Financial burdens, lack of diversity influence two students’ decision to leave Tufts

Yash Gurditta, a junior from a financially unstable home in New Jersey transferred to Columbia University from Tufts. (Courtesy Yash Gurditta)

For some students, it was just a year ago. For others, it was two, three or even more. Deciding where to go for college is often a stressful part of the high school experience, but a final decision on where to attend may not be so final. For former Tufts students Yash Gurditta and Michael Lee, when the initial combination of excitement and nervousness died down, they had to make a serious decision of whether to stay at Tufts. These profiles reflect only a few of the reasons why some students can’t call Tufts home.

Yash Gurditta

Yash Gurditta, a junior from a financially unstable home in New Jersey, originally fell in love with Tufts as a high school senior after he visited for the Voices of Tufts Diversity Experiences program, and he decided to apply Early Decision to what he thought was a highly diverse school. Once he arrived in fall 2015, however, he discovered that he had trouble finding things in common with many of his peers.

“Over time I found it was hard to connect with people because of the demographic that Tufts is comprised of,” Gurditta said. “As a first-generation child of immigrants, one thing that I noticed was the disparity between students who are of a really high and a really low income.” 

Gurditta found that, because he was used to a socio-economic background that was severely underrepresented at Tufts, it was difficult for him to initially connect with his peers.

“I did meet some people from a similar socio-economic background, but I always felt that the overwhelming majority didn’t really have an idea of what it was like growing up in the environment that I did, which in itself isn’t a big deal,” Gurditta said. “But it did make it harder when there were situations where I was struggling with certain things and there were less people around that I could go to and they would understand.”

Additionally, he discovered that the sense of community at Tufts was not what he had expected from his experiences in Voices. Rather than discovering a strong sense of community, he found it to be more divided and polarized.

“There was an interesting range of people at Tufts. There was a big prep school, athletic, Greek life group; there were a lot of outdoorsy kind[s] of people; there were the politics-based people and then there’s everyone else,” he said. “I didn’t fall into either of those three categories so I was kind of a floater for most of my two years. I feel like at Tufts if you’re not into really into one of those three things, it’s kind of difficult to find your group.”

Gurditta said that last year especially highlighted the divisions on campus.

“Because there was a lot going on last year between Greek life changing [and] the presidential election, the whole campus was kind of in disarray and out of whack,” he said. “That did play a part too. The overall campus vibe felt polarized, and the sense of community felt almost taken away.”

This led to a difficult decision that took almost two years to make. Ultimately, after his sophomore year, Gurditta applied as transfer student to other universities where he thought he would feel more comfortable with the rest of the student population.

“When I was looking for different schools to apply to, I looked for racial diversity and Pell Grant recipient rates because that’s a good indicator of socio-economic background, and I also looked for first-gen student population percentages,” Gurditta said. “It was not an easy decision to make at all but I knew I needed to give myself options.”

Gurditta said the decision to transfer out was one that was drawn out and difficult to make. On the very last day possible, he accepted a spot at Columbia University, where he is now a junior.

“When I got the decision letter, I remembered that I have two years of academic success that I could build off of and I have some great friends,” Gurditta said. “It is a process coming to a new school so there were a lot of variables and things to consider on the table, which made it very difficult, but the adjustment was a lot easier for me here than it was at Tufts.” 

At Columbia, Gurditta said he has been able to integrate into the community on a deeper level.

“The Tufts adjustment took me probably a full semester whereas I felt right at home here within a matter of weeks,” Gurditta said. “I met some really awesome people right away, whereas I did at Tufts too, but it took awhile. At Tufts you meet a lot of people and you’re like ‘Wow, we have absolutely nothing in common.’ Here I feel like most people I’ve met with I’ve been able to connect with about something. Overall I never really felt at home at Tufts.”

Michael Lee

Michael Lee, a sophomore from California, made his decision to transfer after his first year at Tufts based on financial considerations.

I did get an adequate amount of financial aid my first year which enabled my parents to pay about 60 percent of the tuition,” Lee said. “However, after my sister graduated from USC they offered nothing,” Lee said. “This combined with the fact that my dad is approaching retiring age without a large amount of money saved through his 401k because of us moving here in 2002, made it very difficult to return to Tufts.”

Lee came to Tufts last fall because of his intended major in political science and his desire to attend a liberal arts college on the East Coast. This combination led him to believe Tufts would be a perfect fit.

“I did enjoy my time at Tufts. I fell in love with the changing seasons and I had amazing and interesting friends from all across the world,” he said. “The people at Tufts are all incredibly unique but similar in the sense that they are genuine to who they are and this helped me really mature and open as an individual who had been an introvert too timid to voice an opinion. It was really my friends that made my time at Tufts incredibly enjoyable.”

Although Lee enjoyed his time Tufts, he found that he did not love it. This, combined with a huge reduction in financial aid, made the decision to transfer clear.

“The main reason I dropped out was because of the drastic drop in financial aid provided by the university,” Lee said. “However, as I began to go through life at Tufts, I knew that I wouldn’t want to stay there for the rest of college and had my mind on transferring in the future. I feel like there were a lot of little reasons that led up to a constant discontentment with my time there.”

Lee also said that the environment at Tufts was more confined than the kind he was used to at home.

“I’m from San Diego, so everybody drives everywhere, and this kind of ‘expanded’ my world to more than just school, home and nearby areas, but at Tufts I felt very restricted to a small campus,” he said.

Lee is currently a sophomore at San Diego Miramar College working to fill up his prerequisites to transfer to the University of California San Diego. While his parents are ecstatic that he is saving them thousands of dollars and his friends, the majority of whom go to UC schools, are excited that he moved back home, he still found the transition wasn’t entirely smooth.

“Logically the choice was pretty easy to make, but it’s never really easy to leave behind friends you can call family,” Lee said. “I recently got into an adult dance exhibition team, I’m training multiple times a week and working so I’m constantly busy but basically have no close friends. But I will admit that I am happier here doing the things I want in eternally warm weather.”