February 22, 2005

Students consider transfering as winter rolls on

While most Chicago students spend winter quarter immersed in the pastimes of papers and midterms, impatiently praying for spring to arrive, a small group focuses on a different way of improving their climate: They're filling out forms to transfer to other schools.

Joshua Mellen, a second-year in the College, was one such transfer applicant last winter. Characterizing his introduction to the rigors of Chicago life as an "unbelievably harsh" ordeal, he applied as a transfer to Harvard University and Yale University. "My experiences just made me want to hide my head and leave quickly," he said. "I just was not happy and it was the only solution I could come up with."

John Laseman, the transfer student adviser at the College, said that the thought of transferring crosses students' minds each year. "I believe that every adviser has one or two students from the entering class who bring up the idea of transferring," he said, noting that the College doesn't keep track of departing transfers.

The numbers, however, may be even higher than Laseman speculated. A survey conducted by the University in the mid-'90s stated that, at the time, "35 percent of our current undergraduates report that tthey have taken some step to leave at some time during their College careers."

While Laseman described the motivations behind these decisions as widely varied, ranging from homesickness to the pursuit of specific fields of study, Arya Varthi, a second-year in the College who applied to Harvard last February, said the atmosphere at the University played an important role in his decision. "At the time, it was winter and everyone I knew acted depressed," he said. "I thought that going to a happier place might be nice."

Mellen emphasized the importance of timing and the overall mood of the school in the application process. "When winter came around, it hit me like a brick," he said.

But transferring is a two-way street. According to its website, the University received more than 575 transfer applicants last year and accepted 125. Of these, about 75 students chose to enroll in the College last fall. At Harvard university, by comparison, about 55 students are admitted from a pool of more than 1000 applicants.

While there is a lack of concrete data on the rates of transfer at major universities, the experiences of Chicago students, both incoming and outgoing, provide some understanding of this process.

The transfer application process, which must be completed as early as February for some schools, is similar to that of incoming freshmen but somewhat more extensive. The recommendation requirements can complicate the situation, forcing students to obtain support for their decision. According to Mellen, this can be a difficult task. "Not a single person supported [the transfer]," he said. "It was definitely an uphill battle to get recommendations."

According to Laseman, the faculty should serve not as a roadblock but as a moderating force. "One of our main goals is not to make decisions for students, but rather to provide as much information as possible so the student makes the most informed decision," he said.

Recent transfer Robert Bortz, a third-year in the College who previously attended the University of Wisconsin Madison, described the transfer process as "rigorous." Nonetheless, he regarded it as appropriate for a highly esteemed university and was undeterred by the burden. "You should have to put in some time to qualify for an institution such as this," he said.

Laseman said that in his experience, transfer students find themselves much happier at Chicago than at their former schools. Bortz backed this up, saying he was extremely satisfied with his decision and emphasized that the "U of C has exceeded my expectations."

As for those who unsuccessfully attempt to transfer out of the University, the rejection isn't always devastating. According to Mellen, comfort and happiness come with time. "I'm happy; I would not transfer," he said. "This is the best place for me."