Overheard in Committee: Transfer Edition Sequel

Admit It! You’ve had a taste of transfer committee and now you want more.  Well wait no longer.  We’re hoping that this blog might help students understand why objective criteria alone cannot necessarily predict or explain a particular admission decision.  For example, we tell students that a 3.5 GPA is generally competitive for transfer admission.  Why then are some transfer applicants with a 3.5 GPA and higher sometimes not admitted to W&M?  Because not all 3.5s are created equal.

Overheard in Transfer Committee: “Yeah but that GPA doesn’t include…”

With each completed application file, the deans get a summary sheet which provides us with pre-populated information taken directly from the application itself.  Everything from current courses to GPAs to biographical information is all pre-printed on a summary sheet to help us discern the basics.  So, as any dean opens a file they will glance at this pre-populated information.  Similarly, in committee, as we review applications together, we also usually begin by summarizing the pre-populated information.  Say we open a transfer file of a college sophomore (in his/her fourth semester of college) who has a 3.8 GPA.  Our initial reaction might be to think that this is likely to be a competitive student.  However, oftentimes the readers’ commentary will note that the GPA (which pre-populates as the cumulative GPA from the official transcript) is not as strong as it seems.  This is usually due to one of three reasons: repeated courses, remedial courses or light credit loads.

Many, if not most colleges have a grade forgiveness policy; if a student gets a bad grade in a course they can repeat that course and have the original grade expunged from the GPA.  In our example, the 3.8 then does not tell the whole story, especially if the applicant has repeated multiple courses in which the original grades were Cs, Ds and Fs.  Should we treat that 3.8 the same as a 3.8 where there are no repeated courses?  In many instances the Committee will recalculate the cumulative GPA to include the original and repeated grades to get a more accurate representation of the student’s record.

Additionally, many institutions do not give grades for remedial courses (namely taken in English and math).  Students simply pass them or they don’t.  Thus no GPA would indicate whether or not a student has taken remedial course work.  While we certainly understand there are reasons for remedial course work (for example if an international student is new to the United States or a non-traditional student has been out of school for a number of years and needs a refresher), we still need to interpret the GPA based on information that is not necessarily included.

Finally, credit loads are oftentimes very important to the Committee.  On average, William & Mary students enroll in 15 credits (five courses) per semester.  We like to see transfer applicants doing the same so as to best prepare them to be successful at William & Mary.  Is a 3.8 in 12 credits the same as a 3.8 in 16 credits?  What if the student has had part-time semesters?  When we see light course loads, we often look for reasons why (maybe the student works a lot or the student is a parent).  When no reason can be found we are oftentimes disappointed that the student isn’t challenging themselves more with additional credits and wonder if W&M might be too difficult a challenge for them.  And what about the courses themselves?  Is 15 credits of English, keyboarding, PE, geography and orientation the same as 15 credits of calculus, biology, history, foreign language and a seminar?  Again, we don’t think so.

Yes we understand that sometimes extenuating circumstances caused a grade to drop and a course to be repeated.  We also get that some students have to work to pay for their education and that they may need to take fewer classes.  It’s all about context.  We hope the applicants provide that context in the application and it’s our job to put their credit loads, course work and GPAs into an appropriate context based on the information we’ve received from the applicant, and based upon what we know makes for a successful transfer student.

Tune in tomorrow for the transfer edition of the Decisions Decisions blog series (which for those of you who are anxiously awaiting the release of decisions does not indicate that decisions will be released tomorrow but is simply when the blog will be posted).

Wendy Livingston ’03, M.Ed. ’09
Senior Assistant Dean of Admission

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