For the hundreds of students who transfer to the University of Michigan each year from community colleges, their time at the University is an opportunity to take advantage of something their previous colleges lacked: a robust campus life. With new campus policies and state executive orders, life as a transfer student has come well short of the much anticipated “college experience.” Though social distancing guidelines are still in place, in-person events for transfer students this semester can be an opportunity to make up for the limited time transfer students already have in making connections with fellow students and faculty. 

For those of us who transferred in the fall of 2019, we had one normal semester. I’ll be graduating in four months with a degree from a university I only attended a semester and a half at in person. To say it is disappointing is an understatement. While the restrictive policies regarding COVID-19 have been necessary, they haven’t made life as a transfer student any easier. 

Stay-at-home orders, remote learning and canceled tailgates have been difficult for all students, but for those of us with a shortened time at the University, our dreams of that so-called college experience have been brutally crushed. At first, the prospects of a few unexpected days off and a month and a half of online classes to finish out the Winter 2020 semester didn’t seem like too much of a sacrifice. I got through the semester excited for things to return to normal in the fall. I spent the summer looking for housing and planning out how I would get involved on campus. 

It wasn’t until mid-August, when all my classes had officially moved online, that I realized my plans to join clubs and connect with students and faculty were spoiled. With an entire semester of online education finished, I’ve reflected not only on the struggle over being a student during this time, but also the implications it has on students with already limited time here. I’ve decided that there has been very little good, some bad and a lot of ugly. 

One of the perks for me as a commuter was shortening the time it took to get to class. The commute I had to make was getting out of bed to get to my desk, rather than a total of 100 minutes roundtrip. Theoretically, all that extra time should’ve meant extra time to focus on extracurriculars. However, the social aspect of meeting and connecting with other students when partaking in extracurriculars, an experience that transfer students have been looking forward to for years, just isn’t the same over Zoom. 

Not to mention, any friendships or connections that may have bloomed on Zoom can’t translate to in-person interactions with the COVID-19 restrictions on gatherings. 

I tried the whole join-a-new-club-during-COVID-19 thing. More times than not, it felt like a waste of time. With some of the club leadership struggling to adapt to the drastic change of environments and their inability to hold in-person events, club meetings feel more like another thing on the to-do list than a fun way to spend my free time. 

Another perk for some may have been choosing to save thousands of dollars on housing by staying home for the year. Maybe it’d be bearable if you had a year in the residence halls and another year or so living off-campus. But if you’re a transfer student who lived at home before transferring, another year at home feels like your train to freedom has suddenly derailed. Making friends as a transfer student is hard enough, but making friends via online school is nearly impossible. 

There’s no picking who to sit next to on the first day. There’s no sparking up a conversation with a neighbor before class. There’s no meeting up with classmates at the Shapiro Undergraduate Library on a Sunday morning to cram in a group project that’s due Monday. 

Perhaps the worst of all is the fact that the academics are just not the same. Professors seem to be having just as much trouble adjusting to online teaching as students are having with online learning. Students seem to be a lot more hesitant to speak. Or maybe it just feels like the silences are longer when everyone is just staring at their screens. 

I’d be lying if I said the academic aspect of attending the University of Michigan wasn’t important. Access to professors who are world-renowned and widely respected in their fields made choosing the University a no-brainer. Unfortunately, attending office hours when your professor is dealing with the interruptions of work-from-home is just not the same as having their full attention in-person. 

For transfer students, especially those considering grad school, trying to make connections with faculty in a few semesters is a big task already. We didn’t have the luxury of finding a professor our freshman year to take us under their wing. While it may be easy to maintain already-established relationships with faculty, starting new ones through Zoom feels almost like a lost cause. 

There are worse problems to have, but for transfer students who have spent an extra few years more than the average admitted freshmen to get to the University, losing the very elements that made us choose the school in the first place is a major let-down and possibly even a set-back on our post-graduate plans. That delayed gratification we had been waiting for has turned out to be a little lackluster. 

In-person classes are still happening, though in a limited capacity, but it gives me hope that in-person events for transfer students can and should be a possibility this semester. The need for smaller gatherings may even strengthen the connections that are made at transfer events. While events held by the LSA Transfer Student Program have been virtual so far this semester, their effectiveness and student turnout would see a boost from providing an in-person option for their events. On the positive side, transfer students know how to adapt — it’s what we do. Online school is just another challenge for us to overcome.

Theodora Vorias can be reached at tvorias@umich.edu.

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