very thankful.”
The College is committed to fostering the success of transfer students, but only the students themselves can boost their own social lives through their courage and commitment to stepping outside of their comfort zones.
“Although I was definitely nervous to transfer to a whole new school in the middle of my college experience, it was the best decision I made,” Szpila said. “TCNJ offers so much support and gives you so many opportunities to feel at home. This process has been much easier than I was expecting, and I am much happier now that I’m here.”