Princeton has not admitted undergraduate transfer students since 1990. The admission office credits this decision to the 98 percent retention rate and the burden of an increasingly large volume of applications. In a solely economic sense, it is understandable that the University considers it a poor use of resources to make strained admission officers evaluate a large number of applicants for 20 or fewer spots. But the Editorial Board believes that Princeton’s institutional values provide reason to admit transfer students.
Allowing transfers, if done the right way, would open up spots to non-traditional students and enrich the student body with different life experiences. Transfer admissions should not primarily seek to admit dissatisfied Ivy Leaguers; instead, like those of many of our peer schools, they should focus on students with diverse backgrounds, such as community college students, that would add different perspectives to our campus. Amherst, for example, reserves half of their transfer student spots for community college applicants.
While Princeton does have a duty to admit the most qualified applicants, the admission office would likely receive enough applications to fill the few spots without compromising quality. Yale receives 1,000 applications for 20 to 30 transfer spots and Harvard receives 1,500 for 15 spots. Princeton could expect to receive a similar number of applications, proportional to the size of our student body. Further, transfer applications would contain two key evaluative tools: a college grade point average and an essay explaining the applicants desire to transfer. A college GPA is likely a better indicator of future college performance than a high school GPA. The essay would enable admissions officers to select applicants who would truly bring diversity to campus that could not be found in the regular applicant pool, making the process worthwhile.
In addition to Princeton’s duty to select a qualified and diverse applicant pool, it also has a duty to serve the public good. The motto “in the nation's service and in the service of all nations” invokes duty not just from individual Princetonians but also from the institution. Further bolstering this obligation is the fact that Princeton receives $54,000 per student in federal aid (while a public university up the road, The College of New Jersey, receives only $1,600 per student in federal aid). A Princeton education can be impetus for success and social mobility; if even one undergraduate spot is open, Princeton ought to take measures to ensure that it is filled.
Recognizing the distinctiveness and rigor of a Princeton education, the Board recommends transfer admission be restricted to those entering into the freshman or sophomore class. Currently, Princeton considers anyone ever enrolled in a full-time degree program a transfer applicant — disallowing those who started a community college or another university, even for just a semester, from applying as freshmen. The Board urges the Office of Admission to revoke this requirement, as it would increase the diversity of applications to the freshman class. Those who completed a year of school should apply as transfers into the sophomore class, though there should be some flexibility and discretion from the admission office. While we certainly do not believe that transfer spots should be restricted solely to applicants from community colleges, we believe that applicants from these schools could be compelling candidates. Anyone who has completed a post secondary degree, however, should not be allowed to apply for admission, as is current policy. Having students come to Princeton for a second B.A., would adversely affect the virtue of the learning and living community. Further, upperclassmen transfers should not be accepted because after the first two years it would be difficult, if not impossible, to complete independent work and departmental and course distribution requirements.
The Board stresses that diversification should remain the goal of any change to the transfer policy. All in all, if our peer institutions can enhance their student bodies and individual lives with transfer admissions, then we can more than likely successfully engage in similar efforts.