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A Whole New World

Each semester, transfer students breathe new life into the Harvard community

By Charles G. Kels

Adam S. Hickey '99 felt like a traitor.

Hickey, who transferred to Harvard last fall, knew his days at Davidson College were numbered. But he kept that secret from even his closest friends.

"Throughout the year, I wore two faces--the Davidson face and the transfer face," he says. "I felt dishonest and dirty."

Hickey, who became a Crimson editor his first semester here, chose to give up the familiarity and security of attending a college close to home, where he had made several close friends, for the challenge of studying at Harvard.

The Currier House sophomore set foot in Cambridge in September having never received the College handbook, the course catalog or the Unofficial Guide. And he hadn't yet passed the QRR.

It wasn't the easiest task, but Hickey and 101 other transfer students are now completing their first semester. And while some of the students interviewed have complaints about the transfer process, its advising program and the Harvard bureaucracy, none of them would trade their experiences for the world.

"At Harvard, the levels of bureaucracy are amazing," Hickey says. "No one said, 'Here I am, let me coddle you.' It's not comfortable [being on my own], but it's a part of growing up."

Smoothing the Transition

Mari E. Foreman '99 also transfered from a small school--Pepperdine College in southern California. She, too, missed the personal touch of her old school.

"By the time I left Pepperdine, I had eaten dinner in all five of my professor's homes," Foreman says. "There were no TF's, and there was a greater sense of school community. There were times when the entire student body came together."

Foreman, a native of Washington state, says the assignments and reading lists at Harvard are larger than at Pepperdine. But the school's small class sizes, she says, prepared her well academically.

Her greatest Harvard challenge was that she needed to choose a concentration within five weeks after starting classes. "You feel a little rushed," she says.

The Winthrop House sophomore says she regrets missing the uniquely first-year experience of living in Harvard Yard and eating in Annenberg Hall. But, she adds, she has become integrated into campus life because "all sophomores are new to the houses anyway. That's the way to do it--splitting up transfers and tying them immediately to the community."

Gene C. McAfee, co-ordinator of transfer students and visiting undergraduates, agrees: "A decade ago, transfer students didn't live in the houses. It used to be that they were kept in a class by themselves and held a little bit apart. Now the direction of the college is to integrate transfers quickly and smoothly into the houses."

McAfee organizes two events to help transfers get through those crucial first weeks of school--a lengthy meeting outlining the College's expectations and regulations and a dinner at Pforzheimer House with senior tutors and concentration heads.

Senior tutors serve as transfers' guidance counselors, meeting with them individually to sign study cards and to help choose concentrations and classes.

Kirkland House Senior Tutor Mark P. Risinger says: "I'm sure some of them do feel rushed. But that's simply a fact of trying to get caught up. Transfers are ready for that challenge--I'm sure they didn't apply to Harvard on a whim."

All first-year orientation programs are open to transfers, and an outdoor program is sponsored specifically for them each year, McAfee says.

'An Easy Transfer'

Transfer Link is another informal program whereby upperclass transfers meet with incoming ones to offer advice and support in the hopes of assimilating students.

Derek M. Glanz '96, the program's director, says Link leads parties, runs and extracurricular advising panel, hands out maps, sponsors trips into Boston and throws an ice cream bash. Each house has at least one Link representative, he says.

"Transferring can be a difficult adjustment," he says. "Harvard is not a typical university. The social life is a little skewed compared to other schools."

Glanz says his dedication to the Link program stems from his own experiences as a new transfer.

"On the eve of classes my first year, my Link helped me pick the right courses," he said. "The jargon for fields of concentration is confusing as hell, but my Link sorted it all out for me. Life at Harvard would have been miserable had the program not existed for me. Without the Transfer Link, I don't know what I would have done."

David H. Goldbrenner '97 transferred from Cornell University midway through his sophomore year. Because of a bureaucratic snafu, he spent his first 10 days here living on the floor of a Quincy House common room.

But Goldbrenner, a Crimson editor, says that the mishap hasn't soured his overall college experience.

"People here already have a skewed view," he says. "They think every school is like this. Transfers bring a unique perspective. Sometimes students will complain to me...and I think, 'You should've been at Cornell.'"

Daniel I. Freeman '97, who transferred from the University of Pennsylvania because of Harvard's excellent humanities program and musical opportunities, says he's had an easy transition.

Freeman is from the Boston area, and his father attended Harvard. Freeman took off the first semester of his sophomore year before matriculating, and he used that time to work as a Sunday school teacher, bus boy, musician and guide at the Museum of Comparative Zoology.

Before he ever attended a class, Freeman had played bass guitar for the annual Hasty Pudding show. "I had a whole term to come here and be around. For me, it was an easy transfer."

But Freeman admits he had trouble adjusting to Harvard's social scene. "There is some truth to the statement that Harvard has no social life," he says. "Here, most people are always on the move."

Guidance Problems

It was more difficult for Haverford College transfer Amanda K. Bean '97.

Bean, a mid-year transfer, says she had only two days to choose her concentration. After deciding on history and literature, the Dunster House resident says, she was told offhandedly that she would have to submit an application and undergo an interview the next morning.

"No one tells anything to transfers. Harvard does really almost nothing to help people adjust. I felt left out on my own--I wasn't prepared for that," Bean says. "I think it should be made clear that resources are available, but no effort was made."

Overwhelmingly, the chief complaint of transfers concerns what they perceive as a lack of guidance from their advisors.

When Chirag R. Shah '99 transferred from the California Technical Institute, he ran into problems similar to Bean's.

Shah transferred after deciding he no longer wanted a career in science. He says he wanted to concentrate in government at Harvard, but such a move would have left him no room for electives.

So he remained a science concentrator.

He says he often wondered during orientation week what he had gotten himself into.

"At the time that I first got here, I was upset by the way they treated us. I got here a week earlier than most sophomores just to go to a three-hour meeting. The only thing we had to go to was that information meeting, and then we were given a freshman orientation pamphlet and left on our own," he says. "I was thinking, 'Why am I here?'"

Transfer students, who tend to group together and befriend each other, have far fewer complaints about Harvard's occasionally quirky social scene.

Glanz says many transfers meet during Transfer Link's year-opening events and stay together because they have much in common.

"I think that with transfer students, there seems to be a greater concentration of active, or social, personalities than with other students," Glanz says. "Most other schools are a lot more social [events] than Harvard."

Shah says: "The only friends we had at the beginning were each other. We were all lost and hanging around together."

Rosemary M. Green, director of transfer student admissions, says she looks for students who will make a contribution to the Harvard community.

Since 1994, Harvard has admitted roughly 110 to 120 transfers each year, a decrease of about 15 students from previous levels.

Green says her office gives the nod to "interesting and talented people," adding that they come from all walks of life.

"From ballet dancers to chess players to people in the military, many transfers do bring some special experience that students directly from high school cannot," Green says. "Some transfers have very well-developed thinking along a particular line and have already decided the particular interests they have come here to develop. Some bring non-traditional experience beyond the classroom--they have started a business or worked professionally as musicians.

"Transfer students bring a great deal of enthusiasm here. Their special perspective contributes to the life of the College," she says.

But the number of transfer students accepted has been on the decline since the early 1990s, while the number of applicants has actually increased.

In 1995, only 9.6 percent of transfer applicants were admitted, down from 12.2 percent in 1991.

First-year dormitories have been renovated Green says, creating more space for first-years, whose rising numbers leave less room for transfer students in the houses.

And 30 more first-years will be admitted next year and housed in Apley Court. In order to make room for the new first-years, transfer acceptances will be cut even further.

Unique Perspective

But some transfers, including Goldbrenner, believe Byerly Hall is making a mistake.

Reducing transfer admissions "is a bad idea," Goldbrenner says. "Transfers contribute a lot to this school."

Shameel Arafin '97 left Cal Tech after his junior year, abandoning the prospects of a career in electrical engineering to study literature.

Having seen life at another school, he says, has helped him realize the benefits of attending Harvard, which he has found a lot of fun.

"In my class at Cal Tech, only 30 percent were women, and that was the highest percentage ever," Arafin says. "Here, I can go out into Boston and party quite a bit."

Arafin says he's happy he transferred. But he says he still doesn't always feel fully part of the Harvard community.

"Once you're here, you ask yourself, 'Where else would I want to be?'" says the Currier House resident. "But maybe I'm still missing that Crimson spirit. Somehow people with fierce Crimson pride can be a little dismissive of transfer students.

"They somehow feel cheated. They think we couldn't get in through the front door, so we came in through the back, taking someone else's place," he says.

After a few months on campus, most transfers feel they have found their niche. And they've learned that there's place for everyone.

"I tended to think that there was only one type of Harvard student--upper-middle-class and on their way to an MBA," says Hickey, who visited his old school over intersession. "But there is no typical Harvard student. That's where I was wrong."

"It's been great."

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