A few weeks ago, The Daily Princetonian reported that the University administration was considering overturning its current policy banning transfer students. Factors such as increased access for low-income students, community college students and military veterans were described as the motives for the possible shift. Even though shifting the policy such that transfer students could enter after freshman fall would most likely accomplish these goals, I believe that certain aspects of the University experience would make this plan as it stands infeasible, and enacting it without changing other policies would not be in the best interest of the students who would transfer here.
A major hurdle transfer students to Princeton would have to overcome involves preparation for junior and senior year classes. While I’m not arguing this is true at every school, there would clearly be many cases in which the student’s old school simply did not go into as much depth as the equivalent course here. Given that the departments all have prerequisites for potential majors, it is clear that a certain level of familiarity with the subject is critical before pursuing higher-level classes and work in that topic. For transfer students who’d like to major in subjects they are less well-prepared for, the possibility of being significantly disadvantaged in upper-level classes is quite large. Having a solid foundation in introductory or mid-level courses in a topic obviously makes one better prepared to undertake higher-level work in that field. Simply assuming that all schools teach introductory level classes to the same degree that Princeton and its peers do leaves many would-be transfer students with a disadvantage to overcome before they even enter. When the time comes for transfer students to take upper-level classes in their major, they would be less well-prepared than their peers, and would suffer as a result.
Stemming from this lack of adequate preparation for upper-level classes is a similar disadvantage in independent work. By not having the training for future college-level papers offered through the Writing Seminar and Freshman Seminar programs, transfer students would be disadvantaged in upper-level classes upon declaring a major. These disadvantages compounded would leave transfer students comparatively ill-suited to begin writing junior papers and senior theses. By first missing out on the basic preparation for college-level academic writing that the Writing Seminar program offers, and then producing lower-quality in-class work sophomore and junior year as a result (if the seminars are, in fact, doing what they are supposed to be doing), transfer students would on average be less prepared to produce high-quality independent work. Having taken freshman and sophomore classes that are probably less in-depth and lacking the foundation in academic writing necessary, transfer students would be unfairly disadvantaged come time to write their theses.
Therefore, if the University were to allow transfer students, I believe certain policy changes commensurate to the difference in their experience would be necessary. Requiring transfer students to take a writing seminar, though allowing them to pass out of it if they’ve taken an equivalent course of similar quality, would help close the gap in preparation for academic writing, and afford transfer students an additional chance to be on a level playing field with their peers come junior or senior year. Additionally, Princeton should offer research seminars to all sophomores, and mandate that all transfer students take one. While the final paper of the writing seminar does focus more on independent research, and some departments offer a type of research seminar during junior year (for example, Wilson School Task Forces), such a program would better prepare all students — but especially transfers — for the independent research involved in JPs and theses. By the time JP and thesis work comes around, transfer students would have made up at least a large portion of the potential disparity in preparation, and would be much more on par with their classmates who entered as freshman in terms of writing ability and performance in high-level classes.
By formally correcting for the disparity of preparation for upper-level classes and independent work, Princeton could encourage more students to apply to transfer. Without such policies, simply the knowledge that such a disparity exists would discourage some students from transferring to Princeton. The knowledge that they would face a steeper uphill battle come junior and senior year would be enough to make some would-be Tigers transfer to other schools that don’t have such independent work. If Princeton were to afford students extra opportunities, however, some students would find this a more manageable challenge, and would be more inclined to come.
If Princeton were to accept transfer applications it would have to be done in such a way as to best serve those students who would transfer here. By requiring writing seminars and research seminars for transfer students, Princeton could work to provide them with as close to an equivalent experience as possible to that which four-year students have.
Ryan Dukeman is a freshman from Westwood, Mass. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.