At his very first GW party, junior Eric Shanks recalled a haze of pink polos and pleated skirts. Standing off to the side, wearing his heavy metal rock T-shirt, the California native knew he was not at Long Beach City College any longer.
“I remember thinking: I’m a stranger in a strange land,” he said.
Shanks, like many other transfer students, found the social adjustment to GW to be a difficult one. Though the University has taken strides to make the academic transition easier, transfer students are often left to integrate themselves into the GW community.
The University’s transfer population is a sizable minority. In the fall of 2003, GW admitted 32 percent of its transfer applicants, leading to an enrollment of 350 full-time students. While these students came from various localities and institutions, the majority was from the east coast and had transferred from other four-year universities.
On net, GW gains more students through transfers each year than it loses as a result of its above-average student retention rate. A report published by the Department of Education in 2001 found the national first-to-second year retention rate at four-year institutions to be 86 percent. GW’s corresponding rate has remained a constant 92 percent since 1998.
Trying to pinpoint a single reason why students choose to transfer into and out of GW is difficult. For students entering GW, its location in the heart of the District of Columbia is a major appeal. Although some come for the city, others are drawn by its close-to-home proximity or the academic environment.
“I wanted a better education,” said sophomore Mora Ambrey, a fall 2004 transfer student from Ithaca College. “GW is in the top 20 for international business.”
In order to help transfer students like Ambrey during their first few weeks, which many say is undeniably the most challenging time, GW offers a special day-long Colonial Inauguration. At this event, school advisors help the students register for classes and provide overviews of transcripts and general curriculum requirements. Erin Vander Vliet, an academic advisor in the Columbian College, noted that transfer CI was designed to prevent students from “falling through the cracks.”
Many GW transfer students said they faced minimal problems transferring credits. At other institutions, unrecognized credits are a common source of aggravation for transfers, and can lower a student’s academic standing. Reducing such technical problems for transfer students removes a signification burden for incoming students.
Despite GW’s efforts to make academic transition as smooth as possible, some students believe that having a separate administrative center for transfers would make the process less complicated. Some universities, particularly large public institutions, have offices specifically designed to handle transfer student services. These schools, however, have “state-mandated transfer policies from community colleges,” Undergraduate Admissions Director Kathryn Napper wrote in an e-mail.
“Since transfer students know the college process, any ‘special’ needs they may have usually need to be addressed individually rather than as a group,” she wrote. “With a fairly small number of transfer students to GW, the University does not necessarily need a transfer center.”
Debate over matters such as separate advising is reflective of a broader issue among the transfer community: how to cater to the needs of transfer students without isolating them from the general student body.
“A lot of transfers say that after they’ve been here for a semester they want to be known as GW students,” Vander Vliet said. “They don’t want to be singled out.”
During that first semester, however, there is a general consensus among transfer students that making new friends is the most difficult task at hand. Most transfers leave a well-established social network and move to a new university where they do not know anyone.
“When you come in as a junior, people are not as welcoming,” said Jay Glassie, vice president of GW Transfers. “You’re trying to do the whole freshman thing but everyone is over it.”
GW Transfers – formerly known as One Transfer at a Time (OTAT) – is a student-run organization that helps transfer students adjust to all aspects of life at GW.
“It’s very hard when you’re a transfer student to make new friends,” GW Transfers President Lily Scholz said. “That’s a big part of why GW Transfers exists: it’s a way to make friends.”
“For now, we’re basically a social group,” Glassie added. “We’re trying to move a little more towards designing an informational aspect to it.”
Aside from GW Transfers, the University does not provide any formal means to help transfer students adjust to their new social setting. In fact, some students feel that GW’s failure to provide separate transfer housing makes social integration even more challenging.
“I was in an anti-social dorm,” Shanks said. “I didn’t make any friends my first semester.”
As transfer student sentiment about separate housing is varied, GW has no plans to designate a dorm floor to transfer students.
“I think being immersed in the University environment is helpful to transfer students,” Seth Weinshel, Director of University Campus Housing, said. “Otherwise, they might only get to know other transfer students.”
Despite the initial difficulties, many transfer students said they do not regret their decision to come to GW.
“The first week, I thought, ‘Oh God, did I make the right decision?'” Ambrey said. “But I never really gave it much thought after that.”