First Person: “It’s always about expectations.”

Editor’s Note: This post was written and submitted by Aaron Burtch, Associate Director of Transfer Admissions at Lipscomb University, a four-year college partner.

I pulled into the parking garage at the Gaylord Texan in Grapevine, Texas, having no idea what to expect. I was getting ready to represent Lipscomb University at what I thought was just another transfer fair.

My experience with Phi Theta Kappa was limited to an in-office meeting, so as I began to get ready to work my first Phi Theta Kappa College Transfer Fair — and already having a misguided perception of what other transfer fairs were like — I quickly realized I was under-manned and under-prepared.

Oh, the amount of faces and looks and questions and colors and excitement. I had actually brought work to do during my “down” time. Yeah, I know…”down” time at the international convention. Please forgive me; I was a rookie.

Two years later, I walked into my first opening general session. Again, how quickly I realized this wasn’t your normal conference “session.” This was a mixed bag of Opening Ceremonies at the Olympics meets Celebrate the Magic at Disney and that scene in the first Harry Potter movie where everyone is in the dining area and Dumbledore introduces everyone and, as I looked around, I would not have been surprised if a sorting hat would have made an appearance. My mind was blown as I soaked in the excitement surrounding groups of students gathered from every corner of the United States and then some.

I mention these moments because, as a transfer recruiter, perceptions and expectations can get the best of you and may keep you from really enjoying and appreciating an experience. For those of us at private universities, we focus on academics, experience and fit. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

I forget how transfer students have some of the same feelings stepping foot on my campus and many other campuses around the world to start another chapter in their academic career. It’s new and exciting, but — if both parties have assumed that they know everything that will go on — it makes for an overwhelming experience.

For the last seven years, I’ve seen numerous students leave their home Phi Theta Kappa chapters and become involved on our campus. What’s awesome is that, in the first couple of weeks, alumni will get together and share stories, compare chapters and just be thankful that they found each other on this new journey. Usually, within the first month, they’re immediately plugged into their new major with new faculty, staff, administrators, students (who, on average, have already been in the major for about a year) and, of course, expectations.

It’s always about expectations. High or low, big or small, someone has them of you and you have them about the college you are searching for. The first question I always hear, and honestly cringe at, is what scholarships do you have? If money is what drives you, then, good question.

The better question to ask may be, “How will your school change my life?” Here’s some help: a smaller school doesn’t always mean better engagement and opportunity. A bigger school doesn’t always mean you’ll get lost. You have to invest in yourself from day one, and that begins at your induction ceremony.

Phi Theta Kappa students who have invested in themselves and in the organization do remarkably well at Lipscomb. One student finished at Columbia State Community College in Tennessee and came to Lipscomb to prepare to be a nurse in her hometown of Blacksburg, Virginia. Another graduated from Nashville State Community College, got married and had kids, completed a bachelor’s degree, got accepted into our pharmacy school and is now working in California as a pharmacy research assistant.

How about the guy who thought he was going to work in the State Capitol Building and decided instead to work with kids and become an advocate for one of Nashville’s biggest non-profits, Second Harvest Food Bank?

How about the non-traditional student who overcame a life of drugs and, after finding herself inches from death, turned her life around, transferred to Lipscomb and is now working as a case manager for an organization that helps women?

What about the guy who came to us from a community college in Colorado and helped pitch us to our second Atlantic Sun Conference championship in baseball and to a trip to the NCAA Division 1 Regionals?

What about the guy who, as I speak, just broke the school record for runs batted in for one season, which was previously held by a current member of the Baltimore Orioles?

If you would have asked me, at that moment in Grapevine, Texas, if I was impressed by Phi Theta Kappa, I would have probably looked back at you with a “deer in the headlights” look from being wowed by the moment. It took time for me to learn what students like you are about. Now, as I work with students year after year, I do expect more of these stories, and I hope the university you look for provides those expectations as well.

Come visit us in Nashville. I hope to see you in our backyard at your annual convention next year. I promise I’ll be ready.