For many students, GW is the place to be. The location, programs and opportunities draw students from across the world to the University, and students often say their time at GW was a great experience.
Many, but not all.
Roughly 9 percent of students choose to leave GW after their freshman year, according to data from GW’s Office of Institutional Research and Planning. In 2007, the most recent academic year with available data, GW had a 91.1 percent first-year retention rate. Retention rates track the number of students who stay at a university from year to year, and include transfers, medical and family emergencies and other leaves of absence.
That rate is comparable to other similar city institutions, like New York University or Boston University, which see between 8 and 9 percent of their students transfer. But even with GW’s similar transfer rate, every school has students who leave, and GW transfers reported varying reasons for their departure.
A 2003 University study found that students from all backgrounds, locations and dormitories were opting out of a GW education. One of the only consistent trends was among students in the School of Engineering and Applied Science, who tended to transfer more than Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, Elliott School of International Affairs or School of Business students.
In addition, students who live in GW’s “primary recruitment market – Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia – are more likely to remain at GW than those who are not from those states,” according to the report.
Spencer Stolle transferred to Georgetown after his freshman year at GW. He is now a junior majoring in finance at the school.
“For me, I came into GW with the intention to transfer,” Stolle said.
“I loved GW, there was nothing necessarily wrong with the school itself, I just wanted more of a college experience and a little less city,” he said.
Some of GW’s transfers interviewed said the University was a second, third or fourth choice that offered a great aid or scholarship package.
“I knew GW wouldn’t be right for me when I visited as a junior in high school. When [Georgetown] and Columbia didn’t come through, the acceptance to the honors program along with the merit scholarship started to look pretty seductive,” said Allie Wollner, now a senior at Brown University. “I thought that I would just go to GW and make it work, despite the fact that I never felt an affinity to the University from the start.”
Wollner soon found out that she could not make GW work and submitted transfer applications during her freshman year.
“I ended up staying at GW for the first half of my sophomore year because Brown offered me second semester entrance, but I knew by the first week of October of my freshman year that I wanted to transfer,” she said.
The desire for more traditional collegiate experiences is a recurring one among students, but for every student the choice to transfer is different. Mark Garibyan, a junior, said he transferred for financial reasons and now attends Brandeis University in Massachusetts.
Wollner, an English major with a focus on creative non-fiction writing, said she transferred because she did not seem to click with other GW students.
“I never felt like I was on the same wavelength as the rest of the student body, which seemed to be divided into two categories: incredibly motivated and involved individuals who were ambitiously pursuing careers in politics, business, and law, or students who were just looking to have a good time and get through college with as little effort as possible,” she said.
While students can technically transfer any time during their academic career, most choose to transfer after freshman year, so they have enough time to establish themselves at a new university.
When Dean of Freshmen Fred Siegel hears a student is looking to transfer, he said he tries to meet with the student to help them work out problems or plan for their future.
“I meet with about 35 to 40 freshmen per year who are interested in transferring to another school: the great majority of them tell me they love GW but are still looking for a school they perceive to be more prestigious; many of those 40 apply to Ivies or equally selective institutions, try their luck and see what happens,” Siegel said. “Most remain here and are pleased to do so. Some of these students were wait-listed at those schools as high school seniors and have still not gone beyond their disappointments.”
If a student is sure in their decision to transfer, Siegel said he urges him or her to wait until the year is over, to assess the whole GW experience, he said.
“I always advise students to make their decisions to leave after they have completed the whole year and can look back to assess the entire experience,” he said. “It is hasty to make any decisions in October, when the environment is still so new. I am pleased to speak with anyone who wants to discuss such a decision… my goal is to find the best place for a student to be successful.”
Associate Vice President for Student and Academic Support Services Peter Konwerski said not everyone finds a perfect match with GW, but the University offers a range of support services for students who are just having trouble adjusting to college life.
“There are a number of factors that go into choosing a college and there are equally as many that play into having success on campus and in your transition to college life,” he said in an e-mail. “We support the goal that every student aims to achieve their optimal academic goal and find the right experience that meets their ultimate personal and professional goals.”
Konwerski said, “For some that means making choices about different schools that are not exactly what GW provides – smaller or larger, more or less rural, state vs. private.”