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After Transferring, a Shorter Career at Harvard

By Madeline R. Conway, Contributing Writer

For his first two years of college, David H. A. LeBoeuf ’13 ate lunch in one dining hall and attended classes in just three academic buildings.

By his sophomore year, he felt ready to leave Clark University in his hometown of Worcester, Mass. But Harvard was not on his radar screen. He thought Harvard did not even accept transfer students. Then a friend at Harvard sent him a Crimson article—“College To Resume Accepting Transfer Applications.”

“That’s what really got me to look at it,” LeBoeuf said. “And here I am.”

LeBoeuf was right that Harvard had suspended its transfer admissions program in 2008, due to a lack of available student housing. But since 2010, when LeBoeuf was accepted, Harvard has accepted 13 to 15 transfer students each year, a minuscule 1 to 2 percent of those who apply.

Since 2010, the three tiny classes of transfer students have made their mark on Harvard. Coming to the College after the normally formative freshman year, these students have learned how to make the most out of Harvard in about half the time.

NEVER A FRESHMAN

Transfer students miss out on the freshman experience of living in the Yard, forming a blocking group, and joining a new community on Housing Day.

Even so, transfer students become a part of student life at Harvard, said Director of Transfer Advising Carlos E. Díaz Rosillo.

“It’s remarkable that they really become integrated into the Harvard College community and their House community very quickly,” Díaz Rosillo said. “There isn’t a cohort of transfers that remains in sort of the transfer mentality or the transfer mode for a long time.”

Transfer students find a new sense of community through a variety of avenues, from sports teams to the Houses themselves. Ali A. Farag ’14, a squash player who transferred from the American University in Cairo, found that living in Quincy alongside several members of his team eased his transition, and Katherine M. Fair ’14 said walking onto the lightweight crew team helped her after she came from the University of California, Berkeley. For LeBoeuf, who is also an inactive Crimson news writer, new friends in Pforzheimer House were key.

After Sarah L. A. Erwin ’13 transferred to Harvard, she was able to join the Harvard chapter of the same sorority she was in at Johns Hopkins University, Kappa Kappa Gamma. She said she found Harvard as a whole to be welcoming to transfer students.

“People assumed when they met me that it must be extra hard [to transition], because we’re at a school where friendships are made so soon, and you pick people that you’re going to be living with in your House for your time in college your freshman year,” Erwin said. “I think people maybe overcompensated because they thought that might be the case, but people were so unbelievably nice.”

SECOND TIME AROUND

Christine G. Mascolo, the director of transfer admissions, vets the application of every accepted transfer student. She has noticed that they tend to be more focused when it comes to academics. They have already spent time in college, and as sophomores or juniors, they will have much less time to declare their Harvard concentrations.

Part of what drove LeBoeuf to apply to Harvard was academic intent. At Clark, LeBoeuf’s academic interests fell between departments. Once he came to Harvard as a second-semester sophomore—Harvard gave him three semesters of credit for the classes he took in two years at Clark—the social studies program offered him a chance to study an interdisciplinary field and ultimately write a thesis.

Mascolo said that just by applying to transfer, many students demonstrate an awareness of what they want from their education. Going through the college application process a second time requires students to reevaluate their goals, she said.

Erwin said that the transfer process was a learning experience. “[Applying to transfer] wasn’t anything I really thought I would do, just because you go through the college process once,” Erwin said. “You hope that’s the one and only time.... But it provided me with a really good avenue for introspection, I think, to look at the kind of things I gained from Hopkins, the kind of things I wanted to change, and the things I wished were different.”

HITTING THE GROUND RUNNING

With one or two fewer years to participate in College life, transfer students are often eager to dive into Harvard’s activities right away.

“These are students who are going to need to hit the ground running, both academically and socially,” Mascolo said. “When they get here, I feel like they take advantage of every opportunity that comes their way.”

Not only has Farag won a national title in squash his first year at Harvard, but he has also become interested in researching solar energy.

“I’m trying to take advantage of every resource we have here, because I know that I have one year less,” Farag said.

Erwin initially participated in many extracurricular activities including theater, choir, and the Mission Hill After-School Program.

“I definitely had a bit of a ‘freshman year’ my sophomore year when I joined a million different groups,” she said. “It was really amazing, because I had so many things I knew I was going to join before I got here, and then I found so many other things I didn’t even know existed before coming here.”

Arriving from a small school, LeBoeuf also said Harvard presented opportunities he had not been exposed to before. He comped The Crimson, ran for the Undergraduate Council, and taught civics through the Institute of Politics, plus traveled to Chile over J-term.

“It’s a new excitement,” LeBoeuf said of the opportunities at Harvard. “There are so many things, depending on where you’re coming from, you may not have had....It’s like opening your eyes to a whole world you didn’t even know existed.”

Two and a half years later, LeBoeuf no longer identifies himself as a transfer student when he first meets someone. Instead of a transfer from Clark, he is now a senior at Harvard.

“[Coming to Harvard is] something that four years ago when I was applying for college, I never expected would happen,” LeBoeuf said. “Now here I am, a senior, working on a thesis, having done activities and fellowships. It’s just not a part of my life that I expected, but I can’t think of myself without Harvard anymore.”

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