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Being a transfer student can be so awkward.

Finding housing shouldn’t be.

Close your eyes and imagine: It’s New Student Orientation and you are a new transfer student. Chances are, you don’t really know anyone else here; you have no idea what the difference between The Penn Bookstore and The Penn Book Center is; and you can’t find College Hall — you were supposed to meet with your advisor five minutes ago, and this is really not the best way to start out the school year!

But it’s not your first time at the rodeo, either. You got through freshman year, presumably successfully or you wouldn’t have been accepted to this venerable institution. You know when going out on a Wednesday night is a great idea … and when it’s not. You even know how to feed yourself and juggle work time and play time. I should know. I was there.

While Penn’s Housing and Conference Services does a really fantastic job with transfer NSO, that comprises only the first five days of the Penn experience. There are seven months left, and a huge part of the post-NSO Penn experience is shaped by students’ living situations. In this regard, transfer students are at the bottom of the barrel.

Because transfers already lived through freshman year and feel no need to repeat it, housing becomes a conundrum — where do they belong? Per the Penn Admissions website, transfer students are offered housing on a first-come, first-served basis. However, because they are accepted later than freshmen, transfer students are last in line to sign up for housing, and their options are often limited and less than desirable. While freshmen should undoubtedly have first housing preference, transfer students are new, too.

“A lot of times a transfer student will look at the prime rooms, which are usually taken during the first round of room selection,” said director of Housing Services Doug Berger, but “if they broaden their choices … it’s easier to place them.” Unlike freshman housing applicants, Berger noted, transfer students applying for on-campus housing are asked if they will accept any type of housing available, in order to increase their chances of being housed.

This year, as in previous years, about 50 transfer students were sent a letter instructing them to consider other housing options in addition to those they indicated on their housing application, said Business Services spokeswoman Barbara Lea-Kruger. “Some may have decided to live off campus, other ones broadened their room options.” Broadening their options, however, comes at the cost of a disjointed, sometimes isolated first year at Penn.

I admit, I’m a little biased. I spent my sophomore year, my first at Penn, in a double room in Hill College House with no roommate. The space was pretty sweet, as was the Starbucks across the street and easy access to Fisher-Bennett. Not so sweet? The fact I was the odd sophomore in a sea of freshmen.

Many transfers believe the ideal living situation would include a high-rise apartment near other new upperclassmen. “One of the things that kind of sucked at the end of night, we all had to walk back to our different places by ourselves. There wasn’t that same sense of unity,” that freshmen who live together have, said College junior Elie Harrington, who transferred into Penn as a sophomore.

College junior Patrick De Gregorio agreed. Newly arrived at Penn, he currently lives in Sansom Place West, which in his mind feels like “more of a living space than a community.”

Instead of scattering transfers across campus, one solution would be setting aside a block of rooms for new upperclassmen. Lea-Kruger emphasized that integration into the Penn community is important, but so is relating and connecting to people who are in a similar situation. A significant portion of the College House experience is program-based, so why not a program targeted to transfer students?

Otherwise, the system makes a lot of new students feel anything but welcome. As De Gregorio said, “transfers are kind of lopped to the side. They are there to fill in the [housing] cracks.”

“It’s a mixed bag,” he added, “because they do really great NSO stuff, but housing is a little scatterbrained.”

After all, it’s a College House that makes Penn feel like your home.

Arielle Kane is a College senior from Briarcliff Manor, NY. Her email address is
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