It was the third week of our twin sons’ freshman year when I got the text from one of them: “I don’t think I’m going to be happy here.” The words were a knee to my stomach, a doom and gloom that once put out there could never be taken back. Immediately, we were on the phone, and immediately, I was doling out the advice I’d been given,
“Adjusting takes time. All of your feelings are normal. College is a huge step.”
There was another piece weighing on my son’s mind. For the first time in eighteen years, he had separated from his twin, his other half, and some of the discomfort meant missing him, something most boys don’t want to admit. We explained it was okay to feel like this.
He chose this particular school because it checked all the boxes. Small campus in a vibrant city. A student-teacher ratio that meant a personalized approach to academics. The business school with a focus on entertainment. Even our son’s roommate turned out to be a welcoming choice, and a reliable friendship had taken root.
But nothing prepared us for that text and the phone calls that followed.
When Your Teen Wants to Transfer to Another College
It’s been said a parent is only as happy as their unhappiest child. My husband and I clung to each other those months, waiting for the laughter, a changed mind, something that meant he’d turned a corner, but it didn’t come. Mention of the “T” word was met with fear, trepidation, and all the speculation that accompanied it.
Transferring, to those who had never met the inconvenient circumstance, was a dirty word. It meant failure, a mistake, and a host of other criticisms.
After multiple conversations and text exchanges, it was decided my son would see through the school year. We had hoped, or thought, he’d feel more comfortable and acclimated over time. All the online blogs and articles offered us “professional” advice and how best to navigate the trenches, but the truth was staring us in the face.
This wasn’t homesickness. This wasn’t getting over the proverbial hump. Time couldn’t change what smacked us hard in the face: you can’t fit a square peg into a round hole. Our son had chosen the wrong school.
Ultimately, our son began the transfer process second semester. After completing college applications with the twins the year prior, there we were again proofreading essays and applications and buying ridiculously high airfare for him to tour schools.
Carefully, we discussed the reasons he chose his current university and the reasons he wasn’t happy. This new list was more than just an attempt to find a greener patch of grass. The new list reflected all that he had learned that first year—about himself and his choices. And while the distress of that first year can never be minimized, the lessons our family learned made it, for lack of a better anecdote, worth it.
My son learned what it felt like to be uncomfortable in a situation and still succeed. He didn’t give up, nor did he let his grades suffer. In fact, his grades were impressive enough to get him a partial scholarship at one school and acceptance to others.
He maintained peace of mind while taking care of himself physically through workouts and pick-up games of basketball. He regularly sent us pictures of the beautiful scenery of the city he would soon depart, and I understood that while he wasn’t happy at the school, he could still appreciate the positives and all it had to offer. My son had made the best of it, and that was a life lesson he would have forever under his belt.
Freshman year isn’t merely for our young adults to learn to live on their own and practice independence and self-sufficiency. The time is also for us, the parents, to let our kids go and grow, to cut some of the attachments, to let them figure things out without our input.
I’ll admit, it wasn’t always easy for us. The urge to fix this was undeniable. To bring him home, to make him happy, to make him a little less uncomfortable. But we’d made the decision to see the year through, and we all had to deal with the uncertainty of the unknown while watching his friends thrive at their respective colleges.
He’s my son, but he’s no longer my baby anymore. I can’t fix everything (though I still want to). By giving him the freedom and autonomy to manage this challenge on his own, I gave him a gift worth seven college degrees. The kind you don’t learn in the classroom: confidence, problem-solving, understanding life’s not always perfect or what social media portrays.
And now that he’s home and working an internship before starting at his new school, I see a change in him that makes the sleepless nights worthwhile. A teenager blooming into a responsible young man. A young man who didn’t give up, who made the best of an otherwise difficult experience, and came out the other side with a hell of a lot of knowledge about himself.
“Fit” is the most common-used term during the college process. We heard it multiple times and thought we knew exactly what it meant. Academics. Campus size. Location. Career opportunities. Student populace. But none of us really know what college feels like until we slip inside its wobbly, magical bubble.
Some are fortunate and get it right the first time, but there are many, and I mean many, who don’t. Growth occurs at different stages. Some develop quicker than others. There are those who figure things out sooner, while others take a bit more time to get it right. Sometimes we choose incorrectly, but I, for one, am a believer that everything in life happens for a reason.
For our son, he learned to live without his brother, to separate in a way that had him more independent, to navigate a situation on his own, and for heaven’s sake, he learned to feed himself three meals a day, make his bed each morning, and keep his dorm room relatively clean. All was good in the world.
And then this happened.
A few weeks after hitting the submit button, our other son, the twin brother, the one who always seemed content when we’d checked in, informed us he wanted to transfer too.
The consensus was: “The twins want to be together.” If only it were that simple. It never is.
The reasons for this turnaround didn’t matter when the outcome was the same. Both of our kids were transferring. And they’re coming home, to a university just thirty minutes away from where they grew up. What would the world say about this epic double failure of ours?
By no means was this the fate I had predicted for our children. I imagined schools with a change of season, access to the Acela to visit neighboring cities, and a culture and sophistication that stretched beyond the borders of their home state.
But then I considered what I had learned in our collective freshman year. I had already gone to college. This wasn’t my life to live. Our sons weren’t happy with their choices. Perhaps they needed the year apart to come back together again. The choices they’d made in earnest suddenly glared at us with two daunting words, a single conclusion: wrong fit.
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As our children grow into adults, a mother’s gift is having the ability to listen, really listen to their needs, and to let them tackle tougher decisions. To let go a little. To let them grow and thrive. And to let them make choices and live with the consequences. The time was now.
And our sons. These boys who teach us more than we can ever teach ourselves, continue to astound us with their resilience and self-awareness. “We just want to be happy. No one else can do it for us.”
And I understood this year, our freshman year, how all of it, the good, the bad, and even the rat infestation in a particular dorm (because there was one) were all a part of a bigger picture. Not necessarily a better picture, but one in which we could all learn. Sometimes we have to fall to get back up and try again, and transferring doesn’t mean you failed or made a mistake, it means a short detour toward a different path, but one with a hell of a lot of insight.
It means finding the right fit. Even if it’s the second time around.
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