When the young wizards and witches at Hogwarts are sorted into four different houses, they have the opportunity to tell the magical Sorting Hat which houses they prefer.
At Harvard, the sorting process is not so lenient.
Once the dust settles on the random lottery that distributes Harvard freshmen among twelve Houses—which vary widely in location, architecture, and tradition—some students are inevitably dissatisfied.
Some grow to love the communities they were upset to hear on Housing Day that they would be joining. Others, while less enthusiastic about their Houses, grin and bear it for three years. But after a year or more in their assigned Houses, some want to jump ship.
Upperclassmen have the option of applying to transfer to a different House. The process has strict limitations, and students who choose to transfer often feel torn between a location that suits their lives and a group of friends who reside in their first House. After transferring, though, students almost unanimously say they are happier in the House they chose themselves.
The objective of interhouse transfer, according to Mather House Master Michael D. Rosengarten, is to help students enhance their educational or social experiences.
“The process is all about making students happy,” Rosengarten says.
The application requires students to choose their primary reason for requesting to transfer from choices such as “be closer to Harvard Square” or “desire a different room configuration.”
But the reasons that students give have little bearing on the outcome of their petitions to transfer. The first round of the interhouse transfer process, which is conducted in February, is entirely random in order to align with the philosophy of the freshman lottery, says Sophia R. Chaknis, director of residential programs and operations in the Office of Student Life.
To be eligible for an interhouse transfer, a student must have completed at least two terms in his or her current House. There are two rounds of interhouse transfers each fall and spring.
Though freshmen can enter the housing lottery with a blocking group of up to seven friends, a House transfer applicant can switch with only one other person.
GOING THE DISTANCE
Of the nicknames Emily S. Unger ’13 has accumulated over the years, the one that makes her chuckle every time is “Traitor.”
“People from my old House tease me by saying, ‘Oh, you are a traitor,’” Unger says. “Joking aside, I don’t think they actually judge me for transferring to a different House.”