I was in love with Hopkins a week after I arrived. The campus was beautiful, my classes were more interesting than anything I had ever taken in high school, I was meeting tons of amazing new people and I was thrilled about all the great things I would be able to do in Baltimore.
My honeymoon phase lasted through the first couple of months; through the frustrating “B average” grading policy of the Writing Seminars department; through learning how to study because I never had to in high school; through suitemate conflicts and through the isolation that I started to feel when I realized I didn’t have the time or the money to leave campus very often.
Then I went home for Thanksgiving and spent time in my small, familiar hometown, spent time with my high school friends, and I remembered what it felt like to really belong somewhere. I didn’t have that feeling at Hopkins.
When my parents took me back to the airport on the last day of Thanksgiving break, I sat alone at the gate and thought there was no way I could get on that plane. It had never occurred to me, during my application process, that a school that was so hard to get into would be an even more difficult place in which to get decent grades.
It hadn’t occurred to me in my first few months of school how much fun I had with my friends at home and how I never had that feeling here. I was getting very little sleep, hardly had time to do things I enjoyed and I was beginning to doubt whether or not this “elite education” was worth it. As I sat at the airport realizing I didn’t want to go back, I considered transferring for the first time.
So now, exactly one year later, I have some advice for freshmen who feel the same way:
Don’t be afraid to admit how you’re feeling. Chances are, when you go home for Thanksgiving, you’ll catch up with high school friends who will go on forever about the wonderful time they’re having in college. It’s not that they’re lying; They’re just conveniently leaving out the homesickness, stress about classes and fears about making friends that everyone experiences. Chances are, your high school friends have had some of the same discontentment with their own schools, and they are more likely to open up when you do.
However, the fear of talking about it isn’t just limited to friends. Transferring can be a difficult thing to bring up to your parents, especially if they’re paying your tuition or have certain expectations for what type of college you should be attending.
But the reality is, whether it’s fortunate or unfortunate for you, your parents will need to be involved if you do make the decision to transfer. Talk to them early, because “I’m not very happy with school” is far less likely to elicit a negative response than springing on them that you want to transfer.
Think specifically about why you’re unhappy here. Make a list, either on paper or just in your head. Is it your stress level? Does Hopkins not have a major you’re really interested in? Do you feel like you don’t really fit in with your group of friends? Pinpointing specific things will not only help you feel less stressed but will also help you determine whether or not the reasons you’re unhappy are things you can change.
Think about things you like about Hopkins. Although there were definitely times my freshman fall when I would have bitterly answered, “nothing,” this wouldn’t have been true. Maybe you have a really good relationship with your roommate? Maybe you really like the food? Maybe you’re still really excited about all the different research opportunities Hopkins has to offer?
Transferring is a drastic life change, and thinking about the positives of Hopkins alongside the negatives will help you put your feelings into perspective.
Ask yourself if there’s anything you can do to make yourself happier. Some are easier fixes than others. Rethinking the pre-med track? Hopkins makes it so easy to explore different academic areas. Having major conflicts with your roommate? Talk to your RA. Don’t feel like you belong in your friend group? Get involved in different things.
This time of year, everyone feels completely burnt out. Looking forward to making changes next semester will improve your current stress levels, especially if you’re still planning on returning.
I’ll leave you all with one last thought: Hopkins is unique in that a lot changes here after freshman fall. Everything from my study habits to my friend group are completely different now than they were a year ago. I joined a sorority and met the most amazing, supportive, crazy and fun friends I could’ve asked for. I realized I didn’t need a 4.0 to be successful and decided to stop sacrificing sleep and happiness to make this happen.
Now, I can honestly say I am happier here than I would be anywhere else. Hopkins feels just as much like home to me as my hometown in Illinois. I don’t want to tell anyone they shouldn’t transfer, because I recognize that Hopkins really isn’t the best fit for some people.
However, I want to encourage everyone to give this school one last chance next semester, and most importantly, I want you to know that if you don’t really love your freshman fall, you are not alone.