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Tales of a nontraditional Rochester transfer student

By: Stephanie Graham, Senior Admissions Counselor

My name is Stephanie, and I was a non-traditional transfer student at the University of Rochester. I was non-traditional in a few ways. I was a first-generation student, an independent student, a full-time student, and I worked full-time outside of class. I graduated in 2022 with my Bachelor’s Degree in English on the Language, Media, and Communications track and have since found my way to working in the Office of Undergraduate Admissions as a first-year and transfer counselor.

When the opportunity arose to write about my experience as a transfer student, I was hesitant. What could anyone want to know from my experience? Transfer students are looking for information on courses, clubs, and how the transfer resources are on campus and I really didn’t do any of that. Not because I didn’t want to, but because I had other priorities that required my time. My experience was so different from that of the typical student and up until recently, I still felt like it was somehow invalid, like I was the exception, not the rule. However, the more transfer students I meet on campus and during my counseling sessions, the more I have come to realize that there is no such thing as the “typical” student. Despite not getting to participate in as many extracurricular activities as my peers, I had the full Rochester experience. 

Like many transfer students, my path wasn’t always so clearly laid out before me. I began my college career at a very small liberal arts college in New York State where I learned that the environment wasn’t for me, but I didn’t exactly know why until later. I decided to take a step back and transfer to Monroe Community College in the spring to get a firmer grasp on what I wanted out of my time as a college student. I finished my associate’s degree at MCC in liberal arts and began looking at both private and public schools to continue my education. U of R came to mind and I scheduled a short visit for a cold day in November. I remember walking around the quad and hearing about the history of the campus, the flexible curriculum, and that there was a Starbucks—all equally exciting things to me. 

However, I felt that U of R was completely out of reach academically and financially just based on what I’d heard about the school. It’s not that I wasn’t a good student, I was just different and I thought it would count against me. Even in high school, I tried to be involved with a few activities, but working and earning money took priority. How could any admissions counselor look at my application and be impressed with so few bullet points on my activities list? I applied with very little hope. Even if by some small chance they did accept me, there’d be no way I could afford it. To my surprise, I received good news. Not only was it an offer of acceptance to the school of my dreams, but the financial aid package was very generous. More so, in fact, than any other institution I had applied to including state schools!

A week after receiving my decision and package, I put down my deposit. Although I was beyond thrilled that the admissions office had accepted me, there was another piece of self-doubt that kept gnawing at me. Will the faculty and students be welcoming to me? Sure, being admissible was one thing, but how would I get along with students who I thought were not only smarter than me but also came from vastly different backgrounds? How would professors react if they found out I’m working full time and won’t be dedicating 4 hours a night to my studies? I had convinced myself that the students and faculty would take one look at me and decide my admission must have been a mistake. 

On the first day of class, I was shaking in my boots (literally, it was January). I was so worried I’d be found out as an imposter. I got to my first class and felt like I was wearing a big sign that said, “I am not supposed to be here!” Thankfully, the Rochester community surprised me in the best way possible. No one treated me like I didn’t belong. They wanted to hear from me! My peers would joke with me like we’d been friends for years despite never meeting before. The professors were relaxed and invested in the teaching process. They took time to set expectations for their classes but made a point to offer their work and personal emails, open office hours, and extra time after class for questions or conversations. Quickly, I realized what I’d been missing before when I left my first institution; a sense of belonging. Soon I fell right into step with my peers. 

Although the community was made up of exceptional humans, that’s not to say I didn’t face any academic challenges. I have always been more of a humanities-minded person, so I chose a cluster called Math and Statistics for Social Sciences thinking it would be easier for me. To my dismay, this cluster required me to take MTH 141, aka Calculus I. It was tough! To this day, I don’t think I would have been able to pass the class without the help I received from my professor. She worked with me well past her typical office hours and on top of the demands of having 150+ other students taking Calculus that semester. I barely passed, but I gained a new confidence in my capabilities from overcoming that challenge. I could tell dozens of happy little stories about my experiences as a University of Rochester transfer student, but I am only allotted so many words for this post. 

While I loved my time as an undergrad, it was tumultuous. Life took me on multiple little detours and due to circumstances outside of my control, I had to take a two-year leave of absence from 2016-2018, and then again from 2020-2022. Each time I felt like a failure, and then when I finally returned I had quite a bit of anxiety about being an older student. My original concerns about belonging came right back and I felt like everyone would be judging me for being “behind”. I should have known then, but just like before, the U of R community helped me along like they always had and accepted me without a second thought. I am happy to say that although I didn’t join the debate team or an a cappella group, the classes I took and the relationships I made with faculty, staff, and students made my undergraduate experience just as fulfilling as any traditional student experience. I did finally get that diploma too! 

Now, I work in the University of Rochester Office of Admissions right where it all began, and where it begins for all of us students at River Campus. I’ve made it my mission to help guide students toward their academic goals. I also encourage students to pursue a good fit for school rather than a rigid plan for potential success. I think you’ll agree with me that I am a living example of how things do not always go the way we plan. The reality is, there is no such thing as the typical student. There is no timeline, and there is no such thing as being “behind” or “too different”. If you are a University of Rochester student, you are just that!

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