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Transition can be tough for college transfer students

Fitting in at new school often a lonely challenge

Anna Fedick is one of hundreds of college students who transferred in the past year.

Kayana Szymczak for the Boston Globe

Anna Fedick is one of hundreds of college students who transferred in the past year.

For many nights after arriving at Boston University, Anna Fedick felt alone — to the point of tears — and wanted to be somewhere familiar. Though her sadness might be seen as the typical woes of a fresh college student, Fedick was not new to college — she had transferred from Indiana University.

In switching schools, she had lost academic credits, would graduate later than planned, and with added costs. She had started to think that maybe she had done something wrong as her hopes of starting over fell apart.

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“There’s the feeling of awkwardness and you start feeling bad about yourself,” said Fedick, 21, of Chicago. “They [schools] kind of assume that because you’ve been in one college, you understand it.”

Fedick is one of hundreds of students who transferred to a new school in Boston in the past year, according to specialists. Though transfer students are growing in numbers, many say they feel neglected by school officials once they arrive, and often have a difficult time assimilating to a new campus.

Specialists say the number of transfer students applying to new schools is higher than ever.

“The student society is becoming more mobile,” said Michael Reilly, executive director of American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, based in Washington, D.C.

Reilly pointed to a National Student Clearing House ­Research Center study indicating that a third of first-time college students between 2006 and summer of 2011 were transfer students.

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“There’s a lot of migration going on right now; it’s very exciting,” said Janet Marling, executive director of the National Institute for the Study of Transfer Students based in Georgia.

Lucy Hackett, 23, of Medfield transferred to Northeastern University in the fall of 2008 after her freshman year, a year she described as one of the worst experiences in her life. She wanted what all transfer students want: a new beginning at the right school.

“You work so hard; it takes a lot of guts to transfer. No one wants to be a freshman again,” she said.

But the number of transfer applications to Boston area schools has reached a new high, in part because some students are choosing to attend community college for two years first, and because more information about far-flung colleges is more readily available online, Marling said.

Harvard University received about 1,500 transfer student applications last year, a number that has increased over time, said Jeff Neal, senior communications officer. However, the number accepted — about 12 each year — has remained the same because the school maintains limited openings, he said.

This year, going against past practice, Northeastern allowed transfer students to apply for spring admission; the school received approximately 2,500 applications for about 600 spots last fall.

But although the school recruits transfer students, some say they no longer feel welcome once they arrive.

“It seemed like they were excited about getting you to come, but once you’re here, there’s no support system,” said Rebecca Dresner, 21, from East Meadows, N.Y., who transferred to Northeastern in the fall of 2011 after two years at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York.

But even as more students change schools, and as those students become more vocal about their needs, students and school administrators have differing views about a college’s responsibility to facilitate the transition.

“It’s pretty seamless,” said Sarah Fraser, an academic adviser for Northeastern transfer students who was herself a transfer student to the school in 2000. “If the student ends up doing what they need to do, there shouldn’t be any problems.”

Students who transferred in 2011 took the initiative and created the first Northeastern transfer student organization. Spearheaded by Dresner after she realized “there was nothing for transfer students on campus,” the organization has ­attracted almost 200 students.

“We’re hoping to not only act as a club but to actually make some administrative changes in Northeastern that deal with transfer students,” said Clint Valentine, 21, of Mansfield who Dresner recruited to help create the organization.

However, there is only so much a student group — especially one that is new and run by incoming students — can do, Valentine noted.

And there are still many problems that need to be ­addressed, specialists and transfer students agree.

“There’s a lot of work to be done,” said Reilly. “For the student making the transfer, it can still seem like a daunting task.”

Transfer students usually wait longer than incoming freshman for official acceptance, and orientation programs are often tailored to first-time students.

In many cases transfer students are forced to live off campus — because student housing is often full by the time they are accepted — making it more challenging to orient themselves to their new school grounds.

At Northeastern, designated housing for many transfer students in 2011 was at a nearby YMCA, with others scattered in vacant spaces around campus.

“It probably helped that the facility wasn’t up to par with the rest of the campus; we all bonded over that,” joked Valentine.

But some schools make no accommodations.

“They don’t really offer on-campus housing for transfer students,” said Lily Bahramipour, 20, from Montclair, N.J., who transferred to Emerson College this fall. “All of us were scrambling to find people to live with.”

She ended up living in the Back Bay with a friend from Northeastern, the school she had transferred from.

At Emerson, the number of transfer applicants has increased 17 percent in the past few years, said MJ Knoll Finn, vice president for enrollment. She said the school doesn’t guarantee housing for transfer students, but does put them on a waiting list for available dorm rooms and will aid with the search for off-campus housing.

Though they may struggle to find their way, specialists say transfer students do as well academically as other students and are just as likely to graduate.

“Their GPAs are just as strong. It may take them a little longer to graduate but they persist,” said Marling, of the transfer students institute. “They’re motivated because once when you make that transfer and you know what you want to do, you’re going to be a lot more ­focused.”

But there is still an issue that remains difficult, and it may be the most important of all: making friends.

Eugene Beresin, director of child and adolescent psychiatry residency training at Mass. General, who has worked with adolescents for more than 20 years, said that psychological disorders peak in college. Problems include mood and eating disorders, anxiety, and the pressure to socialize.

“Students have already made their friends. It takes a certain amount of perseverance, being assertive, and jumping into a situation for these [transfer] students,” he said.

At Boston University, Fedick said the late nights of questioning herself have ended.

“It can go from feeling lonely to learning to reach out and building confidence” said Fedick. “I made this one choice and it’s finally working for me.”

Melanie Dostis can be reached at melanie.dostis@globe.com.

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