Despite record increases in numbers, transfer students struggle to adjust

Andres Correa, Reporter

This past fall, Northwestern welcomed its largest-ever class of transfer students. However, for this growing population, adjusting to NU is not easy.

Northwestern welcomed 159 transfers to Evanston last year, a little over 8 percent of the incoming class, according to the University’s 2018-2019 Common Data Set. Since 2014, the number of transfers to NU has nearly tripled. University President Morton Schapiro said increasing the number of transfers and making the campus more welcoming for them has been his “crusade.”

“They’re so happy to be here, they work so hard,” he said. “They convert to purple so quickly.”

With the high cost of college and health problems in his family, Zubair Ahmed, a Weinberg sophomore and transfer student, said he knew he had to stay at home for college. To save money, he decided to go to one of the city colleges in Chicago through the city’s STAR Scholarship — a merit-based scholarship started in the fall of 2015 that covers tuition, books and class materials to one of the seven city colleges in Chicago. After scholars complete their associate degrees, they are eligible to receive special scholarships from over 20 partner Chicago-area universities and businesses.

When it came to applying to one of the several partner schools, Ahmed said he was not expecting to get into NU and was caught off-guard. Since his acceptance, he said adjusting to the University has had its ups and downs.

In recognition of the additional academic challenges transfers go through, Weinberg provides in-depth academic meetings for students before they begin classes, Mary Finn, the associate dean for undergraduate academic affairs, said in an email to The Daily.

“It’s of course very important that transfer students see their advisers, and our College Advisers are assiduous in inviting them in to make sure they stay on track and make progress,” she said.

However, challenges go beyond just academics, Ahmed said. While he is happy the University is accepting more transfers, especially community college transfers, he said the University could be doing more to aid their transition, specifically with housing.

“They put a lot of transfers in Plex,” Ahmed said. “Plex is a very isolating place, and to put transfers who are coming in with a limited amount of time on campus and don’t have a freshman seminar is not a good plan.”

Similar to Ahmed, junior transfer Amy Szkorla said adjusting to NU takes time. Szkorla spent her first two years at Wilbur Wright College, a community college on the northwest side of Chicago, before coming to NU.

While Wildcat Welcome was helpful in getting to know the campus, she said the University should better support incoming transfers in adjusting to the campus culture, especially those coming from community colleges.

“When you come in as a community college transfer, people expect you to know things about a four-year university,” Szkorla said. “For some reason, it’s just really hard to connect with the campus. I didn’t even know what Plex was until three weeks into the school year.”

For twin brothers, Naeem Patel and Nadeem Patel, who were two of the firsts to reap the benefits of the STAR scholarship, transitioning to NU in 2017 was more difficult than expected because they underestimated adjusting to the University’s class differences.

Coming from Chicago to Evanston, McCormick senior Naeem Patel said the majority of his peers come from very wealthy areas or grew up wealthy, leaving him with little to relate to.

Naeem Patel also said he feels like he is constantly trying to catch up to his peers in courses. Sometimes, he said he misses community college because the classes were much smaller and the professors had more time to devote to their students.

Medill senior Nadeem Patel added that the culture at NU can be quite intense. While many students take classes with their friends as a support system, Nadeem said being a transfer makes it difficult to establish those relationships with people who are not other transfers.

“As a transfer, it’s just harder,” he said. “As freshmen, they already made their friend groups. You can’t just slide in a friend group, so you kind of have to stick with the people you know.”

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