Finding the right place

For many students, the first choice wasn't a perfect fit

By
Friday, December 8, 2006

It didn’t take more than a week for transfer student Elizabeth Thorndike ’06 to decide that Hobart and William Smith Colleges was not the place for her.

“I knew I had to get out pretty much right away, definitely after the first weekend,” she said.

Thorndike, disappointed by her rejection from first-choice Harvard University, was not optimistic about attending Hobart. Arriving on campus, her skepticism was confirmed.

The size and location were the most immediate factors in her decision to transfer, she said. Hobart is located in a small town near the Finger Lakes in upstate New York and only matriculates about 450 freshman a year. It was a six-hour drive from home in Needham, Mass. and an hour away from Syracuse, the nearest sizeable city.

After an intense experience in high school at Philips Andover Academy, Thorndike said she was also disappointed with the academics at Hobart. She described it as a serious step down from Andover and she chafed against the restrictive distribution requirements.

“I felt like I was in public high school,” she said.

Though the social life was not completely barren, it was limited, Thorndike said. “The people at Hobart were snobby and all the same. There was no diversity – I was really quite shocked. Everyone was from New York City or Boston and wore the same clothes.”

It was a professor at Hobart who suggested that Thorndike apply to Brown. Once she decided to leave, professors were supportive – she was not a rarity at Hobart. “A lot of the students are from New England prep schools and transfer out,” she said.

She applied to Brown in the fall of her first year and transferred in the spring of her sophomore year.

Now a junior, Thorndike said she couldn’t be happier. The academic freedom and student diversity are a great improvement over Hobart, she said.

“Once I got acclimated, I started to love it. Transferring was the best decision I could have made,” she said.

Eugenie Kim’s decision to transfer from Brown to Stanford University her first year was not an easy one. But she knew she was unhappy with the lack of diversity at Brown.

“It was a hard decision to make. Once I got into Stanford, which is where I wanted to go, I took a really long time to decide. I wasn’t sure it would actually be different,” she said.

Kim said she had been disappointed with Brown’s campus climate. “There was a homogeneity of intellectual thought on campus. I felt like I was stagnating and I wasn’t doing anything new or exciting that I wanted to be doing,” she said.

During her first semester at Brown, her enjoyment of the new experience and region waned, replaced by disappointment with both the social scene and the academics, especially the Department of Physics. She began to consider transferring early in the spring semester.

She also wanted to be closer to her hometown, Los Angeles. “A lot of transferring might have to do with the fact that the culture is so different on the two coasts,” she said.

Professors at Brown were shocked by her decision to transfer, Kim said. Her academic advisor was understanding, but most professors questioned her choice. “They weren’t hostile about it, but they were confused,” she said.

Kim was drawn to Stanford because of its excellent reputation in the sciences and its social life. The transition was surprisingly easy because of Stanford’s unique housing system for freshman and new students, she said. “I thought I would have a lot of trouble, but I actually felt like I fit in right away,” she explained.

While Kim said there was nothing inherently wrong with Brown, she thought that Brown students were more like-minded than Stanford students. “Especially politically, people at Brown tend to think the same way. At Stanford, people are pretty liberal too, but I find there’s a huge range of topics that people are interested in,” she said.

Happy at Stanford, Kim said she does not hold a grudge against Brown for not being what she wanted. “If I had gone back to Brown instead of transferring, I would have adjusted and I would have been fine, but I am really happy here. I think this is the right environment for me,” she said.