Grace is a 2023 UIUC graduate with degrees in East Asian studies and political science. Although her undergraduate journey ended with a blue cap and gown at Memorial Stadium, it actually began at a different school. Grace was a transfer student, and we sat down with her to hear all about the transfer experience.
Why did you decide to transfer to UIUC?
When I was looking to transfer, I was looking for a place I felt more at home, because [my old school] was just so small. There weren’t a lot of people or a lot of opportunities to get to know other people. [I was also looking for] a place where if I wanted to do research, if I wanted to take harder classes in that major area that I want to focus on, they were going to have that.
So I looked at U of I because my mom told me to. But when I was on the website, I was looking at all of the professors in the East Asian studies and the political science department, and their interest and the research they had done previously aligned with what I want to do now. And I was like, “Well, this might be a really good place for me to go now, because it has so much stuff that I can do.”
I really just decided that because of the opportunities it would afford me and because of the people that I could meet, I was going to transfer to U of I.
Do you feel like you made the right choice?
Yes. It was very scary because I was like, “Oh, I messed up the first time,” and “Oh my God, what if I hate it here?” And I didn’t. I ended up joining a bunch of clubs starting out, and I met a really solid group of friends that stick with each other now, too.
What resources does UIUC provide for transfer students?
They provide a lot of resources for transfer students and just students, too. For transfer students, sometimes you have to live in residential halls. I didn’t, but I know a lot of my other transfer friends lived in Scott Hall, and they loved that they were with other transfer students—so they got a community built in right away, the day that they moved into U of I.
They also have LIT Camp, Leading Illini Transfers. You get to go there and meet other transfers who may not have lived in Scott Hall, but live elsewhere on campus. And they’re really great at introducing you to your community that’s built in. Everyone has the same experience, everyone’s coming in sort of scared just because now we’re at this gigantic university.
They also give you the tools that you need to go outside of that transfer community to meet [other people] and to go to other RSOs and to other events as well, like Illinites or the Welcome Week, too. Because even if you’re a transfer student, you still get to do all of the Welcome Week activities that a first-year student gets to do.
How has your UIUC experience been so far?
When I first came in, I thought I was too late to do anything. I transferred my second semester sophomore year, so almost a junior. And I was like, “Oh my God, I can’t be in a leadership role in any of my clubs that I joined, I can’t study abroad or I can’t do research because people have already taken that spot.” And it took me a while to get out of that mindset.
I think one of the biggest things was, I’m in the Kappa Alpha Pi pre-law fraternity. So I was the president of that this past year. I joined my second semester of sophomore year, [and] immediately I became academic committee head. I became an executive board member the year after that, so basically, in about a year I was able to be the president.
What are you looking forward to next?
After graduating here, I am going to go to China. I’m going to be a student at Tsinghua University in the Schwarzman Scholars Program. The Schwarzman Scholars Program is a fully funded one-year master’s program in global affairs.
After that I’m going to do a PhD, probably in the same sort of field. But I’m really excited just to meet all these people from all over the world as well as get to live and work in China.
What’s your best advice for transfer students?
I think my biggest piece of advice [is] it’s never too late to do something. Also, your college experience doesn’t have to look like someone else’s. So when I came in, I thought I needed to be like the other people who started their first year here. [I thought] I was too late, I needed to do 50 things right away, I needed to be in leadership right now because everyone else was.
And I thought people were looking at me like, “That’s a transfer, we can tell.” Here at U of I, it’s not delineated between “this is a transfer student, this is a first-year student.” I know someone who transferred their junior year who studied abroad in France. I know someone who got a really huge research award and they’re doing their PhD now, and they transferred at the same time that I did.
Your college experience is going to be unique. You really have to grasp that experience and grasp how different you may be and then use that to your advantage.