Statistically speaking, it is much, much easier to get into Brown than it is to get out early. Of the 1,466 students who walked through the Van Wickle Gates as first-years four years ago, only 12 — less than one-tenth of one percent — have separated from the University for good, many with the aim of picking up their undergraduate education elsewhere.
One of those 12, Anna McLaskey, who transferred to the University of Washington after a year at Brown, says her reasons for leaving were complicated, and her explanation is far from concise. "It's a tough question," she says over the phone from her apartment in Seattle. "There were lots of things."
A self-described "West-coast girl" born and raised in San Juan, Washington — a set of islands just south of British Columbia — McLaskey missed the familiar people and places back home, and she was concerned about the cost of Brown, nearly seven times the in-state tuition and fees at UW. "It kind of boiled down for me that where I came from, people had never heard of Brown," the marine biology major said. "The name wasn't important to me, and the money wasn't worth it."
Mariela Quintana, who entered Brown with the class of 2010 but will be graduating from Columbia next fall, left Brown for reasons that were less pragmatic and more impressionistic.
Quintana, now an English major, applied early to Brown and was thrilled when she got in. But, she now admits, "thinking that was very silly. You realize that school is not going to be perfect, and that was really hard for me to come to terms with. I had to be okay with things not being great all the time."
Coming from a high school — St. Ann's, in Brooklyn — that sends a large contingent of students to Brown every year, Quintana felt she wasn't being challenged enough socially. "I wasn't branching out," she says. "It felt very insular."
There's something alienating, she thinks, about being discontented at what is often labelled one of the nation's happiest schools.
"Brown makes it so easy for students to do what they want and for students to be happy," she says. "Not being happy at Brown to me seemed like something so antithetical to what everyone else was feeling."
After her freshman year, Quintana went to live at home in Brooklyn and took classes as a visiting student at Columbia. To her surprise, she ended up loving the school, despite its pedagogical and cultural differences from what she had sought at Brown.
"It was wonderful," she says. She applied to transfer that spring and was admitted for the fall of what would have been her junior year at Brown.
As the class of 2010 walks the stage this weekend, McLaskey will be wrapping up her classes and preparing for her last round of finals at UW. Quintana will be settling into a summer internship at a literary agency before returning to Columbia in September for her final semester.
Both have few regrets.
For McLaskey, though she misses individual people and the community of the women's rugby team, her heart is in Seattle. She has enjoyed her classes, appreciates how integrated UW is with the surrounding city and will be graduating without debt.
"I think if I had stayed I would be happy, but I'm really happy here, too," she says.
And though Quintana occasionally thinks about what her college experience would have looked like had she stayed at Brown, ultimately, she says, "I'm really proud of myself for saying that I wasn't happy and that things at Brown weren't working out and I wasn't meeting my full potential there."
She pauses. "That was a big step for me."