Connecticut College Magazine · Spring 2006

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Changing course: CC students talk about why they transferred here

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Changing course

Changing course
Russell Chase ´07. Photo by Gale Zucker.

CC students talk about why they transferred here.

By Amy Rogers Nazarov ´90


It would appear that the psych major, the biological sciences major and the English major have little in common.

Lounging before class in their colorful Larrabee triple, Jess Lawson ´08, Kim McCabe ´07 and Sarah Currie ´07 explain the foundation of the friendship that unifies them more than their academic pursuits: they all transferred to Connecticut College, and they are all delighted that they did.

At a school where virtually every upper-class student enjoys his or her own room, they find themselves explaining their transfer status repeatedly. “No one knows I am a junior,” says Currie. But it´s all worth it for the “welcoming environment” the women say they´ve found at Connecticut College.

Whether an urban campus is too hectic, a fraternity-driven social life too confining, a campus ideology out of alignment with a student´s own, or a sea of fellow freshmen too overwhelming to navigate, one or two dozen transfer students arrive at CC each year in a bid to better align the college they attend with the academic and social goals most dear to them.

Transfer students “typically have learned a lot about themselves through their desire to transfer,” says Dean of Admission and Financial Aid Martha Merrill ´84. “The college application process ideally should be a journey of self-discovery, but [the transfer process] takes it to a whole new level.”

According to Director of Admission Tim Cheney ´93, an average of 174 would-be transfers seek admission to the College each fall; about 28 of them — or 16 percent — are accepted. For enrollment beginning in the spring semester, an average of 37 students apply, with 11 — or 29.7 percent — accepted.

Students transfer in or out of Connecticut College in roughly equal numbers each academic year, notes Associate Dean of the College Philip Ray, who has advised transfer students at CC since 1979. Their decision to change schools, he says, often boils down to “correcting a mistake they made in high school.”

Case in point: Erika Pond ´06, who attended a small prep school in Arizona prior to enrolling at Penn State University, thought that being part of a student body numbering in the tens of thousands “would be a really good way to meet a lot of people.” Yet soon after matriculating there, Pond contacted pals from home who had chosen Bowdoin, Bates and CC. The campus atmospheres they described, in which students “talked about serious issues” and were encouraged to explore a wide range of subjects, appealed to Pond and prompted her to research the transfer process.

Russell Chase ´07 “was addicted to surfing” and lacrosse, he says, discussing how he first chose Pepperdine University as a high school student in Hingham, Mass. He admired Pepperdine´s academic rigor and enjoyed the easy access to Los Angeles but decided to switch to Conn because “it´s a much smaller school and it´s much easier to get integrated into the system.

Yet “I am very glad I had the experience at both schools,” adds Chase, who plans to pursue an MBA in California after graduation. “The transfer process has helped shape what I want to do after college.”

Ultimately, switching colleges midstream is about “making the decision to look at your situation and say, ´I need to change this,´” says McCabe, who spent a year at Boston University, then one semester at University of Massachusetts at Boston and one in the SEA Semester program before matriculating at CC in the fall of 2005. “You have to do it for yourself. When I was still in high school, my mom escorted me around to many different schools. I was really overwhelmed by [the range of possibilities].”

Dean Ray says that parental influence is a potent force behind some high school students´ decisions about where to attend college, and, for better or worse, a factor that may lead them to transfer to — or from — Connecticut College.

“I remember a young man here a few years back who wanted to go to UC Berkeley,” Ray recounts. “His parents, who both attended Berkeley, nevertheless had this mythical vision of ´backeasttoschool,´ which this kid said was spoken as one word in his house. I remember him calling me and saying, ´I know it may break my parents´ hearts, but Conn is the wrong place for me.´” The student later wrote to Dean Ray after beginning his sophomore year at Berkeley, saying he was “as happy as he thought he´d be.”

Transferring often goes hand-in-hand with defying parental wishes. Describing her mother and father as “practical people” who both attended large state universities, Pond says they “had this stereotype of the small New England college. They thought I was trying to be dependent on some sort of fake reality,” an ivory-tower environment where students were more “pampered” than was good for them.

Pond has reveled in her CC experience, plunging into rigorous pre-med classes, founding a club for snowboarding enthusiasts, exploring a newfound interest in film and working on public relations for the Student Government Association. “I enjoy having a lot of different things going on, and I think my parents are proud of the fact that I made my own choices,” she reflects.

Students who transfer to Connecticut College point to the stimulation that comes from living, studying and socializing with a community of students with limitless interests and passions.

As a freshman at Goucher College in Baltimore, “I felt challenged in the classroom, but not by my peers,” says Lawson. “Conn just attracts a very outgoing, motivated, involved student. It´s reflected in the social life here.” Lawson reluctantly went along with Goucher friends to urban dance clubs but says she feels more comfortable with the menu of activities on CC´s campus.

There´s room for Thursday night kegs, agreed the students, but there is also widespread support on campus for more intellectual pursuits: lectures, films, a cappella concerts and other events where alcohol is not featured.

On any day at CC, plenty of thought-provoking discourse is taking place outside the classroom. “We´ll go out to Bangkok City [restaurant in New London], and over dinner, someone will talk about a beatnik writer from the ´60s, and someone else will talk about a contemporary political activist, and someone else will talk about death-metal culture,” says Jonathan Tortora ´07, a junior who spent his first semester at New York´s Fordham University and at CC is designing a major that examines art and music therapy´s impact on different socioeconomic groups. “It´s incredibly intellectually stimulating here,” says the West Haven, Conn. native. “People talk about issues and ideas, and that´s tough to find at a lot of schools.”

Cheney believes that faculty members´ availability to students is another aspect of the sense of community for which many transfers yearn before they move to CC.

“The way our academic program operates, you´ve got faculty/student advising, research opportunities, internships, small classes,” he says. The possibility of forming close ties with faculty and staff “would be especially true and more significant to students coming from large universities” than it would in those transferring from another small college, he adds.

Connecticut´s Chinese department was a big draw for Heather Munro ´08, who spent her first semester of freshman year at Barnard College and the second in a Chinese-language immersion program at Yale University, in her hometown of New Haven, Conn. Classes at Barnard were largely taught by teaching assistants, Munro recalls, and she felt that Barnard´s administration was “really inaccessible” compared to what she knew of Connecticut College, from which her mother Lynda Batter Munro ´76 graduated.

“I liked that people were doing integrated majors here, and I felt like Conn could give me academic freedom without leaving me completely on my own,” says Munro, who hopes to spend her junior year studying abroad in China.

Likewise, academic reasons — and a touch of homesickness — largely drove Currie´s decision to transfer to Conn. There “wasn´t much of an art program” at Richmond, Ind.´s Earlham College, says Currie, an art minor and English major who is an editor at Exposé, a student-run literary journal. “I´m interested in creative writing, and I love the English department here. I´m taking a class with [Roman and Tatiana Weller Professor of English and writer-in-residence] Blanche Boyd now.”

Indeed, Conn´s transfer students routinely say that barriers between teachers and students — or among students in different class years — are much less prevalent at Connecticut than at their home schools: those institutions where they began their college years.

“Last year, I was best friends with freshmen and seniors,” says Tortora, who explains that the social landscape at Fordham was more segmented by class year. “What matters is what you bring to the table, what you can teach others and what you can learn from others.”

McCabe´s original decision to attend BU was based partly on its proximity to her hometown of Pembroke, Mass., and the fact that her boyfriend from high school had also been accepted. “I got into Conn in high school, but the draw of the big city — the lights and the magic — was really strong,” she adds. Recalling BU classes with hundreds and hundreds of other freshmen and the sense of feeling like “just a number,” McCabe notes a key contrast with CC.

“I appreciate Connecticut so much,” she says. “I have two years to do what everybody else does in four. I do not take a single moment here for granted.”

Several of the transfer students attested to their convictions that the liberal-arts education they are attaining will prepare them well for the career paths that lie ahead — paths these young people may not have even realized they had begun forging when they made the choice to transfer to Connecticut College.

“Conn has helped me to complement and foster all of my interests,” says Tortora. “Coming here has changed my life.”

Amy Rogers Nazarov ´90 is happy she transferred to CC from the University of Delaware in the fall of ´87. She is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C.


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