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Student Series: Lessons Of A Transfer Student    

Student Series: Lessons Of A Transfer Student

Art by FISK

By Lauren Baldinger

For the most part, I came out of high school unscathed. I ended with a great group of friends and a strong academic record. Still, I felt that my experience at a traditional prep school limited my success and my freedom to develop to my fullest potential. Even early in high school, I had started to prepare for (and romanticize) the collegiate years ahead. 

It wasn’t long before Cornell emerged as my school of choice. I enrolled in a summer program at Cornell’s Ithaca campus the summer before my senior year. It was my first glimpse of college life, and it was amazing. In a few short weeks, I thrived in class, established a strong bond with my professor, and fell in love with the campus. I knew that I wanted Cornell to be my home for the next four years. I grew so attached that I feared the very-real possibility of having to go elsewhere. When the time came to pack my things at the end of that summer, I remember wishing I could stay, and just start my college experience then and there.

Alas, the daunting admissions process loomed ahead.

I eagerly submitted my early decision application and set a countdown to decision day through an app on my phone. The weeks that followed were filled with managing expectations, dealing with the complex mix of both anxiety and excitement, and maintaining tunnel vision to block out comparisons to my peers. 

When the long-awaited decision day rolled around, there was no “Congratulations!” or confetti filling my screen. I had been rejected. I was left with an unignorable heavy heart that I couldn’t seem to shake. I was heartbroken, feeling like I had lost something so close to me. Even in the days that followed, I knew the feeling was far from over. 

While I spent months perfecting my Cornell application, I applied to Syracuse as an early-decision II one day before the deadline. This school was undeniably the comfortable choice. My brother was a sophomore there at the time, having followed the footsteps of my father and paternal grandfather. If I couldn’t go to Cornell, this seemed like the next best thing.

What I learned from Syracuse was that feeling at home and feeling comfortable are two very different things. While Syracuse has much to offer, I longed for something that felt more my own, and that challenged me in a new way. 

During my freshman year, transferring to Cornell never escaped my mind. As grateful as I was for my freshman year experience at Syracuse, I knew I had to pursue my dream.

I relentlessly strove to be the best student I could be. But the prospect of facing another rejection was hard to prepare for. It didn’t help that I was working to be happy at my current school while at the same time pursuing the goal of being somewhere else. It often felt like I was living a double life.

I tried to analyze what exactly I was longing for. Did I want to transfer just so that I could live up to the pressures of my competitive high school? If that was the case, I knew that could lead me toward an environment that wasn’t the best fit. Luckily, I realized that wasn’t what was motivating me. I kept coming back to the amazement I felt by both the students and the campus during my time at Cornell. 

Seeing social media posts from people I knew at Cornell who were enjoying themselves made it harder to accept where I was freshman year. I watched through a screen as some of the kindest and most genuine people, whom I knew from high school and other experiences, met one another and became friends in Ithaca. While I was happy for them, I had a gut feeling that I was missing out, and that I, too, would thrive in the academic and social environment of Cornell. 

Transferring to Cornell became my ultimate goal, and I spent my winter break perfecting my transfer application, trying, one last time, to express my unwavering desire to become a Cornellian.

In May, about fifteen minutes before back-to-back final exams in Macroeconomics and Business Law, the long-awaited email from Cornell’s Office of Undergraduate Admissions appeared at the top of my inbox. My heart stopped, and I couldn’t bring myself to open the email right away. Completing my exams, knowing that the fate of my application was sitting in my inbox, were some of the most stressful hours of my life.

Finally, feeling like a complete zombie after staring at my screen for hours, I sat in my quarantine uniform (matching sweats) and opened the life-changing acceptance letter. For a long moment, in shock, I continued rereading “Congratulations”, a word that was so obviously missing just over a year prior. I quickly shared the news with my family, all equally relieved and proud that I had, finally, done it. 

As certain as I was that Cornell was the place for me, I was still nervous before actually starting my first semester in Ithaca. I’d been through so much, built it up so big in my head. But now that I am settled in and concluding my first semester, I could not be more confident in my decision to change course. 

This unique semester has also taught me that patience and delayed gratification help foster greater gratitude and contentment. I’ve learned that being “behind” in life is a myth. We are all following our own unique path. Good things take time, and for some, it just takes a little longer. When you feel unsatisfied with where you are, try to be grateful for how you got there and, at the same time, unafraid to take the necessary steps to get somewhere new.

Some of my non-transfer friends still lovingly tease me for my child-like awe at the littlest details about Cornell. Despite a heavy workload and a skewed semester because of Covid, I still get to (safely) enjoy my unique college experience as a Cornellian. During those moments of peace I feel, after long last, at home.

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