Transfer student experience offers rewards, challenges

Sept. 17, 2013, 4:39 a.m.

When David Hoyt ’13 was 15 years old, he dropped out of high school.

In the following months, he took on a series of service-sector jobs in his New Jersey small town. He worked as a swim instructor, a lifeguard, a gardener — “things that didn’t really require any degree,” Hoyt said.

At the time, Hoyt thought his academic career was fully behind him.

“I didn’t consider going to a four-year university,“ he said. “I didn’t consider not going either. It was just sort of out of my mind at that point.”

But then, Hoyt experienced a change in perspective.

While working as a swim instructor, he became involved in a service program that taught children with mental, physical and emotional handicaps how to swim. Watching his students overcome the challenges in their lives, whether it was autism spectrum disorder or missing limbs, convinced Hoyt that he could do the same.

“All of them were successful, mostly due to their determination,” Hoyt said. “It sort of hit me and went through my mind day after day: ‘In my life, what was so hard that I can’t get back on the proverbial train and try to figure out what I had done wrong in the past?’

“So my students inspired me to go back to school.”

Hoyt took the high school equivalency GED test, enrolled at a local New Jersey community college, audited courses at the nearby Rutgers University, participated in a Chinese language immersion course at Middlebury College and decided that he would try his hardest to transfer into a four-year university.

And three years later, just days before his graduation from junior college, Hoyt received the verdict: He had gained admission into his top-choice university, Stanford, and would begin courses in the fall of 2010.

“At first, I just thought that it was the most polite rejection letter that I had ever received,” Hoyt said about receiving an emailed acceptance letter, which he initially sent straight to his spam box. “But when I figured out exactly what had happened, my heart froze, and I started yelling and screaming and rejoicing.”

He graduated from Stanford last spring with a degree in international relations and completed the Center for International Security and Cooperation honors program.

For students like Hoyt, who have either unusual life circumstances or compelling academic needs not met by their current institution, the university’s transfer admission process can provide an alternative route to becoming a Stanford undergraduate besides entering as a freshman right out of high school.

(DURAN ALVAREZ/The Stanford Daily)
(Duran Alvarez/The Stanford Daily)


Reasons to transfer

Each student has his or her own reason for choosing to transfer to Stanford.

Take Derrick Staten ’13.

As a high school senior, Staten didn’t even consider applying to any universities outside of the Midwest where he grew up. While he was having a pleasant experience at the school that he ultimately enrolled at, Loyola University Chicago, its academic offerings were slim in the field he truly wished to study, Russian affairs.

Staten said he applied to transfer into Stanford after learning about the academic resources specific to Russian affairs that would be available to him: the Stanford U.S.-Russia Forum, the Hoover Archives and the Center for Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies.

Or consider Sage Cammers-Goodwin ’16, who begins her first quarter at Stanford this fall.

After her junior year in high school, Cammers-Goodwin felt prepared to embark on her college career but knew most four-year universities advise applicants not to cut short their high school years. Bard College at Simon’s Rock, however, is specifically designed to cater toward students who want an early start on college.

The college offered Cammers-Goodwin admission and a generous financial aid package, which ended up proving irresistible. She enrolled at Bard College at Simon’s Rock that fall but always hoped to transfer into a school like Stanford.

“Transfer rates to universities are kind of scary,” Cammers-Goodwin said. “I knew in the long run that my chances at getting into a really great university might in some ways be lessened by going to Bard College at Simon’s Rock, but I decided that it was really worth it because I wanted to go to college early.”

Their paths to Stanford may be different, but transfer students do share one quality in common: They have all surmounted improbable odds to arrive at the Farm. Acceptance rates at Stanford for transfer students are notoriously lower than those for first-time students.


Trends in transfer acceptance

This year, Stanford offered admission to 33 transfers students from a pool of 1,663 applicants, which netted a transfer acceptance rate of around 1.98 percent, according to Richard Shaw, dean of Undergraduate Admission.

For a point of comparison: During the same admissions cycle, Stanford admitted 5.69 percent of its freshman applicants.

The gap between acceptance rates for transfer and for first-time applicants, respectively, has persisted for at least the past five admission cycles: 1.92 percent and 7.97 percent in 2009, 1.99 percent and 7.31 percent in 2010, 4.1 percent and 7.1 percent in 2011 and 2.25 percent and 6.61 percent in 2012.

According to Shaw, the Office of Undergraduate Admission sets a target annually for the number of transfer acceptances, which is based on the total enrollment of undergraduates at the university as well as the availability of on-campus residential spaces.

In recent years, two major factors have contributed to the low number of transfer students admitted.

First, very few Stanford undergrads who enter as freshmen ever choose to drop out. High freshman-to-sophomore year retention rates, which have historically hovered at around 98 percent, mean few slots ever open up for transfer students to fill.

And secondly, in the last few admission cycles, the University has experienced higher-than-anticipated yield rates for prospective freshmen.

Most notably, the Office of Undergraduate Admission choose to cut the size of its transfer class in half  — from 58 admits in 2011 to 34 admits in 2012 — because its freshman matriculation rate had increased nearly three percent between those two years.

Sally Mentzer, who works at Undergraduate Advising and Research as the transfer advising coordinator, said that, despite being small in number, transfer students play an important role in the Stanford community.

“They have a lot of life experience, which they can share with their class,” Mentzer said about transfer students. “Also, it takes a lot of courage to transfer from one institution to another. I think in general, they tend to be really appreciative of Stanford.”

She admitted, however, that she would like to see more transfer students on campus.


The admissions process

Stanford’s transfer admission cycle unofficially begins in April of the preceding year.

Mentzer said she and several current transfer students meet with the admission staff to discuss what the university would like to see in that cycle’s transfer student cohort.

For the past several admission cycles, Stanford’s priorities for each transfer class have tended to revolve around four major categories: two-year community college students, four-year university students who have specific reasons to transfer into Stanford, nontraditional students and, increasingly, U.S. veterans.

In past years, the University has only extended offers to one or two veterans to join Stanford’s transfer class. This year, however, six veterans received offers of transfer admission.

“I think part of that is due to an outreach by some of our former veteran transfer students who let current veterans know that Stanford is a really good place to come to,” Mentzer said.

Applications for transfer students close in March, and Stanford extends its admission offers in May. Accepted students have until June 1 to submit intent to register.

For some students like Staten, choosing to enroll at Stanford is “a no-brainer.”

On the strength of its Russian-related programs, Staten said he only applied to transfer to Stanford and thought he would graduate from Loyola University Chicago otherwise.

“I looked at a number of other universities,” Staten said. “But I thought: ‘Why make the huge effort to transfer unless I’m getting into a substantially better situation?’”

Cammers-Goodwin, however, carefully deliberated her options before making a decision about to which university she would attend.

It came down to Stanford and Yale, Cammers-Goodwin said.

While Stanford had always been her top pick, Cammers-Goodwin said she was temporarily swayed by Yale’s decision to include a personalized, hand-written note and school flag in her admission package.

“Yale’s [admission package] was very good at kind of making you feel a part of the culture at the school,” Cammers-Goodwin said. “At Stanford, it seemed more like it was welcoming you into the university, and kind of, once you confirm your decision, you would become more a part of the community.”

Cammers-Goodwin ended up sharing these feelings with Mentzer, which led her to chose Stanford. Mentzer said this perception does not reflect the truth and is something that the university will be actively working to correct for the next admission cycle.

“I thought was pretty funny,” Menzter said. “I know the admission officers and how excited they get about transfer students once they’ve chosen them.”


Easing the transition to the Farm

Stanford administrators’ excitement about transfer students continues as they prepare for the admitted to arrive on campus, Mentzer said.

After conducting an initial evaluation, the Registrar’s Office staff works with students at determining which courses from previous institutions that Stanford will accept for credit towards graduation. This is often an ad hoc process, and students are able to present course syllabi and negotiate with the staff if there are questions, Mentzer said.

The transfer credit evaluation process can be a burden, according to graduated transfer students, but the staff tends to be flexible and emphasizes putting transfer students on the best footing possible in order to graduate on time.

“It’s a bit of work, but Stanford is not the only school that does it,” Hoyt said.

In August, administrators organize a Transfer Visit Day, which is analogous to Admit Weekend for prospective freshmen. The one-day event includes an informal patio dinner the preceding night, a campus tour and a series of academic sessions.

Transfer students then arrive one week before classes commence in September in order to attend New Student Orientation, which includes events geared specifically towards them.

In their first year, most transfer students are housed at Kimball House, the arts-themed dorm in East Campus. Transfer students older than 25 or with families, however, may choose to live in graduate housing, such as in Escondido Village (EV).

Regardless of where they are housed, transfer students all receive card-key access to Kimball, where transfer community-bonding events are held.

According to Rodger Whitney, executive director of Residential & Dining Enterprises Student Housing, Kimball was chosen as the site for most transfer students so they could be with other undergraduates and also close to the rest of transfer students who stay at EV.

The dorm’s reputation as one of the more conducive for studying likely also played a role, according to Mentzer. She said in previous years, when transfer students were larger in number, they were housed at different dormitories across campus.

“We did have some complaints from some of the junior students who were housed in dorms with freshmen,” Mentzer said. “It wasn’t very quiet, and they were kind of beyond that.

“I think Kimball is a good bonding kind of place, and it’s also a little quieter than some of the other places,” she added.

Menzter also works on matching each transfer student with an academic adviser, carefully pouring over admission essays and supplemental forms to find a member of the Stanford faculty who is a best fit for the student based on academic interests and personal needs.

During this process, Menzter said she is particularly aware of students who are transferring from community college.

“I think that for junior and community college students, there may be more of a fear [about] if they can make it than other students admitted right out of high school,” Mentzer said.

“I try to choose their advisers very carefully,” she said. “I also look at their academic performance each quarter, and then, reach out to them if some challenges do develop.”


Forging a new academic path

Hoyt admitted the jump from community college classes to Stanford courses was initially jarring. He said the biggest differences between the two came in the volume of work and the heightened expectations of quality.

The latter was true especially when it came to writing assignments, Hoyt said.

“At Stanford, I wrote a couple of papers, and TAs just lanced my argument,” Hoyt said. “I was forced really quickly to almost relearn how to write. And I’m really glad that I did because it made the rest of my Stanford career easier.”

But perhaps, the most difficult challenge for transfer students doesn’t come from the courses themselves, but planning out their courses, so they can graduate on time.

This is a particularly pressing concern because Stanford’s financial aid policy is only automatic for undergraduates who have attended college for 12 or fewer quarters. If transfer students need more time to complete their degree, they may fear losing this source of funding.

But Director of Financial Aid Karen Cooper said that there is some leeway for students.

According to Cooper, students needing to stay at Stanford for an extended period of time can submit an academic plan, outlining their intended course schedule signed off by their academic adviser, to the Office of Financial Aid.

As long as the students are not pursuing a minor, a co-term or a second major, they may receive aid past the 12th quarter to complete their degree.

“They might start to see some loans being added to their financial aid package, and the amount of scholarships that they are being offered might be reduced as time goes by,” Cooper said.

But even if they do receive additional aid, there is still the fact that transfer students will have less time to explore Stanford than the rest of their peers.

“They make a point to tell us when we came for our transfer student orientation: Stanford students hit the ground running,” Hoyt said. “And transfer students have to sprint the entire time.”

For instance, in order to make sure he would have time to study abroad, Hoyt said he submitted an application for the Bing Overseas Study Program during his fourth week at Stanford.

Despite their reduced time at the Farm, all transfer students interviewed said they were grateful for their Stanford experience and wouldn’t exchange it for anything.

“I realize that, had I been there for four years, I could’ve had a bit more time to figure out what I wanted to major in,” Staten said. “But there’s nothing that I regret as far as how it played out.

“We are made to feel a part of the Stanford community, a strong part of it. And I’d say, along with most of transfers I know, we are super excited to have the opportunity and are very humbled.”

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