Some see second shot in transfers

While the traditional college applicant sees a rejection letter as the end of his chance to attend his dream college, some students now see rejection as a merely temporary obstacle.

As low acceptance rates for elite universities make it increasingly difficult for applicants to attend their first-choice schools, a growing number of students are reapplying to top schools as transfers. But Eli transfer students questioned whether the trend applies to Yale, where administrators try to avoid accepting transfers who were previously rejected.

Transfer students Daniella Berman ‘07 and Alex Charrow ’07 study in Au Bon Pain. While more college students are seeing their freshman year as an opportunity to strengthen their records to help them transfer, Yale still accepts few transfers.
Gang Chen
Transfer students Daniella Berman ‘07 and Alex Charrow ’07 study in Au Bon Pain. While more college students are seeing their freshman year as an opportunity to strengthen their records to help them transfer, Yale still accepts few transfers.

Last week, the Wall Street Journal reported that more and more students are seeing freshman year as an opportunity to strengthen their transfer applications instead of as a chance to build relationships at the school they are attending. Chuck Hughes, president of Road to College, a college admissions counseling firm, said he has noticed an increase in “admissions seasoning,” in which students re-apply to their top-choice schools after a year of college.

“Very few students who are applying to transfer to Ivy League schools are doing so for the very first time,” said Hughes, who was a senior admissions officer at Harvard from 1995 to 2000. “They often need another strong year of academics to be more competitive.”

According to the Yale Undergraduate Admissions Office, Yale received 780 transfer applications for the fall of 2006 — a 14.5 percent increase from last year. Only 3.7 percent of the applicants were admitted, down from 4.4 percent for the fall of 2005.

Yale’s peer schools offer better odds to prospective transfers. Harvard University accepted 85 transfers — representing 8.8 percent of its applicant pool — while Princeton University has a policy of not accepting any transfer students. Cornell University accepted 34.9 percent of transfer applicants, a figure that can be partially attributed to a promise to its best rejected applicants that they will be accepted if they transfer after freshman year.

Students who attended preparatory school are especially likely to exercise such options, said Mary Lee Hoganson, president of the National Association for College Admission Counseling. Competition among applicants from preparatory schools might compel them to transfer after initially losing top spots to their classmates, she said. Katelyn Foley ’09, a transfer to Harvard from the University of Pennsylvania and an alumna of Phillips Academy Andover, said that out of the 50 transfer students who entered Harvard this fall, four had attended Andover and three had attended Phillips Exeter Academy, its peer high school.

But Yale College Dean of Admissions Jeffrey Brenzel said Yale’s policy does not encourage students who were previously rejected to reapply for admission. He said limited housing availability in the residential colleges is one of the main reasons why Yale’s acceptance rate for transfer students is one of the lowest in the Ivy League.

Hoganson said the increased competition for acceptance to the nation’s elite colleges has resulted in more students getting rejected from their top-choice schools. But in her experience, she said, students can make the most of opportunities at whichever school they attend.

“I think most admissions officers don’t want to give the message that you can go somewhere else, not invest yourself there, and then transfer,” Hoganson said. “I don’t think that’s a psychologically healthy way of looking at things.”

Alexandra Charrow ’07, who transferred to Yale from the University of Maryland after her freshman year, said it is rare for Yale to accept transfer applicants who have already applied. She said Yale’s transfer students largely come from other Ivy League universities, community colleges, and Deep Springs, a selective two-year college. Students transfer for a number of reasons, she said, including unhappiness with the size of their colleges or the absence of majors or programs of study.

Most Yale students said their experiences at the institutions they first attended were what motivated them to transfer, rather than a desire to go to a different school from the beginning.

Sophie Turrell ’08 transferred to Yale from Amherst College after her freshman year. She said she had not applied to Yale as a high school senior, but decided that it was a better match after spending time in the small town of Amherst, Mass.

“There wasn’t a lot going on that was very stimulating besides academics,” Turrell said.

But Daniella Berman ’07 said that even after being rejected from the University of Pennsylvania — her first-choice school — and attending Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., she kept hoping that she would ultimately be accepted by Penn. She was not accepted to Penn when she applied to transfer after her freshman year at Brandeis, but she was accepted as a transfer to Yale, where she had previously been denied admission. Although she re-applied to her first-choice school, Berman said her unhappiness at Brandeis is what ultimately motivated her to make a switch.

“I was applying to schools that would remedy the problems that Brandeis was posing for me,” Berman said.

While Berman said Yale does not provide the same extensive orientation process for its transfer students that schools like Harvard do, the transfers she knows feel it was a worthwhile step to take.

“The vast majority of transfer students you talk to here are ecstatic,” Berman said. “You’re jaded, so although you see that there are problems at Yale, you come to terms with the fact that all schools have flaws.”

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