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Death to the Four-Year Plan

Campus | December 8, 2014

As the number of Tufts applicants continues to rise, a different number holds steady: the four percent transfer rate. Despite the school’s surge in popularity, each year, four percent of students decide to leave Tufts.

Maeve Moynihan was one of the few members of the Class of 2017 that did not return for sophomore year. She came to Tufts last fall excited about the school’s liberal arts emphasis, medium size, and proximity to Boston. She joined several clubs, loved her classes, and made many close friends.

But Maeve felt that she never found a community where she could be herself completely. “I was never involved with the same people in one activity,” she said. “People would know one side of me but not really know the whole thing.”

In August 2014, she transferred to Middlebury College, interested in its smaller size and community feel. “It has that strange, intangible vibe that I missed last year [at Tufts],” she said.

According to the Tufts Office of Institutional Research and Evaluation, 96 percent of Tufts students return as sophomores, and this number has remained the same for the past 10 years. The overall graduation rate, 92 percent, has also held steady, but this statistic masks a demographic divide. Only 86 percent of international students go on to graduate, and only 84 percent of black students graduate. 92 percent of female students graduate, two percent higher than men.

Dr. Julie Jampel, the Director of Training and Continuing Education Director at Tufts Counseling and Mental Health Services, finds that students leave Tufts for a variety of reasons.

“Sometimes college is more academically rigorous than students anticipated,” she said. “Other times, students transfer to be closer to a significant other or to home.”

Finally, some students decide that college is not their priority, opting instead to travel, work, or pursue alternative education. Gap years are gaining momentum throughout the U.S., and Tufts has caught onto this trend. Last Spring, Tufts University and the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service announced a new initiative, the 1+4 Bridge-Year Service Learning Program, which will fund gap year programs for incoming students who cannot afford them.

Former Tufts student Grace Slocum decided to embark on her own quasi-gap year after finishing three semesters at Tufts in December 2013.

Grace described her time here as “a learning experience.” During her freshman year, she made friends, attended parties, studied, and joined clubs, but by sophomore year, she began to question whether she wanted to be here.

“Once I really looked at my life, I was like, ‘Holy shit, I’m a mess,’” she recalled. ‘“I’m really stressed all the time, I don’t even know who I am and I’m feeling lost and powerless and sad.’”

Though she enjoyed some aspects of her sophomore year, she ultimately realized that she needed a change. “In a lot of ways, there was no reason for leaving. It was a feeling,” she said. “And I decided to follow that feeling. I was terrified—I didn’t know where I was going to go or what I was going to do.”

After leaving, she visited eco-villages and intentional sustainable communities, learned how to teach children’s yoga, studied qi gong and internal alchemy, and even started writing a book.

“But the most powerful work I’m doing is finding a place of stillness in myself, not needing to be defined by the outside world anymore, being confident in my own truth, feeling like I know what’s best for me, and only me,” she said.

Grace will attend Naropa University next year, where she plans to study contemplative psychology and continue writing her book, which is based on her experiences and the theme of women’s empowerment.

Whereas Grace left Tufts after attending for a year and a half, Daria Bennett experienced a similar realization after a single semester. Daria was hoping to find Tufts to be a school filled with passionate, engaged people, but this expectation was not met upon arriving to campus.

“[At Tufts] I found a lot of competition, stress, and worrying about grades, which took away from the learning itself,” she said. “But the biggest reason for leaving was a feeling I had anyway of wanting to do things that weren’t just sitting in a classroom, like I had been doing for the last 12 years of my life.”

For the first few months, Daria didn’t think she could act on this desire, assuming that four years at Tufts was her only option. Then her roommate told her about a gap year program called LeapNow that offers students college credit for travel, service work, and leadership training. She applied, was accepted, and left Tufts in winter 2013.

Through the program, she travelled to India, Nepal, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica from January to August 2014. Now she plans to stay in the States, find a job and rent a house in Portland, OR with friends she met through LeapNow. “I’ve never had to live on my own and not depend on my parents for a living,” she said. “I want to learn what it means to pay for a college education. That way, if and when I go back to school, I’ll really know what that means.”

Despite these three students’ decisions to leave, more and more students continue to apply to Tufts, dropping the acceptance rate for the Class of 2018 below 20 percent for the first time in history. Moreover, the 96 percent retention rate is nothing to belittle; according to U.S. News and World Reports, only 10 national universities ranked higher. Nonetheless, as college becomes more competitive, transferring more common, and alternative options more viable, it is not surprising that some students decide to pursue paths outside of Tufts.