Within 48 hours of arriving at Wesleyan, Sophia Belsheim ’11 went to Dean Noel Garrett’s office—rather than asking him for academic advice, she needed to declare her major, as do all junior transfers do during orientation week.
For most new students, the rush and bustle of arrival day and orientation signal the start of freshman year. For junior and sophomore transfers, however, the medley of meet-and-greets, workshops, and how-to sessions evokes a sense of déjà-vu, despite their new surroundings.
Fifty sophomore and 11 junior transfer students joined the campus community this year. Although many orientation activities revolved around welcoming the class of
2013, the University organized several events to introduce transfer students to campus life.
“This is a very inclusive community,” said Terri Overton, Associate Dean of Admissions. “To transfer to Wesleyan, I expect would not be as difficult as it would be at other communities.”
Belsheim made the decision to leave Mount Holyoke College after studying abroad during her sophomore year. Through the Danish Institute for Study Abroad (DIS), she met several Wesleyan students, who she said influenced her decision to transfer.
“Mainly it was a social thing,” Belsheim said. “I was so in need of a community that was happy. I think the student body here is much more active. Mount Holyoke—well, it’s called a bubble for a reason.”
According to some returning transfer students, however, the University’s attempts at integrating them into the community appear to ebb after orientation. Transfer housing, for example, stirs up mixed feelings.
In 2008, Residential Life (ResLife) housed sophomore transfer students in the Hewitt and Nicolson dormitories, and in 202 Washington Street. As a sophomore transfer from Bard College, Garrett Ruggieri ’11 lived on Washington Street in a house populated almost entirely by transfer students. While Ruggieri said that the experience allowed him to become close with fellow transfers, he felt it limited his interaction with the rest of his class.
“It doesn’t make sense to me that [ResLife] would take all the transfer students and stick them in one house on the edge of campus,” Ruggieri said. “I understand their philosophy behind it, but it didn’t really work out that well. At the same time, you develop a great bond with the people you’re living with.”
Amanda Faraone ’11 transferred from New York University (NYU) to Wesleyan in 2008. Although she was placed in housing with both transfers and non-transfers, she found limitations in her living arrangement, as well.
“I lived in Hewitt with a bunch of jocks who didn’t really talk to anybody,” Faraone said. “It was good housing, but it wasn’t very social.”
This year, ResLife placed a large proportion of sophomore transfer students in Hewitt, as well as in other dorms on campus, such as 156 High Street. To avoid repeating a dormitory-style living experience a third time, most junior transfers were given housing in High Rise.
During orientation week, Dean Noel Garrett and Dean Michael Phillips led a “Nuts and Bolts Academic Advising Session” for transfer students to facilitate the academic transition this fall. The workshop described the process for course selection, various academic programs, and the University Honor Code.
Despite the academic support that these students receive, some students have grappled with Wesleyan’s policy of transferring course credits from other institutions. The ease of this process often depends on the prior institution and the department towards which the credits will apply.
Ruggieri, for example, encountered problems when transferring physics credits from Bard College. He became frustrated when he discovered that, as a physics major, the credits had transferred to the Science and Society Program instead.
“It’s horrible,” Ruggieri said. “Basically, if you’re trying to transfer courses towards your major, it’s a pain.”
Faraone, on the other hand, was able to transfer credits without an issue.
“Academically, [the transition] has been pretty easy,” she said. “They’ve been pretty flexible about credits.”
To ease the social, as well as academic, shift for new transfer students, the University established the Transfer Connection Program, which pairs past transfer students with incoming transfers. During the preceding summer and fall semester, the participating former transfer students answer questions and acclimate their incoming peers to campus life. New transfers will be able to meet their peer advisors at a Transfer Connection Dinner hosted in Beckham Hall in the coming weeks.
Brigitta Glunk ’12 signed up for the Transfer Connection Program after transferring from NYU. Citing a lack of community as her main reason for leaving, Glunk felt that the peer partnership helped smooth the adjustment to campus life.
“She [Rebecca Lee ’10] was able to answer questions I had over the summer,” she said. “I’m really glad I signed up for it.”
A number of transfer students also attended a Transfer, Exchange, and Visiting Student meet-and-great hosted in the Hewitt Lounge during orientation week. In contrast to the instructional sessions focusing on academic policies, the informal gathering allowed students to meet fellow transfers and some non-transfers, as well.
“It was kind of like a speed-dating thing, but it was cute,” said Samantha Gupta ’12, a transfer from Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Although Gupta has had an overall positive transfer experience, she worries that she will continue to mentally juxtapose the two schools. Although Wesleyan and Macalester differ geographically, according to Gupta they share many similarities in terms of academics.
“I’m scared I’m going to be constantly comparing my first year experience at Wes [to Macalester],” she said. “I want to be mindful of not constantly comparing. Macalester and Wesleyan are compatible schools. But at Wesleyan I thought there would be more [social] opportunities.”
Although most transfer students have had generally positive experiences so far, some feel that the focus on incoming freshmen has eclipsed their transition period.
“I feel a little lumped sometimes,” Gupta said. “The orientation is very much ‘class of 2013…and transfers and visiting students.’”
Some students, however, have found a silver lining to the transfer student distinction. Despite difficulties with transferring credits or adjusting to campus life, Ruggieri has discovered that professors tend to have a certain affinity for transfer students.
“Teachers love when they hear that you transferred here,” Ruggieri said. “They get so excited.”