This essay, by Donald Bryson, is the latest installment of a Clarion Call special series, “If I Knew Then What I Know Now,” which offers different perspectives of the college experience. Bryson is currently a Pope Center intern, and is finishing his B.A. online at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
You might say I am taking the scenic route to get my undergraduate education – I have attended four different colleges in six years. If I could do it again, I would have attended only one college until graduation day. Transferring from one institution to another is not only costly in moving expenses, transcript requests and application fees, but enormous amounts of time and credit hours that can be lost in the process.
I am now very close to graduation and will be done with my degree from UNC-Greensboro within the year.
I graduated from Habersham Central High School in Mt. Airy, Georgia, in 2002. Although I received a scholarship from Piedmont College, in nearby Demorest, Georgia, I decided not to take it, since it covered only room and board – and I lived just ten miles away. So I went to Gainesville Community College (now Gainesville State College) instead.
I gave Piedmont College another try in the fall of 2003, without the aid of a scholarship. Circumstances had changed in my personal life and I felt that foregoing the half hour commute to the community college everyday would allow me to concentrate more on academics and less on racing back to work.
In my first semester I had a class with a renowned religion professor and because of that class I declared my major to be philosophy and religion. I became very interested in the issues that my professor had brought up in class, and I was also becoming more involved in my local church. I thought that a degree in philosophy and religion would allow me to bridge my religious beliefs and my academics and also bring some enlightenment the world (something that a lot of college students say they want – and I really did).
Declaring my major so early was my first mistake. I am not writing about making the right choice for a major, but I suggest that students should wait until they have their general education requirements done before they declare a major. The study of philosophy and/or religion has value, but in order to actually achieve anything in these fields one must have an advanced degree. Furthermore, an advanced degree in philosophy or religion can be earned regardless of the field of undergraduate studies a person has chosen.
I attended Piedmont for three years until the spring semester of 2006, accruing enough hours to be considered a senior. But I decided to transfer. Here was my second and largest mistake. I didn’t know that transferring from one four-year institution, to another is a long and costly process with little or no gain.
I did it because I was dissatisfied with Piedmont. I was on scholarship with a debate team that was losing funding and was fearful that my scholarship would disappear. I discovered a problem common to small colleges—the philosophy department only had a handful of professors, and I had the same two professors for many classes. I was also increasingly annoyed with the “everyone knows every grade I’ve made” atmosphere. I assumed I could transfer and still be able to graduate within two years (I actually hoped for a year and a half).
I applied to Appalachian State University, in Boone, North Carolina. Around three weeks before I was to move, I received a letter from Appalachian stating that the University had no more housing and I needed to find my own housing. At the time I was unaware that all incoming freshmen to Appalachian State were required to live on campus and upper classman were given housing only if available. I was a college student who needed financial aid for housing purposes; I could not provide my own housing, especially with only three weeks to find it.
At this time, my personal life was also undergoing a major change – I got married in 2007 and moved to Raleigh, North Carolina where was my wife was employed. My main concern was to complete my education. I was accepted into Shaw University. However, at orientation I learned that my financial aid and my transfer credits had not been processed – even though the paperwork had been there for six months.
At this point, I could not risk starting completely over with an undergraduate curriculum; I had come too far. I went to Wake Technical Community College in order to complete courses required for graduation no matter where I went in the UNC System, but were not required at Piedmont. Although my time at this community college was pleasant and inexpensive, I knew I could not earn a four-year degree there.
One Sunday evening, while driving to Raleigh from Boone, I saw a billboard advertising online degree programs through constituent universities in the UNC system. Because of my wife’s job, I could not leave Raleigh, but I still needed to finish college and work at the same time. I wondered whether an online degree program at a credible university would be just what I needed. I explored the Web site, found a variety of options, and decided on a program that offered a Bachelor of Arts in Humanities from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNC-G). I am currently taking online courses there to complete my education. The degree still focuses on philosophy courses with some religion and history (my minor at Piedmont College). The program offers a good deal of freedom, but the classes are also demanding and I learn a good deal from them and I hope to graduate in December 2009.
Because of my experiences, I would advise anyone to keep from transferring from one four-year institution to another. Transferring from Piedmont was my second and largest mistake. By changing schools I lost credits and many of the credits I retained are not helping me graduate. When I graduate from UNC-Greensboro, I will have 159 credit hours, while most universities require 122-128 credit hours to graduate. In other words, I will have about two semesters’ worth of surplus credit (31 hours) that will do me no good.
All universities have different general education requirements, and those courses do not always transfer easily, if at all. This problem of transfer credits becomes increasingly problematic with elective courses. Usually, the university to which you are transferring will give credit for courses as free elective credits, but only a few of them are needed for graduation. I am not saying that this is unique to UNC-Greensboro (in fact, my experience is that Greensboro is especially accommodating in this area), but the fact still remains that this will happen the majority of the time.
In summary, there might be good reasons to transfer from one college to another, but sometimes it is just best to stay put. I think that transferring from a community college to a four-year institution (especially a four-year institution in North Carolina, due to the ease of the process) is almost certainly a good idea. General education requirements can be achieved for a lower cost to the student at community colleges, and all of the four-year public institutions in North Carolina are very transparent about what courses will or will not transfer from community colleges.
Because of my indirect path to a degree, I have found the program that now works for me, but I wasted money and wasted time on starting my real life. Perhaps I got a little more education than I asked for, about the grass not always being greener elsewhere.