Not quite satisfied: students consider transferring
Published: Tuesday, November 23, 2004
Updated: Tuesday, May 31, 2011 23:05
He is sitting next to you in biology lab one semester, then completely MIA the next. Have you ever turned to a fellow classmate, in the midst of a dazed recollection, and asked, "Hey, what ever happened to that guy?"After discounting the possibility that he lost his way through the woods around Sachar or is hiding in one of the castle's secret tunnels, you and your friend conclude that that guy must have transferred.
"When I ask students why they are thinking about leaving, it's very rare that they say they are just really unhappy here," Dean Michele Rosenthal said. "Some students will say it's just not the right fit for them, academically or socially...Being at college or university is such a significant experience. People need to be happy, and they need to be at the place that fosters the best in them."
While colorful admissions pamphlets and sunny campus tours may initially present Brandeis as the perfect, small, New England college experience, many students find the reality after their arrival to be little more than disappointing.
According to the University Registrar Mark Hewitt, approximately 104 students enrolled at Brandeis in the fall of 2003 did not return this year. The registrar's office does not track how many transfer over how many students dropout, are on a temporary leave or are on academic or disciplinary withdrawal, but Hewitt said it is likely that most of these students end up as transfers. With an 84 percent graduation rate, many students who start out at Brandeis do not choose to finish up their education here.
Goodbye Sherman, Shapiro, Shapiro and Shapiro...Hello Cornell, Harvard, Hamilton, Boston University or Brown.
"Brandeis is not a bad school. It's not a bad situation. It's just not what I envisioned when I was growing up thinking about college," Alex Silberman '08 said. As a first-year, Silberman knew well before he even arrived at Brandeis that he would apply to transfer. His transfer application to Harvard is due Feb. 15, and he is just waiting for his grades for the semester to come in before sending it out. Because Harvard will not accept transfer students after two years of undergraduate experience, this is Silberman's "one shot."
"Harvard has always been a dream of mine. I came so close in the regular admission process...I knew I would take another shot at getting in. I thought I would be cheating myself if I didn't make one more attempt," Silberman said.
While Silberman has his complaints about the school itself, including its stifled social scene, the lack of fraternity and sorority recognition, low value placed on athletics and a what he calls a level of hypocrisy about diversity issues, he recognizes the strong academics offered and the valuable friendships he has developed are making it difficult for him to consider leaving. Silberman's said his objections are not necessarily with Brandeis.
"I may be different from other transfer students in that regard," Silberman said. "It's not so much that I am dying to get out of Brandeis, but more so that I am dying to follow my dream."
For other students considering transferring, Brandeis just hasn't provided the necessary resources, accommodations, social life or academic agenda they needed. Rosenthal noted that students seeking more pre-professional, business or advertising programs might look to other schools. Others still cite outside personal circumstances such as financial changes or family needs as being the primary reason for their decision to transfer.
"Brandeis is a great school, but they didn't have what I wanted to study-architecture," said Petra Jarolimova '06, who left Brandeis for Brown University after her first year. "I feel like I have connected much more to people here and I like that Brown is in the middle of a city and isn't a closed campus; it made Brandeis feel even smaller and more closed off from the real world...Also, I felt like I didn't fit in very much. I think the focus on Jewishness and Jewish things was a little much for me."
While many students view Brandeis' large Jewish community and its accompanying services and programs as a large draw to the university, others who are considering transferring note it as a drawback.
"There are some type of misfit religious issues here: people that don't fit in, kind of feel lost in the shuffle-even in the Jewish community," Silberman said. "It's obviously been a culture shock to me. I am a little upset that this university recognizes every Jewish holiday and then does not recognize Veterans Day. It's a little hypocritical and not right. It's not discussed and that's a little upsetting. Here you sometimes feel underrepresented not being Jewish."
Rosenthal said it is problematic and she is concerned if minority students do not find support at Brandeis.
"For students who are not Jewish, they can feel a little stifled in this community," she said. "Their practicing communities are too small to be supportive. Sometimes you just want to be around people more like you."
After only one semester at Brandeis, transfer student Elana Zak '07 plans to return to Hamilton College in the spring, where she spent her freshman year. Zak originally came to Brandeis hoping to fit in more, but was not expecting the religious division she has sensed here, and does not like how the campus seems to close down on Friday nights.
While she admits that "everything I don't like about that school is still there," Zak says she would rather return to Hamilton and bear several of the academic and social drawbacks, then continue at Brandeis where she has had difficulty integrating into the community and making new friends.
"I feel like if I came here as a freshman, I would really like it...For me it's been extremely hard to make friends because everyone already has their own set social groups. People are just busy doing work, and when they aren't busy they aren't going to call the person they barely know. They will call the friends they bonded with last year," Zak said.
Living in a single in a senior wing of the Village, Zak says she is missing out on the essential "hanging out" and bonding aspect of living in the dorms with people her age. Brandeis does not guarantee on-campus housing for transfer students, and even transfer students who do live on campus don't usually live with students in their grade.
"Everyone is friendly, but not necessarily willing to be friends, or extend the invitation," transfer student Brittnay Erlich '07 said. Like Zak, Erlich just transferred to Brandeis this fall after a year at Sarah Lawrence College. She is living in a first-year dorm and says she often feels out of place, as her hall-mates are bonding through unifying first-year experiences.
Although Erlich has considered transferring again to Barnard, which was her second transfer choice after Brandeis, she says she plans on "sticking it out for a while" despite the less than ideal circumstances. She cited the daunting application process as one reason to stay, as well as the hope that things would improve.
"Plus," she said, "I thought Barnard would be pissed off if I applied a third time."
Even among those students extremely unhappy with Brandeis, few are interested in bearing the bureaucracy and stress of the college application process more than once.
"It's so emotionally, physically and financially exhausting-and to do it again just seems impossible," Erlich said. Not only do students have to provide application materials for the university to which they hope to transfer, but they also usually need to meet with Rosenthal to acquire her certification and officially withdraw from Brandeis. Once students go through the rather "laborious admission process," Rosenthal said that in her experience, even if they were unsure about transferring before, once they are accepted they pretty much decide to leave.
"It's a lot of extra work, unnecessary work really," Silberman said. "Students might not necessarily like it here or have thought about transferring in the past, but they are not thinking about realistically pursuing it. They like it enough here to stay."
While many Brandeis students moan over the school's perceived lack of social scene, the hike up Rabb Steps or campus food costs, most ultimately find the university to be enough of a fit to compel them to continue their education at Brandeis.
Another incentive to stay at Brandeis is avoiding the stigma and discomfort that accompanies the "planning-to-transfer" status.
"If you tell people you want to leave the school they are at, it's a slap in the face," Zak said. "They think it's because of them. My friends at Hamilton were very hurt when I left. But it wasn't them, it was the school."
Silberman says his friends are aware of his plans to transfer and have been very supportive.
"I wouldn't feel right acting differently or hiding away in my room just because I am leaving," he said. "It wouldn't make sense to me. I am just being me."
If he does decide to transfer to Harvard, Silberman notes that he will only be eight miles away and will still be able to maintain his friendships.
"Every time I wake up it gets harder to leave," Silberman said. "I have new memories, new friends and I learn new things. But I still don't want to feel I cheated myself out of what has always been a dream."
The decision to transfer is a trade-off for every student, but ultimately a means of finding a more fitting college experience.
"I feel like there is no perfect school," Zak said. "For me it's about making the decision between a social life and academics."
Although no school encourages students to leave, Rosenthal said she wants students to be happy, even if that means they are not at Brandeis." The students who seem to be happiest here are the ones that really find their niche," Rosenthal said. "Once that happens, everything else falls into place. I think that takes time to happen though. But if something in their gut tells them to leave, then they need to follow that, and there shouldn't be a stigma associated with it.