Second Time Around: The Big Question


Here you can get a glimpse of life at Brown through the eyes of a transfer student. I’m Ashlyn Mooney, and this is my Second Time Around. 

The conversation usually goes something like this:

“Well, my freshman year at Northwestern/UBC/Wellesley/[insert name of previous institution here]…”

“Wait, you transferred here?”

“Yeah, after my freshman year/sophomore fall/sophomore year/[insert gap year activities here].”

“Oh! Why?”

And there it is–the Big Question, possibly the single most familiar question posed to any transfer student. Why transfer? Transfers ask it to each other during the transfer orientation at the start of each semester. The students who started at Brown their freshman year will ask; professors will, too. What made you want to transfer and actually go through with it? And why did you choose Brown?

Although the National Association for College Admission Counseling reported in 2010 that 1 out of every 3 college students decides to transfer institutions, I’ve found that most non-transfer Brown students are pretty unfamiliar with the concept. Transfer students here find themselves explaining over and over their choice to leave the university that they started at and join the Brown community. One of my transfer friends makes up a new reason every time–“I came here for the Tequila Lime Carrots at the dining hall,” or “I HAD to be closer to Providence, birthplace of the WaterFire Festival!”  In truth, he decided in his freshman year at a Midwestern university that he wanted to study with Brown’s prestigious Applied Math department.

For most transfer students, the answer to the Big Question falls into one of three categories: academic, social, or cultural. Many students were interested in pursuing interdisciplinary degrees and saw Brown’s Open Curriculum as the ideal anecdote to other schools’ pre-professional programs–“Flexibility!” said one friend when I asked her the Big Question. Other transfers had no idea what they wanted to study, but saw Brown as the best place to figure it out.

A large group of transfers decided to transfer for nonacademic reasons. One transfer student, who transferred to Brown at the beginning of her junior year, told me, “I wanted to be a part of a community that more closely shared my values than my old school did,” and went on to say that she wanted to be in a place that “valued intellectualism and diversity.” Many transfers never felt like they quit fit in at their old schools, and feel that they vibe better with Brown’s campus culture.

Most of us transfers have explained our reasons for transferring enough that we’ve developed a neatly prepared answer that we’re ready to deliver. The Big Question isn’t a bad one–it’s important to know exactly why each of us decided to uproot and come to Brown. After all, we all had to answer that question (in 500 words) in our transfer applications.

I’ve come to believe, though, that the really important question is the one that isn’t often asked: Now that you’re here, how are you going to make the most of it?

That’s all for now, folks! If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to email me at or leave a comment below. 


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