Second thoughts

Chronicle Staff

For Adam Sieff ’07, this upcoming winter vacation will provide little relaxation. Sieff will spend the majority of his time at home working, typing and thinking about his future.

“I get to be a first semester senior all over again,” he said.

While his friends vacation, tell countless stories to their family and friends about college and get a chance to unwind, Sieff will be working on college applications, just how he spent his winter vacation last year, in order to transfer out of George Washington University into either Columbia or Georgetown.

“I have made some amazing friends in the past couple months, but I’d like to transfer because I think that my academic interests would be better suited at a different school that emphasizes a more traditional liberal education than my current institution,” he said. “For what I now realize I would like to gain from college, I think GWU is not the best fit.”

Sieff imagines that Columbia and Georgetown will be “significantly more difficult (than GWU) and probably don’t inflate grades as much as they do here, where classes are on par, if not easier than what I encountered in my non-honors/AP Harvard-Westlake classes.”

Sieff is also aware that making friends will be more difficult as a transfer student.

“Class is class, papers are papers, grades are grades,” he said. “That stuff doesn’t change. It’s only the people around you that are different, so repercussions associated with transferring are really just social phenomenon.”

“Freshmen are more open to making new friends in the first few months of school because everyone is new. As a sophomore, it is not the same. People already have their friends; they don’t need you as much as you need them.”

Sieff has taken these social difficulties into account when choosing what schools to apply to and even eliminated some schools because of his lack of social establishment there. Part of Sieff’s rationale for applying to Georgetown is that it is in such a close proximity to his current school, George Washington University, so he will  be close to his newly established friends and fraternity brothers. Sieff also would feel socially comfortable at Columbia because three of his close friends go to college in Manhattan.

If Sieff does transfer to Georgetown, as did Daniel Shaffer ’99 after one year at Indiana University, his fears can be quelled, seeing as how Shaffer found Georgetown to be “very aware of these fears and [did] their best to cater an orientation program for transfer students to integrate them into the school as seamlessly as possible. Making new friends was a challenge, but I learned that if you throw yourself into your new life and don’t feel like you need to impress people, people will react really positively to you.”

Like Sieff, Shaffer also applied to schools on the east coast because more of his friends were there, and he knew he would be socially comfortable and happy there.

Julie Kamins ’86, a private college counselor who has helped students transfer, has seen several reasons for why a student chooses to transfer, including Sieff’s desire for a different and more challenging curriculum.

Other times, she has seen students have difficulty socially because they are unable to find peers with a similar values system and ideas.

Jason Honsel, upper school dean and former New York University admissions officer, sees that for many Harvard-Westlake alumni “the first couple months of school is like a honeymoon period, but then, especially for students on the East Coast where it gets cold, students will begin to go through a feeling of homesickness and second guessing, which is normal,” he said.

Kamins has also seen many students raised in California go to a college with more dreary weather, and the lack of sunlight spurs a desire to return to a brighter atmosphere.

However, she advises students to allow time to “acclimate to college life before giving up,” she said. “We are an MTV generation, ready always for a quick fix, and in college, a person needs time before feeling truly settled and happy.”

Sarah Hoberman ’07, another GWU student, went through what Honsel described earlier this year and had trouble adjusting to the East Coast, but eventually, she adapted to GWU and the East Coast.
“Everyone has a hard time adjusting at first, and I just straight out didn’t wait long enough,” she said.  “I felt like because I did not like it at first all hope was lost, but [now] I definitely could not be happier.”
Though Shaffer did ultimately decide to transfer,  he advises college students to give themselves time and to “truly believe that your freshman year is going to be amazing and that you’re going to give it 100 percent.”

Honsel finds that eventually most students do allow themselves time and will come to terms with the depressing weather or lack of comfort and begin to accept their school as a good place.

However, if a student is in serious need of better weather, Honsel said that UCLA and UC Berkeley are good options for transfer applicants because they are bigger schools, so more students leave, which in many cases makes it easier to be accepted as a transfer applicant then as a freshman.

Honsel and upper school dean Beth Slattery, see that highly competitive schools don’t lose many students, so those schools will have fewer spots available, which makes them even more difficult to get into as a transfer applicant than as a freshman.

Slattery also worked as an admissions officer and dealt with transfer applicants at USC—a school with an abnormally large pool of transfer applicants for a private institution. At USC many prospective students may have not had a great high school record but redeemed themselves by attending a community college.

When evaluating transfer applicants, Slattery relied almost exclusively on objective factors, such as past school attended and grades and not as much about high school or extracurricular activities.
Both Slattery and Honsel advise college students who wish to transfer to make getting the highest GPA their top priority. In fact, when Honsel worked at NYU, he usually ignored applicants’ essays or recommendations.

Because the student’s GPA is so important, Honsel believes it is easier for students to transfer after one and a half or two years because there is a greater body of work and thus a greater chance for higher numbers. Additionally, the longer a student waits, the less important their SAT scores and high school record become.

The deans will help alumni transfer by supplying transcripts, letters of recommendation and general guidance.

Honsel helped James Kim ’04 transfer from Tufts to Emory. After visiting many of his friends at Emory, Kim realized he could be having a much better experience somewhere other than Tufts.
“Simply put, I’m a happier person because of [transferring], and I’m proud that I took the initiative to make a change in my life for the better,” Kim said.

Kim found the transfer application process much easier than the freshman application process, because “the second time around, I saw that the great deal of pressure and anxiety I felt as a freshman was unnecessary,” Kim said.

Shaffer also found applying as a transfer student much easier.

“During freshman year of college, I was the only one applying, so there was no pressure from friends or advisors, and very little pressure from my parents,” he said. “There was also a great sense of security in the fact that I was already at a good school and I wouldn’t be unhappy if I had to stay there for the remainder of my studies.”

Sieff also relates Harvard-Westlake’s focus on the college process to applying as a transfer applicant now.

“Applying as a freshman, especially from HW, we are blessed with wonderful advisers who hold our hands every step of the way and integrate the various deadlines and processes into our ordinary routine,” he said. “As stressed out high school seniors we seek them as an oracle; infallible orbs of truth that give order to our chaos.”

Now, Sieff finds the admissions process much easier thanks to the deans’ help last year.
“It’s almost as if practice makes perfect,” he said.