Transfer-mation: What it’s like to transfer to Notre Dame

Author: Amanda Gray ’12

Jack Heinrich has a legacy story at Notre Dame — a legacy of transfer students.

“My aunt transferred in, and so did my grandfather,” the junior says. “All the members of my family who went here transferred.”

Heinrich was at Philmont, a Boy Scout High Adventure camp in northern New Mexico, in the summer of 2009, when he received a note in the mail from his parents. It was brief: “Big envelope from Notre Dame.” That served as confirmation of his acceptance into the University. So he left behind a partial scholarship at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, and now he studies economics, works at Café de Grasta in Grace Hall and boxes in the Bengal Bouts.

Heinrich, who says he “got the small letter” the first time he applied to Notre Dame, is one of many students on campus who don’t spend four years under the Dome. Some 400 transfer students walk among the University’s 8,500 undergraduates, according to Erin Camilleri ’97, ’01M.Div. and the Office of Strategic Planning and Institutional Research.

Camilleri, the transfer coordinator in the Office of Undergraduate Admissions, says she is proud of how passionate and hard-working the transfer students are.

“It’s a great day when I get to pick up the phone and tell someone they’ve been admitted to the University of Notre Dame,” she says. “I can only imagine how excited these kids are.”

On average, admissions receives 400 to 600 transfer applications for the fall semester and around 60 for the spring. Camilleri says the number of applicants has declined over the last 10 years, but the quality keeps improving. Today the average GPA of incoming students is 3.7.

Students apply from schools all over the country, but Camilleri sees applicants from about 10 institutions on a regular basis: from Indiana University, Purdue, Boston College, Marquette, Loyola University Chicago and Villanova to Holy Cross and Saint Mary’s colleges across the road. The reasons students transfer vary as much as the schools they come from, she says.

While most arrive as first semester sophomores, senior Audrey Sui came as a junior. “I loved Saint Louis University, and I had a great time,” she says. “But I wanted to go to a school with a better economics program.” She didn’t know much about Notre Dame but says it took only one campus visit for her to fall in love.

“The most stressful part of transferring was picking classes,” Sui says. A day before her registration deadline, someone tipped her to get professor and course reviews from, a community-based website created by students in 1999. “I got really lucky.”

Transfer students get their first taste of campus life at Transfer Orientation, often called Transfer-O. The fall semester’s session runs for four days starting the Thursday before classes begin and goes a little more in-depth than the spring session. Eight to 10 transfer veterans return early to campus to lead the newbies through their first few days, forming “families” made up of an older “mom” and “dad” and their new-transfer “children.” While these groups are only official during orientation, the friendships often last through graduation.

Senior Jackie Merola transferred from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2008 and served as Transfer-O commissioner last autumn. She says the transfers refer to themselves as Transfer Nation. “The whole transfer culture made me want to give back to students who were going through a similar experience,” she says. “Transfers, in a way, have a greater appreciation of what’s so great about Notre Dame” because they have something to compare it to.

They also never really lose the “transfer” modifier — it’s a part of their Notre Dame identity.

You always have a transfer group of friends, Heinrich says.

Sui agrees. “It’s kind of like being a freshman twice.”

Unlike freshmen, however, transfers face a housing concern because they aren’t guaranteed on-campus placements. Some turn to off-campus houses and apartments. Inevitably, one becomes a gathering point they’ll call Transfer House.

Merola considers herself lucky to have received a high lottery number and have been placed in Walsh Hall. “I was put into a quint [a five-person room]. I was forced to make friends.”

She participates on hall sports teams, attends Walsh’s Mass and works in the Rock as a weight-room and front-desk attendant.

“The dorms foster a sense of community. At my old school, my dorm had 900 people in it. You didn’t even know your neighbors,” Merola says. Walsh holds about 190 students, and, she says, “Everyone knows each other here.”

At least one transfer alumnus can relate to these experiences. “I do not recall any problems in acclimating to campus, but unfortunately I never lived in a residence hall,” says Thomas G. Burish ’72. When he moved to South Bend in 1969, Burish shared a basement in a house on Angela Boulevard with three law students. “We became good friends, and I decided to remain with them.”

Few current Domers know this about their provost, but ask any transfer student and they’ll explain with pride that two of Notre Dame’s three top administrators — Burish and University President Rev. John I. Jenkins, CSC, ’76 — transferred in to Notre Dame. They know because both men make a habit of speaking at Transfer-O.

Burish didn’t apply to any other colleges when he decided to transfer from a small school near Green Bay, Wisconsin, that no longer exists. “I thought if you were doing adequately in high school or as a college freshman, it was easy to transfer. I was, in spite of my ignorance about how the admissions process worked, fortunate enough to get into Notre Dame.”

At Notre Dame, he majored in psychology after a professor piqued his interest in the subject.

“One of my fondest memories — and life-changing experiences — was doing research with Professor Thomas Whitman, who continues today to be a superb professor in the psychology department,” he says.

Outside of the classroom, he made many friendships. Now, as provost, Burish sees today’s transfer students as a strong group of individuals.

“The transfer student community is comprised of a talented, diverse group of students who know what another college is like firsthand, who are especially eager to come to Notre Dame for a variety of reasons, and who immediately appreciate how Notre Dame differs from other colleges,” he says. “It is sometimes said that people who convert from one religion to another are among their chosen religion’s strongest supporters. I have often seen the same characteristic in transfer students regarding Notre Dame.”