Transfer students bring fresh perspectives to campus

We do not have entry t-shirts, nor Junior Advisors to guide us around; we don’t know whether we are too old for First Fridays or why you can’t get food here past 1 a.m. But we don’t have to take the swim test – so we’ve got that going for us. Yes, we are the 0.7 percent of students who did not enter the College as first-years.

Barring a late surge by Gary Johnson, the next president of the United States will once again be a transfer student. Barack Obama transferred from Occidental to Columbia in 1980; and after taking time off from Stanford, Mitt Romney completed his last three years at BYU. Coincidence? I would like to think not, as I think there is a certain personal tenacity that might drive unhappy first- and second-years to switch schools. While uncommon here, transfer students are a part of a common breed across the nation; approximately one-fifth of college students graduate from a different school than they initially matriculated to – a statistic that I never imagined I would contribute to. But here I am, along with five other transfer students I entered with and 10 more from the previous two admissions cycles. We come from a variety of schools, some similar to the College (Wesleyan, Middlebury, Bates) and some very different (Cornell, Georgetown, Deep Springs). Either way, spending time at another institution has helped each bring a unique perspective on college life to the Purple Valley.

The weirdest aspect of transferring to the College is missing out on one of the most seminal aspects of the Williams experience: the entry system. But for the most part, my fellow transfers and I have found that our unique situation doesn’t keep us from feeling like we belong here, Sunday snacks or not. “I wish I had been here freshman year,” said sophomore transfer Hillary Cook ’15. “Being in an entry would have been really nice, but I’m glad they don’t put transfers in one. Sophomore year is a good time to start because people are branching out from their entry groups, so everyone has been super welcoming.” But it’s true that a challenge for transfers is not having a structured way to meet people. Whereas entries are designed to facilitate friendships from day one, each of us has had to forge our own social path.

Although during First Days we all nervously wondered whether established social circles and student groups would feel difficult to “break in” to, compared to where many of us came from, the task has been relatively easy. On the athlete/non-athlete divide that some perceive at the College, Cook, a lacrosse player, said that it is nothing compared to what she experienced at Wesleyan: “At any meal, there was a strict dividing line between athletes and non-athletes, and each side thought the other was really lame,” she said. “I liked the girls on my team, but it’s so nice that I can be friends with a totally mixed group of people here.”

The transfer situation has improved considerably from a few years back according to Robin Hackett ’13, a current transfer orientation leader who entered the College after a year at Skidmore. His class of transfers was the first to not be housed in Dennett basement, which by all accounts was an extremely unfortunate living situation. Though Hackett lived in Garfield among fellow upperclassmen, he said “it took a lot more time” to settle in here than it did as a first-year at Skidmore. It is probably too early to judge how well my class of transfers has adjusted, but unlike during First Days, most of us no longer feel like afterthoughts on campus now that fall semester is in full swing.

On more trivial aspects of life at the College like the food, the party scene and the campus atmosphere, the new transfer classes’ initial reaction has generally been quite positive. The main complaint from those who went to big-city schools, like Sam Lewis ’15, who transferred from University of Pennsylvania, is that Williamstown feels too small at times. Indeed, though Ithaca is not exactly cosmopolitan, the immense variety of food options and off-campus diversions is something I, as a former Cornell student, definitely miss.

And you may sometimes forget it, but the College is a wonderful place to be. A familiar refrain I’ve heard is that you don’t come here for the parties or the nightlife: Beyond superior academics, the people are Williams’ real draw. I left some great friends behind whom I miss dearly, as we all did, but I, at least, have found that my fellow Ephs are worth staying for.