Most college students confront the anxiety of a first-year college experience only once. But a rising number of students adjust to life at more than one higher education institution, according to a report released last week by the National Survey of Student Engagement.
Undergraduate transfer students are less inclined to engage in academic and extracurricular life on campus, the study said, but a look at the transfer population at Yale — which did not participate in the study — suggests that Elis might buck the trend. Deputy Yale College Dean Joe Gordon, said he has seen many transfer students at Yale take leading roles throughout the community.
“I know that currently one transfer student is a freshman counselor and there are transfer students on teams and in positions of leadership as well,” Gordon said.
But NSSE Director George Kuh said relatively few transfer students across the country generally take full advantage of the academic resources at their disposal.
“They’re real low on co-curricular activities,” said Kuh, an education professor at Indiana University-Bloomington. “It takes a while for them to move into the system, and they are less likely to have the sorts of connections immediately available to them than other four-year students are.”
Kuh said the study also revealed a relative lack of participation by transfer students in programs including research with a faculty member, independent study and travel abroad.
Yale psychology professor Valerie Purdie-Vaughns said changing colleges is never easy, especially when it entails leaving one group of friends and finding another. The risk of being alienated as a sophomore or junior transfer student could be greater at a place like Yale, she said.
“You tend to learn who you are as a Yalie in your first two years, whether it’s in joining a fraternity, a religious group or a singing group,” Purdie-Vaughns said. “When your identity is formed through extracurriculars so early on, it’s difficult for newcomers to penetrate that group feeling.”
But some transfer students said it was not too late for them to take advantage of the resources offered by the University. Yale’s Eli Whitney Students are a special group of transfers who have already earned college credits elsewhere and now wish to take more undergraduate classes at Yale. Most are older students with families and regular jobs, but they still manage to assimilate themselves into campus life effectively.
Ben Harrell ’06, a 24-year-old transfer who attended community college in California, said he regularly uses the Timothy Dwight library, writes for the Yale Economic Review and engages his professors in discussion, though he is still sometimes awed by other members of the Yale community.
“Just this morning, I got to have a conversation with Ernesto Zedillo after class,” Harrell said. “I just thought that was amazing, speaking with the former president of a country.”
Chris Day ’07, an undergraduate transfer and a political science major, is also Yale’s only member of the Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps. After a summer at West Point, Day attended an honors program at Rockland Community College in his hometown of Rockland, N.Y., before transferring to Yale this fall.
Day said that while breaking into the Yale scene can pose some initial difficulties, getting involved is not exceedingly hard.
“Yale has more of a fraternal feel than other colleges,” he said. “It’s a real community, less individualistic and more of a home.”
Day is now active in the Yale Political Union as a member of the Conservative Party, and he also helped organize the recent Yale Model Congress. Still, he said his involvement demanded more effort than that required of other Yale students.
“When you’re a transfer, you have to kind of insert yourself into the social networks,” Day said. “It’s not like being a normal freshman, where everybody is trying to make friends and establish social contacts. As a transfer, the network is not created for you.”
Anders Hsi ’08, who transferred to Yale this fall from the University of Chicago, also said carving a niche as a transfer student can initially be somewhat difficult.
“Not everyone else is doing it at the same time,” he said. “The other sophomores and juniors who have already spent time here are less interested in trying to meet new people.”
Still, Hsi said he is pleased with his experience so far.
“When I transferred, I thought that Yale would be better because its focus is on the entire individual, not just on academics,” he said. “This school fits a lot better for me.”
Purdie-Vaughns said the residential college system may make the transition smoother for students.
“When you have the smaller colleges, you’re not just dumped into a sea of other students,” she said. “But still, people naturally create categories, and transfer students can be seen as the out-group.”
Though transfer students are invited to participate in freshman orientation events, Day said he would have preferred an orientation program specifically designed for transfers.
Admissions standards for students seeking to transfer to Yale are more stringent than at some other U.S. universities, Gordon said. In addition to writing a personal statement and an essay on why they wish to transfer to Yale, applicants must submit recommendations from professors, along with high school and college transcripts.
While the annual admissions rate for regular applicants is approximately 10 percent, the rate for transfer students is usually between 3 and 4 percent of roughly 1,000 applicants, Gordon said.
“Transferring to Yale is definitely much harder than getting in as a freshman,” Hsi said.
But Hsi also said Yale’s transfers have an easier time making the transition because they were distinguished enough to be accepted from the more selective transfer pool.
“They tend to select people who don’t need much help or orientation,” Hsi said.
Chris Hathaway ’07 transferred from the University of Vermont this fall and became a member of the Yale Men’s Rugby Club almost immediately. Hathaway played rugby at the University of Vermont and said he spoke with Yale’s captain before he transferred. Joining the club was an easy choice, he said.
“Rugby’s been a big help,” Hathaway said. “It’s a little bit lonely for the first month or so, but you just have to get involved.”