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Transfer Students: How Many and Why

Harvard Late-Comers Are Challenge to University

By Bryce E. Nelson

"Some of the most refreshing people at Harvard are transfers. Harvard ought to liberalize the transfer operation greatly," says John U. Monro '34, Director of Financial Aid and a member of the Committee on Admissions. John H. Finley, Jr., '25, Master of Eliot House adds, In general the people who have the gimp to get out of another college are prima facie good people. I am very kindly disposed to transfer students."

This sort of favorable response to the transfer student is characteristic of the University Administration. The person who is admitted as a transfer student to Harvard from another college is very carefully screened and academically ranks above the University average. Twenty-three men were admitted as transfers this fall, 33 last year, and only ten in 1955.

The paucity of transfers admitted two years ago brought forth a plea from the Masters for more transfer students. The Committee on Educational Policy has also appealed for the admission of more of these men. Eliot Perkins '23, Master of Lowell House declares, "The general run of transfer student is superior. It is a pity that under the present great pressure for freshman admission, we take fewer than we used to."

Frequent Transfers

The Committee on Admissions has not always been limited to taking a mere handful of transfers. Wilbur J. Bender, Dean of Admissions, himself a transfer into Harvard, notes that "not too long ago, the one-year senior, the person who transfered to get a Harvard degree, was quite common." In the late 1940's the College took about 100 transfer students a year.

At the present time, however, the Committee on Admissions admits annually only about 25 transfers from nearly 200 applicants. The stated policy sent to each person requesting transfer information reads thus: "Each year Harvard admits a limited number of transfer students from other colleges who are honor students in their own colleges and who have a substantial academic reason for wanting to attend Harvard. The competition is rigorous and only those men who are particularly well-qualified are selected."

This stern and cautious invitation, coupled with Harvard's reputation of being not overly receptive to transfers, undoubtedly discourages many transfer prospects from applying. Furthermore, the University makes no effort to solicit transfer applications by sending admissions officers around the country to seek them.

Students Discouraged

The prospects for transfering are further dimmed by the University's policy of not giving scholarships to transfer students during their first year of residence. "I think this rule may have arisen quite a few years ago to prevent universities from buying athletes from each other," Monro says. In cases of substantial need, transfer students can be given scholarships after a successful first term of residence. The only exception to the no scholarship rule is that made for junior colleges don't feel that we're buying their students." explains Fred L. Glimp, Assistant Director of Admissions.

The motivations of those who do apply as transfers are closely scrutinized by the Committee on Admissions. The application of a man wanting to transfer from Columbia in order to take classes with a girl at Radcliffe was refused without much hesitation. Eric P. Cutler, Assistant Director of Admissions who is in charge of the transfer docket, says, "We get a lot of applications who are drifting along in their own schools, who have come here and see that people talk about classes. We can't take risks on these people."

The Committee on Admissions does not look with favor on the applications of students who feel out of place at their own college. It believes these people will probably be equally out of place at Harvard. "We get some tragic cases of maladjustment due to the fraternity system, people who either can't get into a fraternity or who are unhappy in their fraternity," Cutler commented.

The transfer the Committee favors mostly is the student who has compiled a very good academic record at a school in which he feels he has reached an academic roadblock. Recently admitted examples of this kind of student are a transfer who ran out of Anthropology courses at Williams, one at Middlebury who exhausted the Classics Department, and another from Oberlin who came to Harvard because of its Social Relations Department.

A substantial group of transfers are students from technical schools who find that "Science is not all of education, and who wish a liberal arts program. Some of these people do a remarkable job at Harvard," Cutler says. "We sometimes take a reformed veteran who has gone in the service from another college," he adds.

Since the Committee feels that all the Big Three schools offer an adequate education, there are very few transfers admitted from Yale and Princeton. This years crop comes from such diverse schools as Western Washington College of Education, the University of Nebraska, Park College in Kansas, Lowell State Teachers College, and Annapolis. The only group of schools from which the Committee would like more applications are junior colleges.

Of those transfers admitted,, almost all come to Harvard the next fall. "The people we do admit stand head and shoulders above the rest." Cutler maintains, "From the present applications, we couldn't get fifty good transfers even if we tried.

Limited Number

Of course, there will never be too many good students applying, as long as Harvard severly limits the number of transfers it accepts This restriction will continue unless undergraduate housing becomes less crowded than it now is, or unless the size of the freshman class is reduced. There is much support for such a reduction: Zeph Stewart, Senior Tutor of Adams House, for example thinks that "we should admit fewer freshman in order to admit more transfers."

The possibility of reducing the size of the incoming freshman class is very slight at this time. The reduction would have to be made from the ranks of the intellectual border-line cases, many of whom are sons of alumni. Not only does refusing alumni sons cause the Committee on Admissions much adverse criticism, but it also decreases the amount of alumni contributions. It is unlikely that the University would take this risk while it is conducting an $82.5 million fund drive.

Those applicants who finally arrive at Harvard find that there is really no special provision made for them as transfers. They are invited to attend the functions of Freshman Orientation Week if they wish, but afterwards they are on their own. Many transfers are not assigned an adviser and do not have the customary freshman adjustment aids. In addition, the transfer student is immediately faced with the problem of selecting a field of concentration, a choice that must be made earlier at Harvard than at most other colleges. He must also begin advanced course work for which he is often ill-prepared.

In spite of this difficult adjustment, the transfer usually has enough intelligence and maturity to master his new environment. The change is not made immediately, however. As Master Finley says, "Socially these people have a much harder time of it. Freshmen meet many of their friends brushing their teeth in the comunal bathrooms of their freshman dorms. Transfers do not have the social opportunities of the freshman year."

Freshman adjustment is made easier by the "We're all in the same sinking boat" feeling of the first year. By the time the transfer arrives, his classmates have already formed patterns and techniques for living their lives at Harvard; he receives relatively little empathy from those around him. The Administration does little to help him, but regards the transfer student as completely absorbed into the student body. Few House staff members are aware of a student's transfer status.

Benefits Gained

Despite the difficulties of the transfer's life, he seems to benefit from his life at Harvard. Very few transfers fail to do academically well. Overcoming the difficulties involved in transfering requires an exceptional desire to come to Harvard. Once he is here, the transfer is less likely to criticize Harvard than his classmate, who has never attended another university. The transfer has enough perspective to realize the faults inherent in a university life.

Transfers into Harvard are not very numerous and are therefore not regarded as much of a problem. However, to a large extent, the problem does not exist only because lack of housing prevents it from becoming fully formalized. A more definite transfer admission policy will have to be adopted within the the next few years as more and more students flood the colleges and greater numbers of superior students ask to transfer into Harvard. This increase will become especially noticeable with the coming vast expansion of the junior college system in the United States. Harvard will increasingly be forced to decide whether or not it is willing to decrease slightly the size of the entering freshman class in order to admit more of the highly qualified students who wish to transfer into this University.

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