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Without Transfers, Will the College Miss Out on the Next Kennedy?

By Arianna Markel, Crimson Staff Writer

When a football player at Northwestern University named Clifton Dawson decided to transfer to the Ivy League in 2003, Harvard was not his first choice.

“At the time, I was giving a lot of consideration to Princeton,” Dawson said last week. “But at the time they had a policy where they were not accepting transfer students for the next two years even though the football staff wanted me there.”

Princeton’s loss was Harvard’s gain. Dawson went on to set the Ivy League single-season rushing record for the Crimson, graduated in 2007, and now plays for the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts

But now that Harvard has followed Princeton’s lead, announcing two weeks ago that it will suspend transfer admissions for the next two years, Dawson’s story raises a question: what potential stars is Harvard going to miss out on?

“That’s a shame,” Dawson said of the new admissions policy, “because Harvard accepts so few transfer students anyway, and the ones that they do accept are particularly exceptional.”

John F. Kennedy ’40, Henry A. Kissinger ’50, and W.E.B. Du Bois, Class of 1890, are among Harvard’s most notable graduates. All started their collegiate careers at another school before transfering to the University.

Du Bois, the prominent civil rights leader who helped found the NAACP, initially received a degree from Fisk University in 1888. After graduating from Fisk, Du Bois received a scholarship from Harvard and earned his second bachelor’s degree from the College.

Kennedy initially enrolled at Princeton in the fall of 1935. Less than two months later, he was hospitalized with jaundice and subsequently left school. The next year, he enrolled at Harvard as a freshman. Harvard’s graduate school of government now bears his name.

Kissinger’s career at the City College of New York was cut short when he was drafted into the U.S. armed forces during World War II. When the war ended, Kissinger resumed his academic career at Harvard, and graduated summa cum laude. Kissinger later became secretary of state and an influential negotiator throughout the Cold War.

Even disregarding last week’s announcement, Du Bois would not be admitted to the College today, because under current admissions policies, students cannot transfer to Harvard College after receiving a degree elsewhere.

While Kissinger would have qualified for transfer under recent policies, even he would be rejected under the current transfer moratorium.

But Kennedy could still hypothetically apply to Harvard despite this year’s transfer moratorium. If a student has not yet completed a year at another post-secondary school, the student can still apply to Harvard as a freshman—though the student would not receive credit for work done at another institution, according to Director of Admissions Marlyn McGrath ’70.

—Staff writer Arianna Markel can be reached at

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