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Unique challenges confront transfer students

Karen Langley | Friday, January 20, 2006

When college students open their transfer acceptance letters from Notre Dame, they may assume the hardest part is behind them. But even though transfer orientation smoothes the start to their careers as Notre Dame students, housing and class registration have proved challenging for some transfers this year.

Anne Martell, a sophomore transfer this fall, had been told she would not get on-campus housing her first semester. Instead, she found an apartment at Turtle Creek with three other female transfer students who had met on a message board set up by the Office of Undergraduate Admissions.

The group had addressed all of the paperwork required to rent the apartment but had not yet signed the lease, a delay that proved fortuitous when Martell was contacted five days before she arrived on campus and informed that she could live in a dorm. Her roommates were also given on-campus housing.

“The difference between living on campus and off campus is like day and night,” Martell said. “I’m so glad – I can’t even imagine not living on campus.”

Ryan Brennan, a senior who transferred in the fall of his sophomore year, lived in a one-person studio apartment at Turtle Creek while waiting to receive on-campus housing. He got a place in Knott Hall in October of that year.

“That’s when I met my friends,” he said. “The first month a half was a little weird because there aren’t a lot of ways to meet people. You go to class and then there’s nowhere to go back to but your place.”

Brennan had met people in class and through pick-up sports, but he became more involved in the community after moving into Knott. He served as the hall’s senator his junior year and is currently a resident assistant.

“When I first got [to Notre Dame], I had nothing to do but go to the library and do well in school,” he said. “When I got into the dorms, there was a lot more to do. My grades got a lot worse, but it was a good thing.”

Sophomore transfer Casey Bouskill was set to live in a hotel for the first week of school, but like Martell, she was told a few days before the semester’s start that she would be living in Farley Hall.

“I found out four days before I came,” she said. “It was pretty nerve-wracking.”

Despite the stress of changing plans last minute, Bouskill was enthusiastic about living on campus.

“Dorm life is clearly an essential part of the life of an ND student, a home base per se,” she said. “If I was not as fortunate as I was to be on campus, I would be missing out on all the bonds and friendships I’ve made at Farley. It truly has become a home, instead of a place to rest my head.”

Transfer students also encounter difficulty with registering for classes, a process that the rest of the student body completed months earlier. Though the transfer students – who are all admitted directly to a college – receive advising from their deans, the students often struggle to find open classes for which they meet the prerequisites, said Associate Registrar Laura Spaulding,

“So many classes are closed now that they have a real problem with that,” she said. “They’ll get something, but it’s probably not the best schedule around.”

At such a late date, there is no way to avoid the scramble to find classes, said Associate Director of Admissions Susan Joyce.

“I tell people, the first semester is going to be a little bit of a scavenger hunt, but they will get good counseling about what [credits] transfer,” Joyce said.

Though the flexibility of Arts and Letters programs lead the College’s transfers to face the most problems while registering for classes, history major Martell said the process was easier than she expected, considering the late date of transfer registration.

“Professors have been really understanding,” she said. “They know we get there at the last minute, if you go and talk to people they’re really understanding. Everyone – faculty, advisors, students and rectors – were bending over backwards to help.”

Though neither locating housing nor registering for classes went error-free, students were enthusiastic about their transfer orientation, an event that they described as more mature and intimate than their freshman orientations.

“Our orientation was over 100 people, but everyone became pretty tight,” Martell said. “It was a great bonding experience and how we made all our friends.”

Orientation is run by former transfer students. Both new transfers and the Admissions Office stressed the importance of the experience that their orientation leaders brought to the event.

“Who better than those who have been through it to help them make the social and academic transition?” Joyce said.

The four-day fall orientation featured events like a catered trip to the dunes, group tours and discussions held by the lakes. This lengthy adjustment period is a luxury which spring transfers do not experience, Joyce said.

“Spring semester [transfer] students have to have an extra resilience,” she said.

Though seamless transitions to a new college are rare, Joyce lauded the enthusiasm and resilience of Notre Dame’s transfers. She emphasized that once transfers arrive on campus, they are Notre Dame students.

“I think transfer students bring a unique perspective to Notre Dame,” she said. “They tend to be the most active students, since they’re fitting four years into two and a half or three years. There’s no doubt in my mind that they contribute to the community.”

Contact Karen Langley at klangle1@nd.edu