For the last three years, I’ve measured my self-worth by an admission officer’s decision. I spent countless hours drafting Common Application essays about my community and “Why Michigan?” to prove I was worthy of going to the University of Michigan. The first two times I was rejected, it felt personal. I had bared everything in my essays, hoping they’d look past my sub-30 ACT score and two Cs from high school and see that as a person, I was a good fit for the University. When I finally got in, I changed my Instagram bio, bought a Michigan pennant flag, and stole my sister’s old block ‘M’ pin to put on my backpack. Now that I’m here, though, I’m torn between being proud of my acceptance and being ashamed of how long it took me. I don’t even know which I’d rather be. My identity crisis has stemmed not from the need to differentiate myself, but rather a desire to be like every other student crossing the Diag.
In some ways, being a transfer student is a lot like being a freshman all over again — I, too, have struggled with a new campus and navigating Mason Hall’s weird floor number system. And just like the other eager freshmen, I found all my classrooms before the semester started so I wouldn’t get lost. But as a transfer student, I’m not naive — I know how to send an email to a professor and manage my time. I’m used to the demands of higher education and the freedom of eating cookies for dinner. Plus, I know how to properly dress for a November football game at the Big House.
As a transfer student, instead of worrying about making friends, I wonder if non-transfer students can tell it’s only my first year here. I am not scared of raising my hand in class, but rather I am nervous about my classmates finding out I wasn’t good enough to get in the first or even second time. When the inevitable “What year are you?” is asked, I stumble over my words. I issue a caveat every time, explaining that I’m a junior but I transferred. It’s a simple question and should have a simple answer, but I think I’d rather people know my flaw than think I’m trying to conceal it.
I have a friend who once said to me, “Literally no one cares that you’re a transfer student.” It was meant to be comforting — a keen observation that I care too much about how people view me. Now though, when I think about the comment, it comes across in a different way.
I don’t want to belittle the work I did to get into the University — I had to change everything in order to be accepted. I started caring about my grades and meeting with professors to actually learn the material instead of memorizing it. The feeling of getting a hard-earned A was addicting, and I became an entirely different student than I was in high school. I could’ve gone to a mid-tier, four-year college, but I decided that the University was worth it. In some ways it was, but at times it feels like I’m the only one who sacrificed something to be here. And that I’m the only one who can’t seem to move past the typical “college experience” I chose to give up.
On the other hand, I’ve never been surrounded by so many people committed to their schoolwork. The general atmosphere on campus and in the classroom reflects the reputation the University’s students have earned, and now I’m part of it. I bond with my classmates over grades and studying. We compare classes we’ve taken and who has had less sleep. The pressure and expectation of good grades and a successful career pushes me to work harder in order to keep up with my peers and that excites me.
I remember my dad once took me on an unofficial tour of the University when I was still in high school. We walked through Hatcher Graduate Library and it struck me how many generations of students have studied there. Silently, I wished I were like them: self-motivated and hardworking. Now, when I walk into the Reference Room, I view them as my peers. When I study, I don’t feel like an outsider. I remember how desperately I wanted to go here and how I once prayed for the chance to pull an all-nighter at the library. In this way, I belong at the University.
People often ask me how the University of Michigan compares to my previous school. It’s hard to answer exactly, especially with how much this university means to me. But students here care more — about everything.
We’re connected through our mutual love for the University, but also through our passion for academics. Before this fall, I had never seen people in the library on a Saturday morning. I’d never heard casual, intelligent conversations about the doctrine of socialism. I’ve had more book recommendations this semester than ever before. I feel as though I’m constantly absorbing my surroundings, soaking up an environment that will disappear after I graduate. We’re students who naturally thrive when we’re learning, and I truly fit in here. It’s comforting — the feeling of relating to a larger community. School is our commonality, and I’ve never felt more connected to the strangers that surround me.
In August, at my transfer orientation, they gave out these little pins that say “I <3 Transfers.” They told us to put them on our backpacks so we could easily spot other transfer students. Is it as easy to spot my struggle as it is a bright maize pin? I’ve seen a couple of them around campus and each time I’m reminded that I can’t be the only person struggling with this duality. Right now, it’s sitting on my dresser in my room, a subtle reminder that I’m a minority among U-M students. And I can’t decide whether it’s a badge of honor or a badge of shame.