The transfer experience

Wednesday, February 2, 2005

It’s hard for someone like myself, a transfer student from the University of Chicago, to imagine going through daily life at Brown without noticing what feels like an omnipresent population of students that once belonged to other colleges. But for most of the student population, the experience of transfer students probably seems like a distant reality.

This year’s midyear transfer orientation, which took place the week before classes started, introduced the 46 new transfers to campus, where they joined the 113 transfers from last semester, as well as the rest of the Brown population.

Of the more than 700 students who apply to transfer to Brown each year, roughly 200 are accepted to enroll. According to Associate Dean of the College Carol Cohen, who has worked with transfer students for over 15 years, they are “an intentional population here, not just a plugging in of empty spots” left by an overestimated matriculation of first-year applicants.

Most of us chose to transfer to Brown at least in part because of its rich academic atmosphere. Drew Rifkin ’07 transferred from the University of Wisconsin-Madison last semester and is happy with his decision. Academics and the size of the school drew Rifkin to Brown. At Madison, “people weren’t involved or interested in learning,” Rifkin said. “People never spoke up in class and the classes were gigantic, so you couldn’t speak.”

Carrie Petri ’07, who came to Brown last fall from the University of Michigan, had similar reasons for transferring. “I felt like I wasn’t really that challenged by my peers or my classes,” Petri said of her experience at Michigan.

I entered Brown last fall as a junior mostly because I admire the type of students who come here. The University of Chicago offers plenty of intellectual challenge, but it lacks a student population as passionate about life outside of the classroom as Brown does. Brown also lacks the reputation of being a place “Where fun comes to die,” which is the unofficial but notorious motto of the University of Chicago.

Before our first semester begins, transfer students participate in a week of orientation activities. However, transfer orientation is somewhat different from a typical freshman college orientation. Other than the “nuts and bolts” meeting, in which registration, advising and classes are briefly discussed, transfer students spend most of their first week on campus meeting other transfers through informal social events set up by the transfer counselors, who themselves transferred to Brown.

Transfer deans and students expressed a general appreciation for the approach that the transfer counselors take towards their orientation responsibilities. Dean Cohen praised the transfer counselors for being “so amazingly on top of it,” making the effort to provide social outlets for new students to meet each other.

“I pretty much hang out with all transfers,” Petri said. “I didn’t expect that, but it was sort of hard to penetrate already existing sophomore groups of friends.”

That seems to be the case for most of us. After a semester at Brown, more than half of my friends and acquaintances at Brown are still transfer students. This probably explains why it’s so hard for me to imagine what life must be like on this campus without noticing the transfer population.

The fact that the social groups of transfer students are somewhat detached from the rest of the population is isn’t necessarily negative, according to Petri. “I like it because I feel like our common thread is just the fact that we transferred,” she said.

In addition to providing academic support through personal experiences with classes and professors, this year’s transfer counselors took personal initiatives to throw parties and show transfer students around Providence.

“They were pretty good at not sticking in too much that was kind of like freshman year all over again,” said midyear transfer Katy Spitzer ’07.

While orientation seemed to be a generally positive experience, the transfer process is not without its difficulties. Many transfer students expressed concerns about the University’s financial aid policies.

Currently, the University’s admission office admits both freshmen and transfer students under a need-blind policy. Applicants are considered for admission without regard to their financial needs. However, unlike students who are admitted to Brown for their freshman year, transfer students are not eligible to receive scholarship money from the University. Transfer students can only qualify for self-help financial aid, which typically constitutes federal and state, but not University, scholarship money, according to Senior Associate Director of College Admissions Annie Cappuccino.

Since the need-blind policy came into effect a few years ago, Cappuccino said she knows that “the President and the Provosts have been interested in whether we should try to do more for financial aid for transfers.” Despite discussions and proposals within the administration, however, no decisions have been made about expanding full financial aid to transfers.

About the disparity in the financial aid policy, Spitzer said, “It kind of does make you feel like you’re a second-class citizen.”

Rifkin echoed the sentiment. “There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be getting equal opportunity to financial aid,” he said.

Some students’ displeasure with the transfer aid disparity has prompted them to take action. Some transfer students created a group on called “Need-Blind Ineligible.” While the group’s name is technically inaccurate, it has served as a forum for members to express their anger at the University, which, according to the group’s facebook profile, “apparently didn’t see (us) as a good investment.”

Financial issues aside, most of us are satisfied enough with our experiences here to stay and very few feel that it was the wrong decision. “Most years there are none, but I would say if you take a cut of five years there might be three or four (transfers who decide to leave),” Cohen said.

Brown’s high retention rate reflects the student body’s satisfaction with the school, but a small number of students do transfer out.

Sarena Snider left Brown after her first year because she was unable to explore more career-oriented academic options. Snider attempted to create her own major involving psychology, communications and marketing, but “(the University) would not allow me to create a major that was more pre-professional in nature.”

Snider, now a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania, appreciates the array of academic options that Penn offers through its business, law and medical schools.

David Tannenwald, who also left Brown after his first year, felt that the University had too much of a liberal political bias. “Some of my professors did go a little far in expressing their views in class and it did affect how they presented the material,” Tannenwald said.

Tannenwald has spent time away from school working for John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign and working at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University as a research assistant. Currently applying to colleges, he is looking for a school with “a more open political atmosphere and a stronger sense of community” than he feels Brown offers.

Often my transfer peers and I have shared with each other a common apprehension we felt about leaving our old college experiences behind for new ones at Brown. We understand the sacrifices that are involved in either leaving Brown or entering it in the middle of our college years, but most of us also appreciate the incredible opportunity that we are getting to have a second chance at college, at Brown.

While Snider and Tannenwald were unable to find their ideal college experience at Brown, both spoke positively about the University.

“I really miss this desire to learn for the sake of learning. People are a little bit more competitive at Penn,” Snider said.

For Tannenwald, the decision to leave Brown was difficult. “In the event that I don’t get into the schools I apply to, I’ll definitely come back,” he said. “Undoubtedly I know I could have a good experience there.”

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