CC passes resolution to improve orientation, student life for transfers

College Council (CC) passed a resolution on Oct. 27 to improve student life for transfer students by restructuring how transfer student housing is organized; examining academic advising for transfer students; instituting a transfer student orientation at the beginning of the school year and providing transfer students with necessary information on student life and divisional and graduation requirements before they set foot on campus.

Dick Nesbitt, director of admission, said that the College receives between 175 and 200 transfer student applications each year and admits 12 to 15 students to yield eight to 10 students. He added that because the College has a two year residency requirement, transfer students generally enter as either first semester sophomores or first semester juniors.

According to Charles Toomajian, Registrar and associate dean of the College, there are 21 transfer students currently enrolled at the College; another four students are currently on leave. Of these 25 students, two transferred from community colleges and two students started their college careers at community colleges and attended a four-year school before transferring to the College. Fourteen of these students transferred as sophomores, six as juniors and five as second semester freshmen.

CC’s resolution is based on the belief that the College could provide a smoother transition for transfer students, both academically and socially. “These changes are necessary because these are some serious gaps in the orientation of transfer students to life at Williams,” said Emanuel Yekutiel ’11, CC co-president. He added that CC’s ultimate goal is “to make the experience of transferring to Williams a seamless one.”

In the academic realm, CC proposed that junior and sophomore transfer students who have chosen their majors should be assigned professors within their major departments as academic advisors, and that transfer students who have not chosen a major should be assigned an advisor in their general field of interest.

Toomajian, who currently serves as the academic advisor for all transfer students until they declare their majors, said he goes over courses and graduation and major requirements with students individually when they arrive on campus. He also explained that transfer students often take placement exams at the beginning of the school year.

“Just as freshmen students come in with varied backgrounds from high school, transfer students come in with varied backgrounds from [their schools],” Toomajian said. “I use [the student’s transcript] to look course by course to see what Williams requirements the student may have fulfilled. Once we know what the student has gotten credit for, we can ascertain what needs to be completed.”

Toomajian added that the range of schools from which transfer students hail is “really quite diverse.” Transfer students have been admitted to the College from both large, well-known universities like Harvard as well as smaller community colleges like Berkshire Community College and Miami Dade Community College.

“Transfer students come in with a wide variety of academic needs because they come in at different points in their own academic careers,” Dean Bolton said. “What some most need is to be to connected to … academic departments, and others have needs more like those of beginning students. Since there are relatively few students and their needs are so diverse, our best bet academically might still be to meet them where they are.”

To alleviate concerns with social isolation, CC has suggested that Baxter Fellows be informed about any transfer students living in their houses, stressing the importance of Baxter Fellows reaching out to transfer students. The resolution also calls for the College to avoid placing transfer students in freshman housing, including the basement of Dennett. It also advocates placing two or three transfer students near one another in housing setups.
Current transfer students at the College have had mixed feelings about the transition process.

Hillary Walker ’11, who transferred from Caltech as a junior, said transferring to the College “was actually much harder and lonelier than I expected. I felt that the transfer students received a pretty cold welcome at the beginning of the year, and for me that set the tone for the entire first semester,” she said. Walker said she does not at all regret her decision to come to the College and is enjoying her time here, but there were definite difficulties initially.

By contrast, Julia Seyferth ’12, who is now a Junior Advisor, said that transferring from Middlebury as a sophomore was relatively smooth. “The College was really good about making sure I was accommodated with classes and that I was on track as far as requirements went.”

Seyferth said, however, that one area of transfer student life she would like to see improved is orientation at the beginning of the year.

CC hopes to accomplish this through forging connections both among transfer students and between transfers and the larger student community. According to the Oct. 27 resolution, CC plans to work with Toomajian – who already has in place an informal introductory meeting for transfer students at the beginning of the school year – to establish a Transfer Advisors Group composed of two previous transfer students and two CC at-large students. The group would likely coordinate an orientation program for incoming transfer students based on the Where Am I?! program for freshman orientation.

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