Transfer students navigate social, bureaucratic challenges

Emma Cowen ’15 is a recent transfer student from McGill University in Canada. Tranfer students face unique challenges integrating into the communnity, which are actively addressed by adminstrative offices. By: Cassasdy Bergevin
Emma Cowen ’15 is a recent transfer student from McGill University in Canada. Tranfer students face unique challenges integrating into the communnity, which are actively addressed by adminstrative offices. By: Cassasdy Bergevin
Emma Cowen ’15 is a recent transfer student from McGill University in Canada. Tranfer students face
unique challenges integrating into the communnity, which are actively addressed by adminstrative offices. By: Cassasdy Bergevin

CHRIS GONZALEZ contributed reporting.

Among the most crucial choices we will make in our youth, college decisions are ones which we hope we never have to go back on. While many of us knew right away Vassar was the right school, for some students it took first attending a college wrong for them to realize it.

Though representing only a small part of Vassar’s population—typically only a few students each semester—transfer students get a second chance at finding the school perfect for them.

Sofie Cardinal ’15’s decision to transfer to Vassar had to do primarily with location. Freshman year she attended Barnard for a semester only to realize the city atmosphere wasn’t for her.

“When I was choosing Barnard, the school itself was more of a draw than the city and because of strong the community seemed the city would be a bonus, not deficit to my experience. Unfortunately, it didn’t feel that way as a student there, because of the location, the social life is completely scattered, with no real center around campus,” she said.

Though she admitted the city life could be exciting, it ultimately was not conducive to her having the college experience she expected.

“The on campus social activities are limited and going out in the city, although fun for the time being, felt isolating. I felt as if I was living in New York and taking classes with no real connection to the Barnard community,” said Cardinal.

Another transfer student, Emma Cowan ’15 was motivated to transfer for similar reasons.

“I decided to transfer from McGill in Montreal, because it was too large and my classes [as well as] the campus environment felt very impersonal and bureaucratic. Many of my classes had more than 300 students, and it was impossible to get to know professors. In addition, the campus was spread throughout the city, and in general it felt more like living in a city as an adult than being in college,” wrote Cowan in an emailed statement.

For Cardinal, applying to transfer to Vassar was a logical next step, as she had always had Vassar in mind and came to realize it could be the answer to the problems she faced at Barnard.

She said, “Transferring to Vassar was an easy decision for a few reasons, firstly that it was one of few schools that accepted spring transfers…and secondly, I had applied to Barnard early decision with Vassar as a second choice if that didn’t work out. I knew from my initial college process that I really liked Vassar and it fixed all of my issues with Barnard.”

While Vassar’s centralized campus and smaller population made transferring here a fairly simple choice, the logistics of the transition can be tedious.

Assistant Dean of Studies Pauline Saavedra said the transfer process becomes even further complicated when it comes to spring semester transfer students, like Cardinal and Cowan.

“For spring they don’t know they’re admitted until nearly Christmas. They have to make their decision between that period and early January. This year I got the paperwork January 7 and I didn’t know who was actually coming—there were about 30 people admitted—until January 15,” said Saavedra.

Part of the issue, Saavedra said, is not having a clear sense of what the Admissions’ “target” is for the spring.

By this, Saavedra explained, she means: “Basically, with an admissions office, usually when they’re looking to admit people for the spring it has to do with how many freshmen actually came in the fall. If you have ten people who say, ‘Yes, I’m coming to your party,’ and only eight show up but you have already paid for ten people, you try to invite more guests to fill the gap.” However, this often unpredictable factor can cause stress among all parties.

This semester, classes began on Jan. 23 leaving only a small window of time for transfer students to register for classes.

Carly Barbera ’15, a transfer from Tulane University, wrote in an emailed statement, “I was surprised that, as a transfer registering two days before class started, there were no accommodations that allowed me to get into classes that weren’t already full.”

Though the time crunch does not allow for many solutions to this problem, Saavedra said she often takes matters into her own hands to push for transfer students to get into the classes they want.

“I did do a lot of outreach to individual professors whose classes were closed and asked them if there was any way this student can get a chance,” she said, stressing that professors openness can be extremely helpful for transfer students trying to figure out their schedules.

While such academic concerns can prove stressful, they can be just the tip of the iceberg for transfer students who might also have preoccupations about making friends and integrating themselves into a new college community, especially at the beginning of a spring semester.

“For fall transfer students there’s freshman orientation that they can piggy back on where they can come and be on campus and get a sense of what it is to be at Vassar…When you’re the only one who’s starting fresh and everyone else is coming back to their space, set up and ready to go, it can be difficult,” said Saavedra.

Cardinal said she expected her transition to be a little bumpy for exactly that reason.

“I knew coming in in the middle of the year would make it a bit more forced to meet people when there isn’t a whole group of new kids coming in together. There were only four spring transfers last year and so it felt a bit like we were just thrown into the deep end,” said Cardinal.

Aware of these concerns, the Deans have tried different things to make the transition an easier one. Freshman transfer students are placed in existing student fellow groups and other transfers are placed a Transfer, Visiting, Exchange (TVE) fellow group. These transfer students are all housed on the third floor of Cushing.

While there are benefits to transfer students being housed together, there are certain limitations.

“I know I and many other transfers feel as if Cushing is a fairly isolated dorm, both physically and socially…to more fully integrate with the entire campus it would have been great to live on the quad, or in Main (where I now live),” wrote Cowan.

Saavedra said she wants students like Cowan to know that she is open to any recommendations to make the transition easier.

She said, “Something I want to put out there is that I’m completely open to suggestions. Every once in a while I sit down with Admissions, Res Life and we try and figure out how to improve the transfer student process. If students have ideas, we want to hear them.”

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