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ISSUE 117 VOL 19 PUBLISHED 5/14/2004

Transplants take root

By Lisa Gulya
Staff Writer

Friday, May 14, 2004

The college search can be exhausting. However stressful it is as a high school senior, though, it's even more stressful for transfer students.

"We're a different breed. It takes a little extra effort to be a transfer student. Tons of people talk about it but just don't do it," Saleha Erdmann `06 said.

The hardest thing about transferring, according to Erdmann, was filling out applications while feeling depressed and doing college-level work at the same time.

"I was filling out applications during finals," said Erdmann. Also, friends aren't very supportive, and families can be another problem. Erdmann, however, said that her family was very supportive. In general, though, "You just feel really alone," she said.

Nina Mattson `95, assistant director of admissions, works with transfer students, in part to ease the stressful transition. The growing number of incoming first years affects space for transfer students, but the college has set aside 50 spots for transfer students next year.

We don't even have to take transfer students now, but we want to, Mattson said. As of Wed., 18 students have committed to transfer to St. Olaf next fall. Roughly 50 of 149 applicants were accepted.

Historically, Mattson said, St. Olaf has not done a lot with transfer students. Every form we have is geared toward high school students.

Mattson is working to change this second hand for transfers attitude. She has a list of changes to be made, including the option for transfer students to simply fill out the Common Application for admission next year.

Making the change:

Transfer students must comply with the same application deadlines as incoming first years. The average Grade Point Average (GPA) of transfer students is lower because transfers have already proved that they can do college work. They are strongly encouraged to interview so that they can explain their reasons for transferring.

Some potential transfers, Mattson said, are bitter, some sad. Some, like Bekki Hagen `05, have less complicated reasons for coming to St. Olaf and harbor few bad memories about their former schools.

Transfer students come from a variety of institutions -- community and technical colleges, large state schools, women's colleges and small ELCA liberal arts colleges like St. Olaf. They leave because of dissatisfaction with academic programs, partying too much or an undesirable social or political atmosphere, among other reasons.

Erdmann transferred from a small women's liberal arts college. For Erdmann, The breaking point [that made me want to transfer] was that the music program was not that good, and the dance program was nonexistent. The people were very success-oriented. They weren't really thinking about the meaning in their lives, she said.

When looking at new schools, Erdmann wanted a more thoughtful, introspective environment, which she feels she found at St. Olaf. However, she said that it's easier to find the good in things after experiencing a place she strongly disliked. Ironically, during her college search in high school, she refused to look at any colleges in Minnesota.

Many other transfer students returned to their home state to attend St. Olaf, even though they initially thought they wanted to get away. Eleven of the 18 transfers for next fall are originally from Minnesota.

Both Matt Van Vleet `05 and Becky Rogers `07 transferred from large state schools where the big, impersonal style and party scene didn't appeal to them. Van Vleet came to St. Olaf to surround [himself] with people who had similar values. Rogers, who will be a transfer counselor next year, chose St. Olaf for the small size and its proximity to her family.

Institutional support:

Erdmann calls St. Olaf's transfer program "amazing."

There is an optional four-day retreat before Week One for transfers which has happened for several years. Transfer students and counselors take an Outward Bound trip to Ely, Minn. Students do outdoor activities such as rock-climbing, canoeing, ropes courses and camping.

Leslie Sandberg, who coordinates the transfer orientation program, says she hopes more students will take advantage of it. Seven students, five transfers and two counselors, attended the retreat last fall. Erdmann said she made good friends on the trip, but once on campus, their residence halls were far apart which made reconnecting difficult.

Transfer students are required to be on campus for Week One and to participate in some activities, though they aren't indiscriminately forced to spend the week with first- year students. Instead, transfers bowl, barbeque and go to the State Fair. We try to do real group activities that make these people bond a little bit more, Sandberg said.

Opening Day features a transfer welcome program, where the President of the college and Provost, among others, welcome transfer students to the St. Olaf community. "The goal of this event," Sandberg said, "is to show these students how important they are to the college. They're Oles now."

The presence of such important St. Olaf personalities is to assure transfer students that the college cares. "These people will make sure they don't fall through the net," Sandberg said.

Transfer counselors were, at one point, transfer students themselves. They arrive on campus the same time as other residence life staff to train, although they have special supplemental sessions pertinent to working with transfer students. The counselors are there if transfer students need to talk about anything. They also help transfers meet people.

Social life:

A transfer student has the same roommate experience as a first year, that of living with a total stranger. Some have switched roommates, while others loved the people they ended up with. Transfer students either live with upperclassmen or other transfer students.

Pamela McDowell, director of residence life, says that St. Olaf has been selecting roommates for transfer students for the past two years, so the program is relatively new.

Transfer students who live with upperclassmen deal with a roommate who already has friends, which creates an "unbalanced relationship," according to Erdmann.

However, Van Vleet says that he felt accepted and was a "surrogate member of the Kildahl family," since many of the men on his floor in Mellby had lived in Kildahl the year before.

Some transfers suggest that all transfer students should live in the same residence hall so that support is close by. Mattson disagreed, saying, "I don't think it's fair to put transfer students all in one dorm." On the other hand, Rogers and Hagen both said that the success of community-building for first-year students means that transfer students can feel like they're imposing on others.

"We tag along a lot of the time," Erdmann said.

The college tries to facilitate monthly events so that transfers have a chance to reconnect every so often. Such events have included ghost stories and a bonfire at Dean Kneser's house and dinner with President Thomforde.

Sandberg pointed out that as the year progresses, it's harder to schedule transfer events. Transfer students get just as involved as other St. Olaf students. She says the college's goal for next year is to keep the program strong.

She would also like to "establish a day of the month that all transfers would eat together in the Caf." Sandberg thinks this would help students who come to St. Olaf at the beginning of interim or second semester.

"We get stuck with first years a lot," Erdmann said. "Not that there aren't cool first years out there, but they're just on a different level." Van Vleet said that being in first year writing and religion classes made him feel like the "odd one out."

Most transfers, though, spend time with friends their own age that they meet through various activities. Rogers came to St. Olaf as a first year since she didn't stay for a full semester at her last school, so living and studying with first years hasn't been an issue.

Transfer credits, studying abroad:

St. Olaf allows transfer students to register before first years, although they do not get to register with the rest of their class.

Transfers concur that St. Olaf is good about credit transfer. However, Erdmann's Arabic classes only count as elective credits and not towards the foreign language requirement since St. Olaf does not offer Arabic. Hagen took a certification class which she attended 10 hours a day for a month, but since it was pass/fail, she did not receive credit for it.

In general, transfer students feel that they have the same opportunity to study abroad as other students. Erdmann will be spending next spring semester in Ecuador, and Van Vleet spent this past Interim in Australia.


The information on the college website concerning scholarships only refers to high school accomplishments, which is possibly why many transfers don't think they can apply for merit-based aid. For transfer students who do apply, competition is stiff, but some do receive merit-based aid.

Those who choose to transfer mid-year are out of sync with St. Olaf's application schedule, and consequently have no access to scholarships. That was a factor for Van Vleet, who waited to transfer to be eligible for merit aid.

"Second semester was just horrible," he said, because "I knew I had a finite number of days there." He transferred the first semester of his sophomore year with the help of a music and academic scholarships.

Assets to the community:

Transfer students, according to Sandberg, are "some of St. Olaf's best ambassadors ... They turn out to be some of our most dedicated alums."

Mattson agrees that transfers are a "population of students that have a really high success rate." Van Vleet said, "It'll be a school that I give back to my whole life."

When former transfers interview to be transfer counselors they tell Sandberg that their favorite part of St. Olaf is "the sense of belonging ... an immediate sense of community."

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