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Feeling Out of Place at Your College: How to Deal


Bad grades, a lack of on-campus opportunities and trouble finding friends are just some of the reasons that one might choose to transfer schools. That said, there are also unexplainable feelings that many of us have experienced when we’re simply unsatisfied with the college we chose. Though you may feel obligated to stick it out, hoping that things will get better, sometimes it’s better to explore other options. Either way, feeling out of place at school can be extremely lonely—but don’t worry, we’re here to help.

Before you begin to make any big decisions, you should take a step back and examine your situation. It’s important that you figure out why you’re feeling out of place. Consider these questions before you make any major changes.

1. Am I too far from home?

All throughout high school, you couldn’t wait to go off to college and finally be independent. Now that you’re actually doing so, maybe it’s not as great as you thought it would be. If you find yourself missing your family or hometown, Kelci Lynn Lucier, college expert and author of College Stress Solutions, says although it’s frustrating, one of the best things to do is to not call your loved ones every day or head home every weekend. “Instead, the cure comes by making college your home away from home,” Lucier says. “Reach out, connect with other people, and build your college life in small steps.”

However, that doesn’t always work. Hannah, a senior at the University of Maine, struggled with being too far from home. “I used to go to Seton Hall University, and I chose the school because I wanted to be close to New York City,” she says. “I had a few really close best friends, was actively involved on campus and would go out at every possible opportunity.” So when Hannah decided that she wanted to transfer, her parents, friends and advisor were shocked.

Hannah ended up attending the University of Maine, which cut her travel time to her hometown by 6 hours. “I wish that was a lesson I could have learned in high school—there’s so much pressure to pick the right school, so when you realize that the one you're at might not be the best fit, you really feel like you've failed or made a huge mistake,” she says. “Transferring can be a bit of a pain in the butt to go through, but in the grand scheme of things, it's an easy enough change to make. If you're unhappy, move!”

Related: What to Do if You’re Feeling Lonely in College

2. Do I have friends who I can relate to and rely on?

Making friends in college is hard, there’s no doubt about it. Even some of the most involved students find it difficult to connect with someone on a BFF level. However, if you’re looking to transfer based on this factor alone, you need to make sure you’ve put in your side of the friendship before giving up.

There are a variety of things you should make sure you've tried, like actually talking to your neighbors in class, or joining campus groups that share your interests, according to Julie Zeilinger, author of College 101: A Girl’s Guide to Freshman Year. “Though it may feel counterintuitive and is certainly easier said than done, if one feels socially isolated the best thing they can do is try to force themselves to get involved with a variety of activities and groups on campus,” Zeilinger says. “Sampling many is the best way to find where and with whom one feels most at home on campus.”

If you put in the effort Zeilinger suggests, yet you still find yourself feeling completely alone, you might be better off looking at other options. Shelby, a junior at the University of Arkansas, did this and hasn’t looked back ever since. “I’m a journalism major, so I was involved with the student newspaper, an online magazine and a broadcast show on campus,” she says. Despite her constant interaction with people, Shelby was unable to establish any solid friendships.

“I never stopped trying, though,” she says. “I would always ask people to hang out, but I felt I was just annoying them. Nobody seemed to have the same interests as me.” As a result, Shelby transferred—and she had no problem making friends at her new school. “I don’t really know how to explain it. Sometimes, it’s just hard to connect with people, but I haven’t had that problem here and I’m so grateful.”

3. Is the campus the right size for me?

The number of students on campus is one of the biggest reasons that collegiettes transfer. Whether you’re looking for smaller classes and a tighter-knit community, or for a more diverse student body and larger lecture halls, one of the best things to do is talk to a counselor specific to your major. You can inquire about classes that are either smaller or bigger and find ways to customize your educational experience.

Julia, a junior at New York University, was looking for a larger and more diverse school. “I started my freshman year at a school that had about 8,000 students and was only 30 minutes away from my hometown,” she says. “I was constantly seeing people from my high school around campus, and even people I knew from surrounding towns. I thought I would be okay with that, but it ended up annoying me.”

Julia finished her freshman year at the small school, but ended up transferring to the extremely large NYU. “Although I miss my family, I absolutely love going to school in the city. I’d definitely recommend anyone looking for a bigger school to find one that’s in or near a large city.”

4. Are the academics suitable for me?

Oftentimes, students go into college not knowing what they want to major in, let alone what type of career they want to pursue. Once collegiettes do find out, they might realize the school they’re attending is not particularly beneficial for their future. If that’s the case, you need to make sure that you’ve taken advantage of every resource possible before transferring, Zeilinger says. “Taking the time to form a relationship with your professor or even TA can go a long way towards understanding course material,” she says. “Many campuses also have tutoring services or other accommodations and are similarly underutilized.”

Emily, a junior at Vassar College, had to make a decision between academics and a better social life. “By the middle of my freshman year, I was very seriously considering transferring, but I was torn,” she says. “On the social end, I had formed a great relationship with my now-boyfriend, but hadn’t made true friends otherwise, and I was worried I was wasting my chance at experiencing all that college had to offer socially.”

On the other hand, Emily loved the progressive and thought-provoking education she was receiving. “I wasn’t sure that any other school could offer [that],” she says. “In the end, I chose academics over [my] social life and wound up staying.” While you don’t necessarily have to choose between the two, it’s important to remember the reason you’re in college in the first place.

If you’ve pondered these questions and still feel uneasy, it might be time to look into other schools. Instead of just doing Internet searches by yourself, try out these steps.

5. Talk to your parents

Your parents probably played a big role in your initial college hunt. They helped you prepare to enroll, move, and more—so having an in-depth conversation with them about wanting to transfer is important. Carve out a specific time to talk with them, whether it be in-person, over the phone or on Skype.

During your discussion, you should be prepared to explain why you’re feeling out of place. Talk about the specifics of your school, like academics, your social life, etc. You should also talk about what you do like, and how and what you want to carry over to a new school if you do choose to transfer. Once you’ve explained how you’re feeling, give them time to process everything. Once you’re on the same page, then you can start making plans.

6. Talk to your friends at other schools

It sucks feeling out of place at your own school while watching your friends enjoy their own college experiences. Rather than be jealous, reach out to them and ask what it is about their own schools that they like.

Are they involved in Greek life? Have they already decided their major? Did they find it easy to make friends? Expand on the questions that you had to ask yourself earlier, and just turn them around on your friends. This will give you a better perspective of others’ college experiences.

Gracie, a sophomore at San Diego State University, used to find herself feeling jealous of her friends’ experiences at their own schools—so she simply reached out to them and asked what it is they loved so much. “There wasn’t anything in particular about each school,” she says. “They just loved the town, and said they felt at home.” Gracie decided to stay for the duration of the school year but ended up transferring for her sophomore year. “I knew I would never feel at home where I was.” She hasn’t regretted her decision ever since!

7. Talk to a school counselor

Though you might feel awkward discussing why you’re unsatisfied with the college that they work for, the counselors are there specifically to help you. Nearly one third of students choose to transfer before they graduate, so these people are undoubtedly equipped to assist you with the process.

Again, be specific about why you’re feeling out of place. This will help them to help you determine where to go next. From there, they will be able to help you go through the process of applying, transferring credits and more.

Keep in mind, though, that the process won’t be easy. “In terms of transferring, it’s certainly different for all students, but generally it’s crucial to give your current college experience a fair chance,” Zeilinger says. “There are also plenty of other concerns that should factor into one’s decision to transfer beyond comfort level. For example, credits might not transfer or there may be financial complications that may render transferring illogical or even detrimental.” Basically, make sure you’re 100 percent sure you’re ready to make the change!

Feeling out of place at a school that you thought was going to surpass all of your expectations is without a doubt disappointing. However, you owe it to yourself to give it a chance and make an effort, rather than switching schools the first chance you get. Lucier says it best: “​One key thing when preparing to transfer or thinking about transferring is to really be honest with yourself and ask whether or not you are going to duplicate your problem(s) somewhere else,” she says. If you're not reaching out, being proactive, stepping outside of your comfort zone, or overall making an effort to connect with your campus, what is going to change if you go somewhere else?" At the end of the day, it’s your decision where you want to go to school!

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