Stuck in the Middle: Struggle to Change Schools and its Impact on Students

On November 18th, Jesse Erickson was supposed to register for her first official classes as a student in the Fairfield University Dolan School of Business. The sophomore was all set to transfer from the College of Arts and Sciences but due to slow paperwork processing, her plans were foiled.

“Next semester, I am currently only registered for three classes, two of which are not part of the business core. Because my change of school paper has not yet processed, I am not in the business school which means that I was unable to register for any business classes,” Erickson said.

Erickson is one of an estimated 50 students who transfer from Fairfield’s College of Arts and Science to the Dolan School of Business every year. While the university recommends students in transferring schools during their freshman year, many, like Erickson, decide to transfer late as their goals and interests evolve.

After entering Fairfield undecided, Erickson declared a Communication and Journalism majors before quickly having a change of heart. Erickson turned to her real life experiences to aid in her decision-making process.

“I decided to transfer schools because I spent the summer working in the restaurant business where I really took on a role of leadership and I decided to purse an interest I had in management,” Erickson said, adding that she still plans on a Journalism minor.

Erickson’s transition to the Dolan School of Business began during the first week of the year when she met with her advisor. While she isn’t sure how, her advisor was able to get Erickson written into economics and accounting classes, both usually reserved for business students.

“If it weren’t for my advisor, I don’t know where I would be,” she said.

According to Dawn Debiase, Assistant Dean to the Dolan School of Business, the transfer process is relatively smooth.

“Compared to the processes at some other institutions, I believe the transition process at Fairfield is streamlined and straightforward,” said Debiase.

Erin Connors ’16 transferred into the Dolan School of Business from the College of Arts and Sciences at the end of her freshman year and was surprised at the Erickson’s difficulty.

“[Transferring] was a pretty easy process I just had to get a form signed by both of the deans,” she said. “With the business core, I was able to do it opposite of those starting in the business school”

The first Semester in Dolan School of Business

The first Semester in Dolan School of Business

The first Semester in College of Arts and Sciences

Susan Peterson, assistant dean in the College of Arts and Sciences agrees that the transition from the College of Arts and Sciences can be smooth, but only if the transfer happens early on.

“If planned early on, some courses in the University core would overlap the business core. If the transfer happens later in a student’s career, it could present problems. In addition to the University core, DSB students must also complete a business core,” Peterson said.

Erickson admits that she wishes she figured out what she wanted to major in earlier, especially considering how long it would take to process the transfer papers but is adamant that the school has a responsibility to look after its students.

“This is college and I believe that students have the ability and freedom to change what they want to do,” Erickson said. “When I decide I want to change my mind and my papers still haven’t been processed a month later, I think it’s ridiculous and really hinders my ability to grow at Fairfield, especially wen we have Such a large core. Even if we do transfer late, I feel as though they should be a little more helpful and reassuring that I will be able to stay on track.”

Despite considering the transfer process between schools to be a pretty fluid process, Debiase admits that there can be difficulties in transferring later in the college career.

“Depending on the timing of the transfer, sometimes summer or winter intercession study or taking additional courses during the traditional academic year is required to remain on-track to graduate with the student or class cohort,” Debiase said.

Fairfield Tour Ambassador Christina Barry ’15, admits that answering questions about the transfer process between schools isn’t easy as answering questions that might not make Fairfield desirable are usually difficult to answer.

“I think that the general goal of a tour is to show off the school’s really great aspects, and to make the less attractive, or difficult aspects of the school seem better/easier than they are,” Barry said.

Barry maintains that she’s always honest with the perspective students on the tours, often telling them things that Fairfield could change but tries to do so in a positive way that won’t deter students from the school. Erickson believes that the school isn’t forward with how long the process the transfer actually takes.Step 1. Obtain and fill out change of

Erickson’s issue with the transfer process isn’t with her treatment by administrators but with the slow process that’s holding up her plans. The dishonesty on how difficult it can be to transfer schools has places Erickson in an awkward in-between state where she’s not enrolled in the Dolan School of Business but doesn’t consider herself to be a College of Arts and Science student, either.

Erickson believes that part of the problem is in how restrictive the university is with paperwork.

“There’s so many restrictions to everything that they can’t do anything without authorization. Basically, they just kept saying I needed to wait until the paper processes and now it’s been a month and it still hasn’t processed,” Erickson said.

Understanding the confusion and frustration surrounding navigating through an academic career, in 2014, Fairfield reorganized academic support departments to create the Office of Academic Support and Retention. Director Heather Petraglia, former assistant dean in the Dolan School of Business names the department to be useful for students looking to change.

“One of the responsibilities of the Office of Academic Support and Retention is to support undergraduate students who are undeclared, changing majors and/or schools, or in need of advising to help them make a successful transition to a declared program of study,” she said.

Erickson understands the resources the university provides can really aid in the exploratory process and notes that there are many faculty members who dedicate their time to helping their advisees explore their interests.

“I think that there is staff at Fairfield that definitely cares about the students, like Laura Nash, who is determined to help her students achieve which is why Is why I’ve boasted about her so often,” Erickson said. “She’s helped me with everything and she knows exactly who I should talk to when I have a problem, which I haven’t really found at the business school yet.”

Ultimately, Erickson believes that the transfer process needs to be streamlined because the process is not only a paperwork nightmare but there’s also a lot of factors to consider, like whether another major or minor is feasible with the extra business core or even if it’s possible to study abroad. She’s especially worried about being able to study abroad in Florence, Italy, during the fall of her junior year, a mere semester after the transfer is set to be complete. Additionally the Fairfield Mirror assistant sports editor is hoping to be able to keep an journalism minor after the process is complete.

Erickson’s goals may be lofty but if what Debiase and Peterson are correct in promoting the transfer process as doable, even as late as the beginning of junior year, Erickson should have no problem making the change.

Before its even possible to make the change from one school to another, it’s important to be educated on how the process actually works. Debiase believes that students interested in transferring from the College of Arts and Science to the Dolan School of Business need to be proactive and follow three steps:

  1.     Do your homework:  Explore curricular and co-curricular, and extra-curricular options offered, and career options supported, by the Dolan School of Business.
  2.     Work hard:  Earning strong grades is essential.  The requisite 2.8 cumulative GPA is required.
  3.     Have the right conversations.  Your academic advisor is a valuable resource for all conversations about your academic goals and your personal/professional future.

In following those steps, no student should struggle to transition to the school of their choice.