UP CLOSE | A look inside Yale’s community college transfer process

UP CLOSE | A look inside Yale’s community college transfer process

As Yale emphasizes its commitment to accepting community college transfers, student interviews reveal an often difficult transition period — especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Published on May 3, 2021

As one admissions cycle characterized by record-high applicant pools and record-low acceptance rates comes to an end, another one is underway — this time, for transfer students.

While some transfer students enroll at Yale after spending part of their undergraduate studies at another four-year institution, a significant portion of Yale’s transfer students come from community colleges. In reporting its admissions statistics, Yale does not differentiate between transfer students and those admitted via the Eli Whitney Students Program, which is meant for non-traditional students who are attending college later in life. In 2019, Yale reported that of the 34 transfer and Eli Whitney students admitted, 14 came from community colleges. In 2020, 29 transfer and Eli Whitney students were admitted, and again, 14 came from community colleges. In 2017 and 2018, 10 and nine students came from community colleges, respectively.

Community college transfers typically arrive at Yale after earning an associate’s degree following two years of community college. According to Risa Sodi, assistant dean of academic affairs at Yale College and the director of the transfer student program, transfer students are admitted to Yale with anywhere between eight and 18 credits, based on an evaluation of their transcript. The school from which one transferred — whether it was a community college or a four-year institution — has no bearing on the number of credits and the class standing with which a transfer student is admitted, Sodi said. Students at Yale College need to have completed a total of 36 credits upon graduation.

“I’ve been delighted by my work with transfer students at Yale and it’s been a privilege to rub shoulders — figuratively, this year — with such a determined and high-achieving group,” Sodi wrote in an email to the News. “Deans and heads of college express the same sentiments, and Undergraduate Admissions does an amazing job of steering qualified students our way. Yale is affirmative for transfer admissions, and our university will continue to work on improving their transition to New Haven and their experience during their two or three years at Yale.”

The News spoke to nine community college transfers, seven of whom are current students and two of whom have graduated, about their experiences adapting to Yale. Most spoke positively about their Yale experience overall, but many also expressed concerns about the process of integrating into the Yale community — especially those who transferred in fall 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are interested in admitting students from community colleges in particular because there, the academic argument for why you should move from your community college that you are completing to a private four-year research university — that argument is clear and apparent.”

—Jeremiah Quinlan, Dean of Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid

Behind the transfer admissions process

Yale’s transfer application process takes place in the spring of each year, with students submitting applications by March 1 and receiving their decisions in mid-May. The transfer application is similar to a typical first-year application, with emphasis on factors such as grades, personal statements and letters of recommendation from professors.

Dean of Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid Jeremiah Quinlan told the News that because so few students are admitted to Yale as transfers, the transfer application process is more competitive than standard first-year admissions, with acceptance rates of 2.2 percent and 1.7 percent in 2019 and 2020, respectively. Yale chooses to admit under 30 transfer students each year, which differs significantly from Yale’s peer institutions. Quinlan pointed to Brown University as an example of a school that admits significantly more transfers; according to the Brown admissions website, they admit “between 100 and 200” transfer students each year.

“A lot of Yale students don’t like to leave Yale College during the academic year, so we don’t have the availability or the opportunity to take a large number of transfer students because there just frankly isn’t the space,” Quinlan said. “But [the low number of admits] is also an acknowledgement of, while admitting transfer students and bringing them to Yale is an important part of our educational mission, there is something valuable to the sort of very residential experience that we can offer at Yale, and the way that we lay out our education and majors over four years.”

Mark Dunn, the director of outreach and communications at the Office of Undergraduate Admissions, told the News that when reading transfer applications, admissions officers look for applicants who have a clear-cut reason for wanting to attend Yale. Because transfer students have such a limited amount of time at Yale, Dunn said, it is important for them to be able to explain what they want to study at Yale and why it is that they feel that Yale will give them opportunities that differ from their previous institution.

Quinlan added that this emphasis on the “Why Yale?” question is an advantage for community college students, who are applying to Yale while in the process of completing their associate’s degree.

“We are interested in admitting students from community colleges in particular because there, the academic argument for why you should move from your community college that you are completing to a private four-year research university — that argument is clear and apparent,” Quinlan said.

Because the transfer process is already so competitive, and Yale is looking to attract transfers who can specifically point to reasons why Yale will fulfill their academic needs, there is far less outreach to prospective transfer students than there is to prospective first-year applicants, Quinlan said. Patricia Wei, the director of admissions for the Eli Whitney Students Program and the coordinator for in-person transfer outreach, told the News that outreach is limited to an annual trip to California to speak to community college students and veterans in group events with peer institutions such as Princeton, Amherst and Pomona. This year, all of these joint events took place virtually, which allowed Yale to connect with more community college students than in a typical year, Dunn said.

On the community college side, the News spoke to Virginia Fuillerat, the director of one of the four campuses of The Honors College at Miami Dade College. The Honors College is a program within the Miami Dade Community College system that emphasizes helping its students transfer to out-of-state schools. Yale has accepted transfer students from The Honors College in each of the last three admissions cycles.

Fuillerat told the News that the Honors College focuses on helping its students transfer from the moment they step on campus. Students develop “two-year plans” in consultation with advisers, based on their transfer goals and their major. The Honors College focuses on making its students “marketable” through classes and extracurricular opportunities and supports students throughout the transfer application process.

But Fuillerat added that it would be helpful for four-year institutions like Yale to interact more with the Honors College, so that their students can have more of an idea of what to expect from the application process, which could help prepare them to eventually transfer.

“I think having a Yale representative come down and speak to our students, whether it’s fertile or not, would be really helpful, because it gives them a little reality check,” Fuillerat said. “It could help students see if Yale is the place where they belong.”

Of the Yale community college transfers who spoke to the News, four attended The Honors College. Of those who did not attend The Honors College, many still participated in honors programs that eventually helped them transfer. Les Welker ’22 and Dante Petruzziello ’23, both of whom attended community colleges in Connecticut, credited honors programs and advisers within those programs for pushing them to apply to four-year colleges outside of the University of Connecticut system.

The highs and lows of transferring to Yale

All of the community college transfers who spoke with the News spoke positively about their experiences at community college. Some, like Mariam Alaverdian ’23, held leadership positions in clubs and were able to travel and do research while at community college. Others appreciated the diversity in backgrounds they were able to encounter while at college.

“I really appreciated community college for letting me meet a variety of people from different backgrounds,” Welker said. “You get a lot of people from different ages coming and seeking a new educational path. You get people who have worked in trades, you get older people, you get people who just took a few years off after high school. There’s a lot of diversity there that you don’t really get at a proper four-year institution like Yale.”

The transition from attending community college — in which most students live at home and commute to classes — to living on Yale’s campus can be stark. Sodi told the News that Yale offers “robust” programming for transfers when they arrive on campus to help them adjust to on-campus life. There is a designated transfer orientation that includes academic and social events. Transfer students are also able to attend pre-orientation programs and first-year orientation events hosted by their residential colleges.

Upon arriving at Yale, transfer students are assigned an academic adviser from the Yale College Dean’s Office who is familiar with the transfer process. Transfers are also assigned a peer transfer counselor, or TroCo, who is meant to serve a similar role as FroCos do for first-year students. Unlike large FroCo groups, TroCos advise only one or two transfer students each year, and they are meant to serve as peer support as students begin their time at Yale.

Gabriel Conte Cortez Martins ’20, who transferred to Yale in 2018 from The Honors College at Miami Dade College and served as a head TroCo during the 2019-20 school year, told the News that the TroCo program varies from year to year based on the students in charge. During his year, he prioritized matching community college transfers with TroCos who had originally attended community college. In other years, students and TroCos have been matched based on academic interest.

Cortez Martins also said that as head TroCo, he tried to host events specific to community college students, as he felt that the experience of transferring from community college to a four-year institution is very unique.

“During my time at Yale, I watched the community college transfer population grow, and being a community college transfer, I just had this motivation to create specific events for this community and try to facilitate relationships within it,” Cortez Martins said.

Simone Koch Costa ’22, who transferred in fall 2019 from The Honors College, told the News that the TroCo program worked well for her because she was paired with a TroCo who had also come to Yale from The Honors College and was able to walk her through the experience.

“The transition resources for transfer students are not as readily available as they are for first years. And because we have less time here — for some of us, our time is literally cut in half — we have fewer opportunities to explore all that Yale has to offer.”

—Brooke Alviar ’21, who transferred from Foothill College in fall 2019

But Brooke Alviar ’21, who transferred from Foothill College in fall 2019, said that she felt the TroCo program did not provide the same level of support as it seemed a FroCo would. She attributed much of this to the fact that unlike FroCos, TroCos are not paid aside from a stipend to cover meals during the orientation period. Without payment, Alviar said, there is less incentive to have large amounts of programming.

Alviar said that in general, the institutional resources to help transfer students transition to Yale could be improved. Even at the surface level, she said, there is a lot of Yale culture that does not get conveyed to new transfers. As an example, she shared that she did not learn that Bass Library and Sterling Library connect underground until a year into her time at Yale — something she imagines she would have learned on a FroCo tour if she had arrived as a first-year student.

“The transition resources for transfer students are not as readily available as they are for first years,” Alviar said. “And because we have less time here — for some of us, our time is literally cut in half — we have fewer opportunities to explore all that Yale has to offer.”

Beyond the logistical challenges of the transition to Yale, the social transition can prove daunting. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing housing shifts, transfer students were housed within their residential colleges. Colleges then assign housing accordingly, with some colleges housing transfer students together and other colleges assigning transfer students to preexisting suites or standalone single bedrooms.

Petruzziello, who is in Pierson College, said he “really appreciated” the way in which he was integrated into the Yale community through housing. He was assigned to live with another transfer student and two visiting international students, which Petruzziello said allowed him to balance making friends with other transfers while still feeling integrated into the general Yale community.

On the other hand, Welker, who is in Pauli Murray College, was assigned a standalone single room, which he said made it difficult to transition to Yale socially.

“It wasn’t great, because I didn’t really have anybody or any social group to fall back on,” Welker said. “And I was just really far away from everyone, so I didn’t get super involved in the transfer community or any type of transfer friend group. I sometimes see other transfer students around and I will say ‘hi,’ but there never felt like much of a community.”

All of the community college transfers who spoke to the News said that they had never encountered any type of stigma about community college from non-transfer students at Yale.

Alviar said that at most, some people were surprised to hear that she originally attended community college because they did not know that Yale accepted transfer students.

“Overall, everyone’s been very warm and accepting, and I think that really just attests to what an amazing student body we have in general.”

—Brooke Alviar ’21

Transferring during COVID-19

Transfer students who began at Yale during fall 2020 have only known Yale in a time of pandemic. Upon arriving on campus in the fall, transfer students took part in virtual orientation programming, and like all other Yale students, new transfers have conducted nearly all of their classes and extracurricular activities virtually.

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Yale gave all admitted students the option to defer admission until the next year. According to Sodi, “nearly all” incoming transfers chose to enroll in fall 2020 rather than take a gap year. Additionally, Yale allowed all incoming transfer students to live on campus in the fall and spring semester, regardless of their class year. Nearly all new transfer students were housed together on Old Campus this academic year, rather than in their residential colleges.

Alaverdian, who transferred from Los Angeles City College to Yale in fall 2020, told the News that Yale’s decision to house all incoming transfer students together was a “really good thing” and allowed her to connect with people in her first few days at Yale. Still, Alaverdian found it difficult to acclimate socially with all of the COVID-19 restrictions in place.

“The start of the semester was definitely rough because of COVID,” Alaverdian said. “It was difficult to meet up with friends or meet new people because of social distancing. I was able to make some connections, meet some people and make some friends, but not as many as I expected.”

Alaverdian said that having a TroCo was helpful, and she connected with academic advisers in order to help her acclimate to Yale’s curriculum. And even in virtual space, she was able to join extracurricular activities such as TAMID, Scholars of Finance and the Yale Armenian Network.

Still, Alaverdian decided to take a gap semester in the spring in the hope of extending her time at “normal” Yale, once COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.

“I feel like I only have a limited amount of time to spend at Yale,” Alaverdian said. “For me, it’s three more semesters as of today, unless I change my major or something else happens. So I really just wanted to spend that time at Yale with the full Yale experience.”

Daniela Gonzalez Mulet ’23 transferred from The Honors College at Miami Dade College in fall 2020 and spent her first semester at Yale studying remotely from home. She originally chose to study remotely because she felt it would be a good way to ease into Yale, but she told the News that looking back, she feels that the decision might have held her back from acclimating to Yale. At home in Miami, she said, she felt “distant” from the Yale community and had a low level of engagement with Yale.

Upon arriving on campus for the spring semester, Gonzalez Mulet said she had a difficult adjustment period. Although she loved her classes, she said the first month was “harsh,” between dealing with the isolation of quarantine and adjusting to the cold weather.

Gonzalez Mulet said that socially, she has grown close with a few transfer students and a few people in her residential college, but it has been difficult to feel part of a “transfer community” because many transfer students took leaves of absence in the spring.

“Honestly, I expected that once you would come to Yale, you would have this very close community with whom you could go out often,” Gonzalez Mulet said. “But that is not the case. I don’t really know many people from my transfer year, which is really sad, because I only have one year left.”

Heidi Makhlouf ’21, who also transferred from The Honors College and is one of the head TroCos this year, said that she “feels so bad” for the transfers who came in this year, because it seemed very difficult to acclimate to Yale with COVID-19 restrictions in place.

As head TroCo, Makhlouf made adjustments to the TroCo program to engage students with weekly virtual check-ins and virtual academic panels. But she said that the attendance rate fell dramatically quite quickly, as people felt “Zoom fatigue” and did not show up for events.

“It was definitely hard on [new transfers],” Makhlouf said. “Some people just made up their minds after fall, and they took either a gap semester, or they decided to take a gap year and work on other projects. And some people stayed. People just found it really difficult — not just on the transfer community level, but also because if all your classes are online, how can you be expected to meet new people?”

But as restrictions begin to lessen slightly, Makhlouf said she can see the new transfers start to “bounce back,” and she is optimistic that next year, transfer students will have an easier time adjusting to life at Yale.

I feel like I only have a limited amount of time to spend at Yale,” Alaverdian said. “For me, it’s three more semesters as of today, unless I change my major or something else happens. So I really just wanted to spend that time at Yale with the full Yale experience.

Steps moving forward

In October 2020, University President Peter Salovey announced the Belonging at Yale initiative, which is meant to “increase diversity, ensure equity, and enhance a sense of inclusion and belonging for everyone,” according to the Belonging at Yale website. In his announcement, Salovey said that he had called on the Yale College Dean’s Office to consider an expansion in the “approaches to transfer applicants from community colleges who would like to study in Yale College.”

Quinlan told the News that, as of now, the Office of Undergraduate Admissions is looking to expand the applicant pool of community college students, rather than expand the number of community college transfers admitted each year. But he added that should efforts be successful to expand and strengthen the community college applicant pool, it is possible that an expansion in community college transfers could come naturally.

“[Community college students] might not always have advisers or information about the transfer process. If we can find a way to step in as a point of contact, it allows students to know that we are transfer-friendly; we are a university that has the resources, both financially and also socially, to help support this group.”

—Marisa Kogan, Director of Transfer Admission

In a step to expand that pool, Yale joined the Transfer Scholars Network, an initiative pioneered by the Aspen Institute that looks to connect “high-achieving community college students” with selective four-year colleges. Yale is one of 12 initial member schools of the TSN, which launched its pilot phase in January 2021.

Quinlan likened the TSN to the QuestBridge program, which matches low-income students with over 40 selective colleges and universities, in that both the TSN and QuestBridge serve as third parties that bridge the gap between Yale and a population that might not always know about what Yale has to offer. But unlike QuestBridge, which focuses primarily on matching students with selective colleges, the TSN in this stage is focused on giving community college students the information to learn about and apply to selective colleges, rather than guaranteeing their admission.

“The network is really designed at the pre-application stage currently, with an emphasis on early connections with community college students,” Adam Rabinowitz, communications manager at the Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program, told the News. “The idea is that if we can build these connections, create that incentive to transfer, provide the resources, provide the support, then the barriers that naturally stand in the way for the students fall away and that impetus to apply is really present. So our role is to urge and ensure that that student has the connections they need to send in the application. We feel that’s half the battle.”

Because the Yale admissions office does little outreach to transfer applicants, Quinlan said that the TSN has the potential to step in to provide outreach to applicants and build and strengthen the community college applicant pool in Yale’s place. Because of lack of outreach, many applicants from community colleges may not know about Yale’s commitment to financial aid or about Yale’s desire to admit community college students at all, Quinlan said, and the TSN can fill in that information gap.

Director of Transfer Admission Marisa Kogan told the News that even though the TSN only launched in January, Yale received seven applications this cycle from transfer students who were nominated and connected to Yale through the TSN.

“[Community college students] might not always have advisers or information about the transfer process,” Kogan said. “If we can find a way to step in as a point of contact, it allows students to know that we are transfer-friendly; we are a university that has the resources, both financially and also socially, to help support this group.”

Although applying as a TSN nominee does not guarantee admission, Kogan said that receiving applicants through the TSN even in its pilot year is indicative of the ways in which the program could prove a success and expand the community college applicant pool in years to come.

Quinlan added that by consciously expanding the community college transfer applicant pool by joining the TSN, the admissions office is demonstrating a commitment to admitting community college transfer applicants.

“We are putting a thumb on the scale in our transfer review process for students from community colleges,” Quinlan said. “That much is clear.”


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