Students look inside bi-college transfer student community
By biconews On 8 Feb, 2000 At 05:00 AM | Categorized As Archives | With 0 Comments

By Leeza Friedman

Every year, thousands of currently and formerly enrolled students apply to colleges as transfer students. Of those who endure the admissions process, few are accepted, and even fewer enroll. Competition can he rigorous, especially for small liberal arts colleges with low transfer numbers, such as Bryn Mawr and Haverford.

Last year, as stated in the rejection letter sent to the majority of transfer applicants, Haverford accepted only two to four students. Bryn Mawr accepted 11 new students. Among the approximately 100 transfer applications normally anticipated by admissions, the acceptance rate results in a much smaller acceptance percentage than that among freshman applicants.

Admissions offices tend to expect slightly different things from transfer applicants than they do from freshman applicants. Normally students have completed a certain level of general education requirements, and typically have a declared major. Many have high GPAs, and most have high school grades similar to those of other members of their class.

Transfer students have also had a few more years to experience life than have freshmen, and often come from a variety of backgrounds and experiences that can not be expressed by their numbers alone. Although somewhat less so than McBride Scholars, but along the same line, transfers all have experiences that are unique to them, and completely separate from the rest of the bi-college community.

Many transfers, such as Amy Solan (HC ’00), come from much larger universities in search of a smaller, friendlier community. Solan, who transferred from Tufts University during her sophomore year, cited her search for more academically serious students and more accessible professors as her main reasons for transferring.

Solan realized about midway through her first semester of freshman year that she needed a change. She completed her applications both prior to and during her winter break that year. Waiting it out a year, she recalled, did not feel like a viable option.

For other students, a transfer follows or coincides with taking some time off. Margaret Hoover (BMC ’01), who transferred from Davidson College this year, spent two years abroad. Part of her experience abroad included living and working in Mexico and Bolivia. “I’ve always wanted to be bilingual,” the current Spanish major mused. Hoover also spent a year in China on a study abroad program without previously knowing a single word of Chinese.

Hoover named a major reason for leaving Davidson as her extreme disenchantment with gender relations on campus. She found that in general, women did not participate in her classes, due to self-imposed beauty roles and anti-intellectual images. “It was repressive … women put pressure on women to act dumb … you’ve got to be pretty, skinny, and stupid.” she said. “I want people to know I chose to come to an all women’s college because of the things that an all women’s college offers me academically that my coed environment in the South didn’t.”

Molly Stout’s (BMC ’02) disenchantment with Colby College started with simply not fitting into the Colby social structure. “I wasn’t a typical Colby student. There was an article in the Princeton Review … about how Colby students work and drink in equal quantities, and then study.” Stout found herself to be serious in comparison, simply by virtue of wanting to get her work done. “Molly and Colby were a bad match,” she recalled.

Stout spoke also of Colby’s orchestra, which is comprised of professionals only, as a source of her unhappiness. “I was realty discouraged with the [lack of] flute opportunities and opportunities for orchestra and for private lessons. And when you’re in central Maine, you’re kind of at the disposal of whatever the school provides for you.” After fighting with professors, deans, advisors and even a trustee, and still not being permitted to join the orchestra, Stout felt extremely discouraged without any remaining options. After contemplating getting off the plane back to Colby, she realized, before winter break, that she needed to transfer.

Stout, Hoover and many other Bryn Mawr transfer students chose Bryn Mawr over Wellesley or Smith because of how the administration, students, alumni and staff made them feel welcome. The all-female environment that they sought was greatly enhanced by how administrators and staff went “above and beyond,” as Stout said, truly accommodating them. Planning ahead and educating themselves about the campus not only gave them a good sense of the College’s distinctive character, but reinforced the students’ image of the sort of community that they were seeking.

Some transfers, however, are not planned quite as well. For Ralph Vatner (HC ’00), who was a visiting student during the first semester of his junior year, the decision to transfer followed a decision simply not to leave the Haverford community. “I wanted something different from Harvard,” he said. “I had a friend from high school who went to Bryn Mawr who told me about the special student program.” Since Vatner’s older brother attended Swarthmore, he was also familiar with the tri-college community.

After spending a semester at Haverford, Vatner returned to Harvard for one last semester, as he waited for his transfer plans to finalize. He cited the honor code, a friendly community and the Haverford track team as being major influences in his decision.

On the matter of school prestige, Vatner clarified that as far as graduate and medical schools are concerned, the most important thing that one can do is have “reputable” grades and come from a respectable educational background. “My family knew [that] I knew what I wanted to do. People who knew me knew it was a good idea. People who didn’t know me probably thought, “What is he doing?” Vatner explained. Like most people who finally make the transfer, Vatner sounded extremely happy with his decision and his new community.

In the same sense that a friendly, female-oriented community was a draw to many Bryn Mawr transfers, many Haverford transfers cited the Honor Code as a major influence in their decision to come to Haverford. Most students came from colleges lacking similar codes, or in most cases, without any code at all. Vatner touched on how radically different the honesty and openness encouraged by the Honor Code felt from his experience at Harvard. Despite its prestige as an Ivy League institution, Harvard lacks the community feel that the Honor Code fosters at Haverford.

While contemplating the entire experience, Stout remarked, “I think that there are things about a school that you can’t know until you go there, social dynamics that you don’t know until you’re part of it.” She said that she believes that students should spend a year at college, before they even apply to another, simply to distinguish what their needs are. Many other transfers would agree.

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