The Gift of Transferring Schools

By Sarah Sanderson

I can remember it like it was yesterday. It started out like any other day in March of 2012. I had to meet with a journalism professor to talk about classes I could take for fall semester. Since I was not doing well with the journalism classes, it was going to be tricky. As I took a seat in his office, I took out a notebook and a pencil to write down what classes I could take. At least I thought that was what we were going to do, but that did not happen. And then the words that haunted me for a while after that day. “Sarah, I would think about finding something else. I mean you should talk to your parents about finding something else that is why I called you in here.” What he meant was to find a new major, get out of journalism, in what he thought was a nice way to say it. I was in shock. I could not say anything. I froze and finally stammered out “ok.” He went on to tell me that he had talked with my internship advisor, and told him not to hire me because the professor said, I had trouble covering city council meetings. After he told me this, I instantly started crying and could not stop. I left his office sobbing, and cried all the way to my dorm room.

During high school, I was not sure what I wanted to do, or where I wanted to go for college. I wanted to try journalism, so I attended the University of Montana in Missoula. I liked to write and enjoyed English in high school. I enjoy writing because I can express my feelings through it. Sometimes I can’t tell how I feel, so I choose to write it down, and it calms. Writing has been a form of therapy for me, and has always been there. I chose Missoula because my brother was attending there. I had fun my first two years, but my third it went downhill. My freshmen year in Missoula, was fun. I had my brother, so I always had somewhere to go and hang out. I spent many countless hours at his house, playing Guitar Hero and watching movies. He made me drive him around so I could get used to Missoula. He let me pre-game with him before the Griz games, and it was just fun. I took some general classes and they were fun, because I had a wide array to choose from, going to class was fun and I never dreaded it. My sophomore year was also fun. I roomed with a friend from high school, so I had someone to hang out with and grab dinner with. I made friends with people on my floor in the dorms, and we had a good group of friends that hung out quite a bit. We celebrated each other’s birthdays, had movie marathons, and ate together at the cafeteria. I had started taking some introductory classes to journalism and these were fun, because I was learning about the different aspects of journalism.

My third year is when life went to hell. The friends I had made the year before, were in all different dorms, and my roommate moved to a different college. I felt lonely and Missoula felt too big. My classes this year were very tough. When I walked into my first upper level journalism class, I felt completely out of place. These kids had worked on their high school newspapers, but all I had was the little practice that my previous classes gave me. I never worked on a newspaper, so coming into these classes was a bit of a shock. I was the country kid in the big city and I was very nervous.

That year, I had a class called Public Affairs Reporting, where we would actually have to go out and find stories and write them. This was hard because I had other classes that needed my attention. I would turn in my stories, and when I would get them back, I would receive a ‘D,’ or sometimes worse. I started losing hope, when I thought this story was good, I would tank the assignment. I started hating going to class, and hating trying because when I did, the grade would not show that. Spring semester I hated going to class and I felt alone through this struggle I was having with classes. The rest of year, I hated everything about the journalism school and Missoula. I could not wait to get out there. That conversation with my professor stayed with me for a while after he told me to find something else. He was saying to give up on my dream of being a reporter. He made me question everything about myself; made me question if I was good enough to be a reporter, and made me question if I even wanted to be a journalist.

In the end I proved him wrong. I ended up doing my internship at the Three Forks Herald, and made me realize I wanted to be a reporter. The internship taught me more in three months than I learned in three years in Missoula. Andy, my boss, would give me positive feedback and constructive criticism, which helped my confidence. The internship showed me that I wanted to be a journalist and that I would make my dream happen. I loved every day of my internship, and I always looked forward to work. Looking back, I mentally forgave the professor, because he showed me that I was good enough to follow my dreams, and being a journalist is what I want to do with my life.

I should have done my research before I headed to Missoula instead of just choosing it because I knew someone there. My graduating class at Broadwater High School in Townsend had about 40 kids in it, so going to Missoula was quite different. I live on a farm/ranch and grew up in an agricultural environment. Missoula was quite the culture shock for me. In one lecture class, there were more kids than my high school combined.

I started doing research on different colleges, and the University of Montana Western caught my eye. I saw that they had an enrollment of about 1,400 students and that was a selling point for me. I felt I needed some place smaller, not overwhelming. After a visit, I was sold on UM Western. Everyone was so helpful and nice, it helped me make up my mind. Also it was a more agricultural based town so I felt like I fit in more. The campus was much smaller and I enjoyed this. Dillon is also smaller but I like this, because I can get around a lot easier. Missoula’s enrollment was about 14,000 students and a much bigger and confusing campus. My first day of classes I got lost going to class. The first couple of weeks I went the same route everyday so I would not get lost.

When I called UM Western to figure out how to transfer, they said I did not have to fill out another long college application. They said fill out a file transmittal, which helped shorten up the application process. I filled out this form and sent it with $8 to UM in Missoula, and they sent my transcripts to Western. I was hoping that all my credits transferred to the new school, and they did. When I arrived at Western, I just had to take my major and minor classes. Even though there is not a journalism program, the English major is helping me with my writing. My minor in Professional Communications has also helped me with my writing and different aspects of the writing world. When I graduate I am wanting to get a job at a newspaper because that is my dream.

I know coming to Dillon was the right choice. In Missoula I was getting C’s and D’s; and in my first semester in Dillon, I received three A’s and one B+, the best I had ever done in college. Montana Western’s block system is very empowering, because I am only focusing on one class at a time and am done after 18 days. Also, I feel like I know the professors better because the class size is small, inviting questions and conversations. At Western I am a person, I am Sarah, not just another number. After my first semester at Western I regained all my confidence and realized Missoula was just not the right fit. It was too big, but Western was perfect for me. I fit in better here, and the block system is better with the way my brain works. I do not have to juggle five classes, I just have to focus on one.

I made a mistake going to Missoula, but those mistakes have made me the person I am today. I wish I had woken up sooner and transferred to Western. I now know that transferring is not a waste of time or money. In my case, it was the best decision I had made.