A New Chapter: Exploring the Tufts Transfer Experience

Approximately one-quarter of all college students enrolled at four-year institutions will transfer schools. The choice to change colleges is a daunting one, with new transfer students expected to acclimate to new social, educational, and work environments simultaneously. The college admissions process is filled with stress, excitement, and pressure to choose a school that provides students with the best opportunities. Yet plenty of people arrive to begin their freshman year and realize their school may not be the place for them. Transfer students are entering pre-established spaces, making administrative support essential for students to feel welcome and prepared. In 2019, Tufts welcomed a transfer class of 167 students out of 1154 applicants—each year, a large group of students in our community experience the process of adjusting to Tufts as a transfer. 

Jennifer Welsh is a senior who transferred to Tufts her sophomore year from Villanova University through an “emotion-driven” process. Welsh never felt completely comfortable with her original college choice. She had the opportunity to visit friends at Tufts and see how comfortable they seemed in their environment, making her confident in her decision to choose Tufts. Another transfer student, a current sophomore, came to Tufts for several reasons, one of them being the financial aid available at each school. After being accepted to their freshman year institution through early decision, they did not have the opportunity to weigh different financial aid packages from other schools. It was only later that they were able to look at schools that would offer them more substantial financial aid. Apart from financial aid, they mentioned that their previous school “wasn’t the fit for [them] in the way [they were] hoping it would be… [they] also potentially wanted to major in international relations and wanted a school that could really provide a good curriculum for that.”

Matthew Bellof, the associate dean of undergraduate advising, wrote to the Tufts Observer that “A&S transfer students navigate online modules as part of Academic Essentials over the summer, prior to matriculation in September. This process helps to educate students about degree requirements, how advising works at Tufts, and major exploration.” Transfer students are offered guidance regarding class selection and interest in any majors or minors prior to their start at Tufts, and their previous courses are reviewed in order to transfer credits from their freshman-year institutions. The sophomore student said they felt supported in their transition to Tufts academically; they had two meetings with their pre-major advisor and were guided through the Tufts curriculum and the various requirements they would need to meet during their time at Tufts.

While transfer students receive support for various academic needs, finding social support has been a greater challenge for some, especially during COVID. This was an issue senior Hayley Sullivan encountered. Sullivan transferred to Tufts from Pitzer College as a sophomore in 2020, at the height of the pandemic. Sullivan mentioned that fitting into pre-established social spaces involves “a mental block” that students just have to get over. Tufts did not provide Sullivan with many opportunities to meet other transfer students or returning students such as transfer mixers or orientation events that facilitate meeting new people. Sullivan explained, “I feel like socially there was no ‘here’s a way for transfers to meet each other’ [from the Tufts administration].”

However, members of the Tufts administration claim they provide sufficient support to new students in the community. Richard DeCapua, the senior associate dean of student affairs, outlined in a written statement to the Observer how the administration assists transfer students in adapting socially to life at Tufts. “Once transfer students arrive on campus for orientation, signature group meetings with all incoming transfer students led by current Tufts students, who were transfers themselves, are held.” These meetings during orientation are the only concrete measures DeCapua mentioned to help students fit in as they begin at Tufts, as well as email correspondences and webinars used to “ensure that transferring students know what they will need as they transition to a new institution and environment.” 

In practice, these measures to support transfers socially may not be as productive as the administration hopes. Welsh recalled that the day before she moved in, a group of transfer students “had a socially distanced lunch, but [she] wasn’t on campus yet… so [she] missed that and then nobody ever really met again.” COVID restrictions made it even more difficult for transfers to meet people, and, to Welsh, the Tufts administration did not provide much formal support to facilitate social assimilation.

Tufts hopes to adapt to the changes brought on by the pandemic. According to DeCapua, “Like every other program at Tufts, we are continuously evaluating how we engage with students in a post-pandemic world. We are confident that we have the correct protocols and procedures in place.”

While Sullivan and Welsh had the additional difficulty of making friends during the pandemic, the newest transfer class has been able to eat dinner with peers in the dining halls, sit with friends in academic buildings, and be in close contact with classmates. The sophomore student had a relatively different experience than those of Sullivan and Welsh, since COVID restrictions have lessened for the current academic year. This year, pre-orientation was held for transfer students, yet the sophomore student felt the program was more of a repeat of what they had done for orientation freshman year at their old institution rather than an opportunity to meet other students. Even without the cloud of COVID hanging over the transfer process, some students feel that the Tufts administration still does not provide enough social support.

Despite these limitations, students have emphasized the kindness and openness of the Tufts community. The sophomore student said, “Everybody has been so friendly and open to being friends with me. They don’t care that I’m a transfer; they’re more than happy to introduce me to more people and help me feel like I’m part of the community.” In the post-COVID era especially, students are eager to meet more people without the restrictions of the pandemic and are welcoming new students with open arms.