Transfer students navigate housing, academics, social scene

45 Sawyer Ave., pictured on Oct. 3, is one of several former Greek life houses now designated for transfer students. (Sofie Hecht / The Tufts Daily)

While many Tufts students can trace their time here back to first-year orientation, not all Jumbos started as first-years. Senior Renee LaMarche, sophomore Sophia Ginsburg, junior Gabriella de Maio, sophomore Margaret Edwards, junior Rachel Liu, sophomore Rafa Arms and sophomore Julia Pearl-Schwartz told the Daily about the challenges and joys of entering Tufts as transfer students.

First Impressions: Orientation Week

During Orientation Week, transfer students attended some events mandatory for first-years. Other events were more specific to transfers.

“They tried to make all the other programming transfer-specific … like, ‘We know you’ve been through this already, but this is what you need to know for your environment here now,’” de Maio said.

Transfer student leaders focused their orientation training specifically on transfer students.

“I think my role as a transfer [student leader] is [like] that of a regular [orientation leader]: getting them the necessary information to function at Tufts and introducing them to all the resources available, but [it] also requires… instilling in them (as best I can) a sense of optimism about what college can be…  The first semester might be hard, the entire first year might be difficult, but in time it will get better and you will find your place at Tufts,”  LaMarche, who worked as a transfer student leader, told the Daily in an email.

Ginsburg appreciated the presence of transfer student leaders to assist in her transition. At one point, a group of juniors and seniors who had transferred to Tufts — some who were orientation leaders and some who were not — sat on a panel and spoke to new transfers.

“The most helpful thing for me was when they just had the student leaders sit down and we could ask them anything without a teacher or a dean there, because then we could ask them all the real questions,” Ginsburg said.

LaMarche transferred to Tufts after her first year of college. She added that she chose to be a transfer student leader because she was deeply upset by various aspects of the transition she experienced her first year at Tufts.

LaMarche said she was promised housing in Wilson House, a dedicated transfer house where she expected to find a community of fellow transfers with similar experiences to her own. However, the transfer advisor quit one week into the semester, leaving LaMarche without a specific transfer house, and making it more difficult to find the community of transfers she was seeking.

She said she wasn’t the only transfer student who felt helpless that year.

“In the fall semester alone I saw five transfer students leave school because the administration failed to provide them the resources they needed for success,” LaMarche said.

For this year’s transfers, looking for off-campus housing was also difficult. Though the Office of Residential Life and Learning (ResLife) chose to house many transfer students in the Pi Delta, Theta Chi and Chi Omega houses — just as they housed last year’s transfers in Delta Tau Delta — many students were left scrambling for places to live.

Arms said that he, along with other transfers, was told in his acceptance letter that he could not live on campus.

“[Housing] was … the one thing holding me back from going to Tufts for a while,” he told the Daily in an electronic message.

After being notified that Tufts could not accommodate him, Arms spent two months looking for a place off campus with other transfers before finally being assigned a room on campus. ResLife eventually offered the other transfer students with whom he had been looking for a house rooms in Chi Omega.

Transfer of credit was another challenge.

“Generally, we were all pretty concerned about transferring credits during Orientation Week because we were kind of thrown into this academic environment,” Ginsburg said.

At the same time, she said, academic deans were eager to meet in person and talk on the phone to work out the details of credit transfer.

Edwards said that Tufts Undergraduate Admissions reached out to transfer students several times, meeting with various groups of transfers to get a sense of how their transitions were going. She said that administrators expressed awareness of challenges with ResLife and transfer of credit that had come up in the past and were willing to make changes to assist this year’s transfer class with their transitions.

“They seemed very attentive to the issues and really wanted to know how they could improve the situation,” she said.

Current transfers emphasized that they needed to take personal initiative to find housing and go through with transfer of credit.

“It’s a hard process and you really have to advocate for yourself,” Arms said.

Finding Community, Among Transfers and Beyond

This year’s class of transfer students found community through a group text message that they put together during one of their orientation meetings. According to Pearl-Schwartz this year’s 42 transfer students have formed a sustained community and often spend time together.

Pearl-Schwartz also expressed the sentiment that the Tufts student body is friendly and generally open to new friendships.

“So much of it is taking the initiative, even more so than as a freshman, because … it’s like ‘Oh my god, I need friends,’ whereas sophomores and juniors already have their friend circles,” Pearl-Schwartz said. “It’s hard in the sense that people aren’t coming up to you and being like ‘Let’s hang out,’ but it’s also easy in the sense that there are a ton of first-years who want to be friends with you, which is cool, and if you … show that you’re interested in someone else, they will also reciprocate generally.”

Edwards shared that feeling of relative social ease.

“I feel like the Tufts student body is incredibly friendly,” she said. “I’m always impressed when I really pursue someone I’m trying to be friends with. People are really nice and into it.”

A House with a History

Ginsburg lives in the house at 45 Sawyer Ave. that belonged to the Pi Delta fraternity last year. She said that living in a small house provided ample opportunities for community building among transfers that would not necessarily happen in a larger dorm.

“People’s reactions when you say that you live in this house are very interesting,” she said.

Liu also lives in the former fraternity house and agreed with Ginsburg when it comes to the reactions from other students when told where they live.

“We hear a lot of rumors about what has and hasn’t happened in this house,” Liu said in reference to its overall stigma and locked basement door.

The house may have a storied past, but the transfer students now living at 45 Sawyer Ave. are settling in and making themselves at home, hanging up tapestries and lights.

“We are making it our own space,” de Maio said.

Why Tufts?

Liu said she transferred to Tufts because she no longer wanted to complete the master’s degree in the dual B.A.-M.A. program she was enrolled in at New York University (NYU). She also felt as if she would find more freedom in a liberal arts environment.

“A lot of the programs at NYU, which is more of a university than it is a liberal arts school, are pretty regimented,” Liu said.

Ginsburg, who is originally from Hong Kong, compared her first year at Wellesley College to her experience at boarding school in the United States.

“It felt like Wellesley … [lacked] the wonderful social community that I really wanted out of a college experience, and I didn’t see myself growing socially or academically at Wellesley anymore,” she said.

Pearl-Schwartz also transferred from a university environment in which she did not feel like she was growing. Pearl-Schwartz acknowledged that it was important for her to take time off to figure out what she really wanted to do. She realized the ostensibly standard, four-year path through college was not necessarily the one she was going to follow.

“Knowing that it’s okay to take a different route and to take time off [is important],” Pearl-Schwartz said. “I never questioned … ‘Do I actually want to be doing this?’ Taking time off has made me reflect on the fact that I do actually really want to be studying.”

Arms’ first year at the University of California, Santa Barbara was not an entirely negative experience, but he transferred to Tufts with the goal of seeing the other coast and being immersed in an entirely new social environment, since college felt to him more like high school.

Advice to Students Considering Transferring

Edwards encouraged people considering transferring to take the leap of faith and do it. She acknowledged that the college process, as difficult as it is to complete as a high school senior, is even more trying the second time around.

“At the same time … it’s so easy to sort of settle into a college routine and feel like you can’t make the situation any better, but … if you want to try something new, it is worth it, and you’ll make it your own and make it work if you take the leap,” Edwards added.

Liu agreed noting the amount she learned about herself during her first year as an undergraduate.

De Maio spoke about the challenges of transferring as a junior. She listed the various questions people might throw at a junior-year transfer: “Why did you wait? Why are you even here? Why did you choose to change schools when you were already halfway through?”

“It’s very much worth it to not have that apprehension of being afraid of what people might say,” de Maio said. “Because you’re doing it for yourself and you shouldn’t have to worry about what other people think of you.”