Second time’s the charm: Macalester transfer students

Before Jamie Morrow ’16 transferred to Macalester last year, he attended a school where a semester’s tuition cost less than a meal plan at Macalester. Morrow took a gap year after high school and then studied for a year at a community college near his hometown of Lake Forest, Illinois.

“I had neither the grades nor the desire to go to a four-year institution immediately after [my gap year],” he said. “Community college was a great middle ground. I was still taking college-level classes and experiencing college in some form without knowing that I wanted to go on and do the bachelor’s degree. I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do.”

This fall, Mac welcomed 18 transfer students, the highest number in recent years. Director of Admissions Jeff Allen explained how the transfer application process differs from the first-year application. He finds that transfer applicants come with a level of maturity and experience that he does not usually see in applicants right out of high school.

“Many [transfer students] do a really nice job of articulating why they want to come to Macalester. It’s clear that many transfer students have thought very deeply about that question and have identified tangible reasons why they want to be here in this community and why this community is right for them.”

So why do students transfer to Mac? Tae Martin ’16 fell in love with Macalester during a visit in high school and was later accepted. Her parents celebrated admittance by her first-choice school, but at the same time encouraged her to apply for a competitive local scholarship that would require her to stay in her home state of Indiana. The winner received free tuition plus $1,000 for books.

On a drive to visit Macalester, Martin received a call that she had won the scholarship. Combined with scholarships offered by individual schools, it was like “getting paid to go to school,” Martin said. After some deliberation with her parents, Martin accepted the scholarship and enrolled in Earlham College in Indiana. Earlham is a liberal arts school about half the size of Mac. Martin had great professors and learned a lot. She was “not unhappy” at Earlham, but still felt an emotional attachment to Mac.

“It’s really hard to reconcile getting into your first-choice school, second-choice school, third-choice school and essentially ending up at your back-up school,” she said. “I was never really settled on staying [at Earlham].”

After a year at the community college, Morrow felt ready to move on as well. He had exhausted the course offerings, so Macalester’s strong math and science programs attracted him. He also liked Mac’s proximity to the Twin Cities and opportunities for community involvement. Since it was Morrow’s first time living away from home, he felt a little apprehensive about dorm life. After making some adjustments, he says he now feels comfortable here.

“It’s been very easy to get acclimated to the community at Mac, just because it’s so open,” he said. In fact, Morrow now works as an RA in Kirk. Res Life’s selecting him for this leadership position felt like a “vote of confidence.”

In transitioning to Mac, Martin shared that she was more nervous academically than socially. She found the academics at Macalester more rigorous than at Earlham. “That’s something I had to get used to,” Martin said. She also noticed differences in teaching styles. “I took organic chemistry at Earlham and it was very different than it was here.”

For Martin, making friends was the easy part. She felt welcomed into the community, and now she works as a tour guide for Admissions. People often ask her on tours why she chose Macalester.

“Sometimes the way I frame my story can make it seem like Macalester is the holy grail of all schools,” she said. While Mac feels like “the holy grail” for her, she recognizes that not everyone feels that way.

“People who come to Macalester their first year and transfer out—I don’t think it’s a bad thing,” she said. “They come here and they think it’s what they want and then it’s not. So they leave. Sometimes people don’t understand that about transfer students. It’s okay to leave too.”