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Students transfer to University for diverse reasons

Flexibility with open curriculum motivates students enrolled at other colleges to apply to University

This article is part of the series Transferring to Brown, a two-part series about transfer students at Brown. The series examines the narratives of various transfer students at the University in two stages: the process of transferring to Brown and acclimation to campus.

Going into his first year at Santa Clara University, James Ford ’18 didn’t expect to  transfer twice over the course of two years. He didn’t know he would spend half his college years across the country at Brown rather than at his first school, just an hour away from his hometown. While Ford’s college experience diverges from the typical path, transferring is more common than people might expect.

More than one third of undergraduate students transfer schools at least once, according to Inside Higher Ed. Brown typically welcomes 100-200 transfer students each school year, though that number varies. This year saw 151 students accepted, compared to 286 students for the 2015-16 academic year, according to Dean of Admission Logan Powell.  The number of transfer students admitted each year depends on retention of current students and the number of students studying abroad, he said.

Why transfer?

Some students gradually come to the decision to transfer during their first years at college, whereas others know before even starting classes at an institution that they won’t be there for long.

Zoe Zacharopoulos ’19 knew going into her first year at Arizona State University that she was going to transfer. The university of over 70,000 students felt like “an extension of high school,” and “it wasn’t a great fit,” she said.

On the other hand, Brendan Sweeney ’21 had no intention to transfer when he arrived at Northeastern University. But after watching students leave for jobs through the university’s Cooperative Education Program, Sweeney realized that Northeastern lacked “a sense of community on campus.” This, coupled with the school’s “pre-professional focus,” spurred him to leave, he said.

Over the course of her first year at the University of California at Los Angeles, Rachel Risoleo ’19 began to sense that the school might not be right for her. Risoleo found UCLA better suited for students who know what they’re passionate about, she said. “The way that students approached learning was difficult for me,” she added. “At the time, I had no idea what I wanted to do.”

It wasn’t until the spring quarter of her first year that Risoleo decided to make the jump to transfer. “It was when I was trying to enroll for classes and I couldn’t get into anything and was completely unable to experiment at all” that she decided to transfer, she said.

While Risoleo was frustrated with the class registration process, Will Friend ’20 took issue with not being able to pursue his desired concentration at the Washington University in St. Louis. Friend has an interest in conflict and conflict resolution, a concentration not offered by his previous university, and he “felt like it wasn’t encouraged to do an independent concentration.”

“I was doing a compromise by doing international relations and a major in the business school,” Friend said. “At the end of the day, I didn’t want to compromise.”

Why Brown?

Beyond the decision to transfer, students face yet another choice: where to transfer. Brown’s open curriculum was an attractive trait for prospective transfers, according to multiple sources.

Friend decided he would only transfer if he was accepted by Brown because at the University, “I could do exactly what I wanted to do” academically, he said.

Risoleo also only considered Brown when choosing where to apply. For her, the University provided the opportunity to “take ownership of her education.”

“The open curriculum and the approach that students here have to multiple disciplines and interdisciplinary learning was something that was so important to me,” Risoleo said. Brown’s transfer website “was super welcoming to transfers” and also had “a much more promising mentality.”

However, when Risoleo was accepted, the decision to leave UCLA and attend Brown was still hard. Things had started to improve for her at her previous institution, but after talking with her friends and realizing she was “more excited about the prospect of starting something different at Brown than about returning to UCLA,” Risoleo knew transferring was the best choice for her.

Other students apply to a large pool of schools. For Sweeney, the hard part of the process  was not choosing whether or not to leave Northeastern, but rather which institution he should attend after transferring. Sweeney eventually chose Brown because it “takes a lot of really good approaches to education,” Sweeney said. “The open curriculum, S/NC, having no pluses and minus in the grade … it encourages you to try things that you otherwise wouldn’t have tried.”

And for some, transferring involves more than one transition. Ford originally attended Santa Clara University before transferring to a local community college, Cañada College. After being accepted to various universities, Ford ended up submitting his deposit to Pomona College with the intention of attending. But when he visited Brown, he felt something click.

“I loved the feeling of campus,” Ford said. “It’s kind of a cliche, but when you know something’s right, you just know it’s right. That’s how I felt when I came to Brown.”

The chance “to try something new” by attending a school outside of California was also a huge factor in his decision to choose Brown, Ford added.

Applying again

Though the transfer application procedure is similar to first-year applications in many aspects — applicants submit a common application, transcripts and letters of recommendation — the process can be less stressful than completing first-year applications.

When reading applications, admission officers still look for strong academic performance, community involvement and personal qualities, but also hope to see what students have learned from their previous institution and their reasons for wanting to transfer, Powell said.

The Office of Admission looks closely at “why, in particular, they want to come to Brown,” trying to determine “whether or not their reason for transferring makes sense with what we offer,” Powell said,

The office also evaluates whether applicants will be able to study what they want in a timely manner. “We have to make sure when we admit them that they’re on track to graduate in four years,” Powell said.

Risoleo saw a big difference in her approach to the application the second time around. She “didn’t spend a lot of time stressing” about the application process, she said. In addition, the first time she applied to colleges, she “wasn’t targeted at all in what (she) wanted to do,” Risoleo said. The application is less about getting to know students and more about seeing if Brown is the best place for them, she added. “The transfer application is really much more pragmatic. It’s much more straightforward,” she said.

Julia Christensen ’18, who transferred from Macalester College in the spring of her sophomore year, also found the application process easier the second time around.

“Once you’ve already done college, you can more concretely say in an application — ‘here’s what I experienced and now I know that I want this,’” Christensen said.


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