Exploring the journey from junior college to SUNY New Paltz, including academic hurdles and campus integration.
NEW PALTZ, N.Y. – “When I first transferred to New Paltz, It was a struggle for me to be social. It was scary for me to move from living with my family to living with new people.” Emily Haindl, a third-year communications major at SUNY New Paltz said. She noted that when she first arrived there was a shock to experiencing dorm life. Such a shock, in fact, that she reverted to commuting to campus each day from Hopewell Junction. “Nobody truly tells you the extent of what transferring is like until you do it,” she explained. But then she also said commuting has its downsides. “While I enjoy not having to dorm anymore, I sometimes feel isolated from campus.”
Many transfer students just like Haindl encounter a variety of academic and social challenges when transitioning to a new institution. Students must adapt to different teaching styles, navigate new academic curricula, and tackle the complexities of credit transfers—whether their junior college classes count as much as they’d hoped within their major—all while being mindful of future career opportunities. SUNY New Paltz is just one of many universities that enroll hundreds of transfer students yearly.
Different Paths, Common Challenges
While transfer students may have different paths to their new schools, they face similar challenges during their college journeys. Emily Haindl, Dani Rivera, Lili Mandel, Olivia Sippel, Nola Storms, and Jade Easley are just some of the many transfer students enrolled at SUNY New Paltz.
Rivera is a third-year student who currently lives on campus and is currently a Resident Advisor (RA). “By dorming and being an RA, I am able to be more a part of college life. But I do feel that as a transfer student, it takes extra effort to connect,” Rivera said.
For Mandel, a junior and a participant in the Transfer Living Learning Community (TLLC) program, which is a specialized program designed to support transfer students, the experience has been eye-opening. “The TLLC has provided good structure to me and introduced me to other transfer students,” Mandel explained.
Storms and Sippel, both journalism students at SUNY New Paltz, emphasized the long-term aspects of being transfers. “I do feel fully integrated into the campus community. But I only have felt like that this semester, after a year of being here,” Sippel said. “It took a while to feel comfortable on this campus, and I am involved in a lot, which is why I think I feel like I am a part of the campus community.”
During move-in week, both first-year students and transfer students settle into a new environment. At SUNY New Paltz many students I interviewed who arrived with associate degrees feel that the college focuses mainly on the freshmen arriving on campus rather than the transitioning students. Even though during the first weekend there are a variety of events on campus they are mostly geared toward the new incoming class.
When I asked the five interviewees for this reporting if SUNY New Paltz did a good job of welcoming them and having events for transfer students, responses varied, but the overall consensus was no.
“It seemed like at the beginning of the semester they catered all the events to freshmen and didn’t even consider that transfer students were new students, too,” Mandel said. She added, “It was impossible to meet any other transfer students outside of the TLLC due to the events being completely taken over by freshmen.”
Transfer Residence Experiences
Moving into a new scene and living with new people can be difficult. Your dorm experience can vary significantly, it can be either a truly enjoyable experience or somewhat challenging. It is a scary risk transfer students take every year.
SUNY New Paltz has 14 residence halls on campus where many transfer students decide to dorm in either suite-style, corridor-style, or special interest group housing rooms where they will live for the year.
“I feel like my living situation is the best-case scenario. I am able to live with and around all transfer students who are experiencing similar things to me, and all of my suitemates are great,” said Mandel, who is living in Shawangunk Residence Hall.
Transfer students at SUNY New Paltz often start by living in dormitories when they first enroll. Over time, some of these students may choose to commute from home or find off-campus housing.
“My dorming situation affected my transfer experience in more negative ways than positive, which is why I am now commuting from home,” said Haindl.
When originally choosing to reside on campus she was left having to deal with many adversities and felt a sense of uneasiness. “The residence hall I was in was not the best and everything was breaking all the time,” Haindl said. “Living in a six-six-person suite was not comfortable and there was constant chaos.”
Even if you can have both a positive and negative experience, some transfer students feel more comfortable living in their own space and having their own privacy.
“I live off-campus,” Sippel explained, “because I hate living with someone in my room and dorm living in general. It is annoying having someone watch over my shoulder, both roommates and RAs; I don’t like the idea of me being an adult and getting my room checked.”
Building friendships and bonds with existing students can be challenging for transfer students. Many often feel a lack of connection with their peers due to having different college experiences.
“It was hard at first to make connections on campus because people here already established friends and I wasn’t sure how I could find people to talk to and get to know more besides my roommates,” Rivera said.
Even with the lack of friendships between students, SUNY New Paltz has over one hundred organizations for students to partake in, and many transfer students join these clubs, which helps them build relationships.
“Clubs really helped guide the way for some of my closest friends as well. Being a part of the honors program also helped, so mainly just classes and clubs is where I made my friends outside of my best friends set friend group,” said Sippel.
Switching colleges is not just about a change in a transfer student’s environment. Junior college arrivals face both academic struggles and successes, giving them a unique college experience unlike any other.
Transferring credits can be a whirlwind of an experience, and it can be difficult. Mandel switched from Suffolk County Community College, located in Long Island, N.Y., and lucked out on a knowledgeable advisor who helped her with her academics. Even then, not all her credits were accepted by New Paltz.
“It’s super discouraging knowing my hard work went to waste and I have to do it all over again. I feel like the structure of their course requirements should be more flexible,” Mandel said.
Even with academic challenges, many transfer students are grateful for their education here. “It really is a good school,” Storms commented. “Sure, there is better out there, there always is, but I’m truly getting the skills I need to function in the real world here, without a ton of hassle.”
The TLLC is designed for junior college arrivals to connect with other students and faculty members for their first year in college. In Shawangunk Residence Hall there is a designated floor where transfer students are all integrated in suite suite-style dorms. Each week there is a mandatory lecture for students enrolled in this program to learn more about campus resources. To enroll in this program there is a one-time fee of $50.
Mandel is one of the few students currently a part of the TLLC program who felt it has made a positive impact.
“Being in the TLLC has made a world of a difference,” she said. “Literally, the only way I met people was through the TLLC and although I’m grateful for that, I’m disappointed in this school for not giving transfers more events.”
The TLLC program is one of only a few programs specifically designed for these students to socialize with each other and connect with others on campus as well. So why is it that so many transfer students do not know about it?
“I was not aware of the TLLC program. I think that the university should send out periodic emails to inform students of all the opportunities available to them because I was unaware of so many,” Easley, an upstate student who left New Paltz said.
The Flip Side
Easley left the school due to a lack of community and opportunities and is now at a new college in upstate N.Y. “I think New Paltz should do a better job of supporting transfer students,” she said. “Transferring does not just happen in the first week of the semester so having continuous support provided would be nice.” One of the main reasons she left New Paltz was due to the lack of academic guidance. Scholarship wasn’t the issue; she could handle the instruction level. But it was hard for her to plan her academic path at New Paltz, she said.
The advising meetings she had were in group settings and consisted of a presentation. This gave her and her advisor little time to discuss her courses. Easley was responsible for navigating her own work while transferring her credits.
“I had absolutely no academic assistance in New Paltz and had to plan my graduation and credit load on my own.”
Not only did she need more structure academically but socially as well. Easley did partake in clubs but felt that she met friends outside of them on her own time.
“I will be forever grateful for the friends I made during my time there, but in hindsight, New Paltz was not the school for me.”
The Transfer Rate
At SUNY New Paltz, the incoming number of transfer students from SUNY, CUNY, and outside of New York State (NYS) schools showcase the university’s transfer rate from 2011 to 2019. According to the New York State Education Department (NYSED), about over 500 transfer students are enrolling at SUNY New Paltz. Some students enter with an associate degree, but that’s only roughly 50 percent in the 2011-2019 period.
For students enrolling with a degree, the numbers have shown some variation over the years. In 2017, there was a notable high, with 195 students from within the SUNY system choosing to continue their studies at New Paltz. Meanwhile, transfers from CUNY peaked at five that same year, and students coming from outside of New York State reached a high of four.
On the other hand, transfer students without a degree have consistently enrolled in larger numbers. Once again, 2017 stands out with 192 students from SUNY schools transferring to New Paltz. Transfers from CUNY and out-of-state remain low in comparison. Overall, there has been much growth in transfer students at SUNY New Paltz from 2011 to 2019, especially for students entering without a degree from within the SUNY system.
Many students from across N.Y. and other states enroll at SUNY New Paltz each year. From 2011 to 2019 the top five transfer schools were Dutchess Community College, Orange County Community College, Ulster County Community College, Suffolk County Community College, and Rockland Community College.
This data, collected by the SUNY New Paltz Institutional Research Office, highlights the relationships between SUNY New Paltz and regional community colleges. Dutchess Community College produced the most transfers with a notable peak of 180 students in 2019.
There has been a consistent trend throughout the years, which reflects a stable relationship between each institution. The trend of students displays that over the years; SUNY New Paltz has successfully positioned itself as a preferable place for students seeking to further their education beyond community college.
While programs like the TLLC are making strides, many students believe there is more work to be done. As transfer students continue to form a crucial part of SUNY New Paltz’s demographic, their experiences bring awareness to these concerns.
The interviewees agreed that by understanding and taking action on the experiences shared by these students, SUNY New Paltz, and institutions everywhere, have an opportunity to create a more inclusive and welcoming environment for all.
Even though there are many pressing issues transfer students face, many of them try to have a positive outlook on their college journey. One common factor they agreed on is to become actively involved on campus.
“Join anything that interests you,” Sippel said. “I feel like that is the best thing to do. Be involved as much as possible in clubs and don’t be afraid to talk to people in your class. Don’t be scared of judgment, and the right people will come.”