A group of students sits at a table in the Stupe, eating ice cream and doing homework. Their conversation fades back and forth between animated dialogue and silent studying. They are seemingly no different than any other group of Wheaton students one might expect to find in the Stupe on a Monday night. The only difference is that their conversation occasionally includes references to “my old school.” For a passerby who stops to listen for a while, it becomes clear that they are not talking about high school. Instead, they all have something in common: they’re transfers.
If you ask transfer students why they made the decision to switch schools, you’ll start to notice a recurring theme. “I was generally discouraged by the student body,” sophomore sociology major Elle Sraders said of her previous school. “Any time I thought of going back, I wanted to cry,” elementary education junior Claire Vasbinder said. “I just knew that going back was more painful than transferring ever would be.”
Each transfer has a different story. Some, like Sraders and Vasbinder were more than happy to leave, while some had a more difficult time making the choice to transfer, like junior biblical and theological studies major John Slosted. “It was a really hard decision because I was doing so well,” Slosted said of his move from the Air Force Academy to Wheaton. “The Lord just had it on my heart.”
This sense of divine calling is another common thread you will find in many transfer stories. “I was in a trance,” joked junior biology major Vitaly Sukhanov of his decision to transfer. He added in seriousness that Wheaton offers students the unique opportunity “to live as a Christian in college,” something absent in most state schools, and even some private Christian schools where faith is not a priority. As a transfer myself, this sense that God was calling me here is what brought me to Wheaton as well.
Many transfers have some trepidation about breaking into daily life at Wheaton, especially in upperclassman housing, where students already have established friend groups. Slosted feared that there would be difficulty in “adjusting to Wheaton’s own culture and finding friends.” He is not alone — I have experienced this fear first-hand, too.
At my old school, I only knew one transfer: a girl who who rarely emerged from her dorm and who seemed to be counting down the days until graduation. I remember being grateful that I was not a transfer. Coming to Wheaton, I feared that my college career would follow a similar trajectory. These fears disappeared after my first “I’m a transfer” conversation, when I was met with sincere friendship and kindness instead of the uncomfortable, stunted small talk that I had been steeling myself for.
Entering Wheaton as a transfer has its perks. As Sraders shared, experiences at other colleges can make acclimating to college life easier than it is for first-year students. “It’s nice to feel that, as a transfer, a lot of the integration process is more intuitive than when you’re a freshman,” she said. In addition, the experiences that transfers have had at other colleges make it easier to get used to daily college life, giving us more time to get involved with the people around us. Vasbinder explained that the variety of her classes as a transfer allows her to meet students of all ages. “I’m in classes with freshmen and sophomores, but I also know juniors and seniors so I feel like I get to meet people across the student body,” she said.
Being a transfer is a unique experience. While many students can relate to leaving friend groups, studies and lives in other states in order to be here, transfer students make these adjustments in an environment where most of their peers have already acclimated. Junior business and economics major Robby Coltman said that “transfers have a sense of ‘we know why we’re here,’” because “we picked this school, we’re here for a certain purpose.”
When asked what it means to be a Wheaton student, the word “community” seemed to be a buzzword for transfers. Junior applied health science major Mary Ella Van Ye said that being a Wheaton student means “being in a community and being able to care for them, but also feeling like you’re cared for just as much.” Due to Wheaton’s Christian identity, students can share their faith in common and “stand with each other” in a special way.
Vasbinder echoed this idea, saying that she appreciates being in a place where she is able “to love others, and to also be loved in return within a strong community of Christ-followers.” “I think it’s very powerful and I haven’t taken it for granted one second that I’ve been here,” she said. Coltman pointed out that the community Wheaton students experience not only exists in college, but continues as students enter the alumni community and share in an experience that “continues with us for the rest of our lives. There’s such a rich heritage.”
While these transfers would not deny that switching schools brings difficult changes and new challenges, they are also undeniably proud to be a part of this community and to call Wheaton home.