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Editor's note: The MiSciNet MentorDoctor team welcomes Next Wave's GrantDoctor  as a guest advisor for the month of August.
I need advice about whether or not to transfer to another institution. I'm a rising sophomore majoring in science at a major university, but last year was tough on me. On top of being homesick, I didn't seem to make many new friends and my grades were just average. I think if I transfer to a college closer to home, I'd do better in school. What do you think?
Sincerely,Wanting to Move On
Luis Echegoyen: I can understand that being away from home, probably for the first time, can be very difficult and emotionally challenging. The rigors of a typical science curriculum at a major university, along with what is probably a rather impersonal learning environment (huge introductory science classes, for example), can make for a miserable educational experience. Transferring to a smaller college closer to home would make some of those problems disappear, but your educational opportunities would almost certainly decrease, and drastically so. There is a lot to be said for human contact and educational success, something that is more common in smaller colleges than in major universities, but the latter typically offer many more educational opportunities, including research possibilities early on.
Having earned acceptance at a major university, I assume that you are a very capable student and thus I would recommend that you try very hard to make the best of the situation and improve your grades. Going home would be sort of a defeat when you could grow and develop a strong sense of self-worth by succeeding in your current environment. Work hard and you will see that things improve quickly. The experience will teach you a lot about the real world, and you will come out of it a better and wiser person.
Thomas Landefeld: The answer to this question is actually easy. If transferring can improve your academic performance AND make you happy--the two are often closely associated--then do it! This is especially true if you have plans for further education after your Bachelor's degree, as admissions committees look most closely at your performance as your education progresses; your record as an upperclassman is more important than your performance a first- and second-year student.
Transferring to another institution as an undergraduate shouldn't be an issue when applying to graduate programs because you can address the reasons for your transfer in your personal statement. The only possible drawback is if you come home, hook up with all of your old friends and in doing so, de-emphasize your studies. Nevertheless, if you are serious about your education, that won't happen, and the transfer will work for you. Keep your eye on the prize, always.
Mark Castanares: I was in the same situation when I started my undergraduate career at a major university. I chose the school because it was a well-known and well-respected institution. I quickly learned, however, that it was not the place for me, and I transferred to a smaller school close to home. The move was good for me because I felt comfortable and was able to take advantage of the graduate school preparatory programs they offered.
You should attend an institution where you will have the most support from faculty, friends, and family. If you think you will have better opportunities at a college closer to home, take advantage of them. A college education is really about what you get out of it and how you benefit from it in the long run. As long as you do well and continue to improve, transferring to a college closer to home is not a big deal. Some students are ready to leave the house after high school, others need more time to adjust and learn more about themselves. Admission committees understand that. They really want to see that you are focused on a goal and are taking advantage of the situation as well as the resources that are presented to you. Stay determined and you will succeed. Good luck.
The GrantDoctor: A big university can be a pretty impersonal place, and that can be tough if you're used to being in the bosom of friends and family, and a supportive environment is one of the most important factors in determining whether a science student will succeed or fail. You will thrive as a science student in an environment that provides faculty and peer support. You need guidance and study groups, not distractions.
So ask yourself: what is it that home will provide? Is it your Xbox, which you left behind with your younger brothers? Is it friends you like to hang out with and waste time? Or is it a parent, older sibling, extended family, or community who helped you with your homework and encouraged you to be the best you can be? We want you to be happy, but we also want you to succeed in science. We want you to make those people back home proud. Support is good, but you need the right kind of support.
Without knowing the details I can't provide a final answer. But my instinct tells me that you ought to try to find the support you need right where you are. A major university is a big place, full of rich and diverse cultures and people with many different tastes and interests. And while the folks back home may share your values, it's unlikely that they share your ambition. Somewhere in your new institution, new friends and mentors await, people who will help you meet your new challenges and prepare for your future. Your job is to search for them until you've found them.
How do you do it? Talk to people in your science classes. Take the initiative and set up study groups for your classes. Seek out your university's multicultural center. Get involved in any student organizations that are relevant to your studies and share your values. Get to know professors who seem especially supportive or sympathetic. Build yourself a new community that will offer the support you lacked your first year while also providing the motivation and guidance that no one back home can offer.