Transfer troubles
June 10, 2010 2:21 PM   Subscribe

So, I have a problem of the college admissions variety.

I finished and graduated from high school in the spring of 2009. Having finished with a good, but not amazing, track record (top decile, but in a poor school), I was rejected from all major universities I applied to and settled on a safety school - a pretty good, but not stellar, state school.

Over the course of the next year, I found that the school I was attending didn't have courses in the specific focus that I had become interested in over the course of the year. So, I filled out a few transfer applications to universities that offered courses in the area I wanted to focus in and got a pretty good GPA (3.3 after two semesters.) I figured that since I had gotten involved in campus life and activities and gotten a good GPA in competitive courses, I would be readily accepted for transfer admissions.

Long story short, I wasn't, and now I'm not sure what to do. I had enough credits coming in such that after this year, I'll effectively be a senior, which would make it too late to transfer without needing to put in an extra year. However, I can't complete a degree in the field I'm interested in at the college I'm at. So, I'm not sure what to do.

Feel free to ask questions - I realize that I might not be giving enough, or the right, information here, and I'd be glad to clarify.
posted by LSK to Education (31 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Could you do a Master's degree in whatever subject field you wanted to study?
posted by Comrade_robot at 2:24 PM on June 10, 2010


Unless it's a huge financial hardship, do the extra year (which is not really extra, since most people take four years to complete a college degree, at least). You can probably transfer in January 2011 to somewhere that has a program you're interested in, right?

Once you graduate, unless you're going to go back to school, that's it. You've got a few short, precious years. Don't rush them.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 2:26 PM on June 10, 2010


Response by poster: Unless it's a huge financial hardship, do the extra year (which is not really extra, since most people take four years to complete a college degree, at least). You can probably transfer in January 2011 to somewhere that has a program you're interested in, right?

It's not the financial hardship that's the problem (though it is a factor) - part of the issue is that I don't know what do to for this year. I've taken pretty much all the classes I need to outside of a major, and I don't want to start on a track for a major I probably won't complete.
posted by LSK at 2:31 PM on June 10, 2010


I realize that I might not be giving enough, or the right, information

Yeah, it's hard to know when you're the person asking. Some people post questions with way too much information, and lots omit relevant details without clear reason. In your case, you might get more helpful answers if you're willing to identify the school you're at and/or the field you want to study.

posted by cribcage at 2:31 PM on June 10, 2010


Sometimes the courses on your transcript aren't a big deal if they're close enough and you had lab experience in the exact focus you are looking for. Does your state school have a graduate program in the thing you want to do? Ask if you can be a lab/research assistant to someone in the grad program.
posted by slow graffiti at 2:32 PM on June 10, 2010


I agree about adding the fourth year. I would also suggest beefing up your GPA just a touch to be truly appealing to an admissions committee.
posted by onepot at 2:32 PM on June 10, 2010


Is there any chance you could tell us your potential major, or at least a little more about what kind of thing it is? Is it a humanities subject? Something really technical and/or pre-professional? Also, why is it important to you to major in that particular thing? Is it something you love to study? Do you want a job or to pursue graduate study in that field?
posted by craichead at 2:39 PM on June 10, 2010


Response by poster: Yeah, it's hard to know when you're the person asking. Some people post questions with way too much information, and lots omit relevant details without clear reason. In your case, you might get more helpful answers if you're willing to identify the school you're at and/or the field you want to study.
___

Sometimes the courses on your transcript aren't a big deal if they're close enough and you had lab experience in the exact focus you are looking for. Does your state school have a graduate program in the thing you want to do? Ask if you can be a lab/research assistant to someone in the grad program.

Right now I'm at the University of Iowa, and I'm looking to study behavioral economics, especially heuristics. Iowa offers no courses, undergraduate or graduate, in this field. I asked around and there isn't a professor in the economics or psychology department with experience in this topic area. Since I need a mentor to do undergraduate research, I will have almost no way to get involved in research in this specific field.
posted by LSK at 2:40 PM on June 10, 2010


Response by poster: Is there any chance you could tell us your potential major, or at least a little more about what kind of thing it is? Is it a humanities subject? Something really technical and/or pre-professional? Also, why is it important to you to major in that particular thing? Is it something you love to study? Do you want a job or to pursue graduate study in that field?

As above - behavioral economics. I'm interested in studying this on the graduate level and going into research if at all possible.
posted by LSK at 2:42 PM on June 10, 2010


This might be hard to hear, so get ready. Depending on where you want to transfer, I'd wager that your grades aren't good enough, compared with other transfer candidates. 3.3 isn't terribly impressive, especially when benchmarked against candidates who very likely have close to perfect first-year grades at their home institution. Generally, that's how the transfer process works: You go where you have to go for a year and produce the kinds of grades that guarantee an admissions committee that you know how to succeed in college.

All of that said, if you want to transfer, your best bet may be to make a contact at your target university--a professor willing to work with you--and use her/him as your foot in the door. Get the professor to write a letter to the admissions committee on your behalf and then make sure the rest of your package is as stellar as you can possibly make it.
posted by yellowcandy at 2:46 PM on June 10, 2010


You should do as much preparatory work as you can in the year remaining at your current school -- study math, econ, psych as appropriate; read behavioral papers; correspond with interesting writers. You should aim to graduate in 2011 (that's what you're on track for?) and apply to Master's programs in econ with schools that cover your subject matter. (Many people do graduate work in econ without having concentrated on econ undergrad; even more do graduate work in econ in areas they didn't study in undergrad.) Seems simple enough!

(Alternative theory: are you sure you won't be able to transfer? There are almost certainly lots of colleges that wouldn't graduate you with your current credits etc. Why not call them up and see what they have to offer?)
posted by grobstein at 2:52 PM on June 10, 2010


I wish you'd asked about undergraduate research opportunities earlier, because then I could have suggested you apply for this summer program at the University of Michigan. Students from a variety of backgrounds are accepted - they have ranged from econ to sociology and psychology.

Observing the behavioral economists I know, when they take on new Ph.D. students they expect a solid background in economics / math / statistics, but not necessarily behavioral economics itself at the undergraduate level. Research experience running experiments with human subjects is considered valuable, but again, does not have to be specific to behavioral economics. So if you could gain experience through the psychology department in projects in say, on cognition or motivation, that would be a positive in addition to your econ coursework. Or having been a stats lab assistant would also be considered great experience.

If you haven't already done so, look into courses in statistics and psychology, and focus on doing well in quantitative courses. Graduate advisors will expect you to have gotten A's in your undergraduate quantitative courses.
posted by needled at 2:57 PM on June 10, 2010


First, a disclaimer: I am old guy and out of school for a lot of years. I do know this:
my son just graduated college and most of his friends can not get jobs, not even make do work to tide them over till they get something the studied for...thus the idea of spending an additional year makes sense if you can afford it.

Further: from what I have read, behavioral economics is fairly new and colleges are usually very conservative in changing their ways of doing things--I say this having taught at a university for 27 years. Thus you have a specific focus and are not going to get a major in this at most places. So take it from there and plan ahead.
posted by Postroad at 2:58 PM on June 10, 2010


Does your university have an exchange program with other universities? I went to a big state school and had a roommate who wanted to study not just Latin American studies, but Cuba in particular, which wasn't available at our school, so she went to a university in Florida for a semester expressly for that purpose. She wound up going there for grad school. Maybe if you can't transfer, this would be a decent plan B. How many behaviorial economics classes would you have as an undergrad under the best of circumstances? Like 3-4? (I did quantitative modeling econ and that specific subdiscipline was much less than I'd suspected.) Could you pursue a plain econ degree from Iowa and take a summer of concentrated behaviorial econ somewhere else?

(Also, a 3.3 GPA is probably not enough to be readily accepted as a transfer if you're moving to a more competitive school. Maybe see if you can speak to an admissions counselor at the target school to see if transfer next year is actually realistic?)
posted by *s at 3:02 PM on June 10, 2010


behavioral economics? Is that even a discrete major or is it being an Econ major w/ a concentraion? Take Calc + Econ Theory as much as you can. Stats, Econometrics. Take psych classes as well. Kill those classes and you'll get into the schools you want. You'll need that coursework anyway if you want to go to grad school in Econ. You'll be a rising junior at that point - a very common time to transfer.
posted by JPD at 3:02 PM on June 10, 2010


Best answer: I don't understand what you're trying to accomplish. Behavioral economics is not a major. Even at the undergrad level, most institutions would only offer 1 - 2 courses on behavioral economics.

If I were you, I would go ahead and get an economics degree - having a broad base of economics is important in grad school. Make it as technically challenging as possible - take econometrics, calc 1, 2, 3 - go the B.S. route, rather than the B.A. Get your GPA up. Sorry, but 3.3 kinda sucks, for non-major classes from a small school - you should be acing these classes - getting a 4.0.

Then, go get your M.S. or Ph.D. Apply to both, but it'll be harder for you to go straight to your Ph.D. Get an M.S. at a bigger university, then apply for a Ph.D at a bigger university.

Whatever you decide to do, make sure your classes are technically challenging. "Behavioral Economics" is just fuzzy enough to where you don't learn how to do real analysis and instead try to make Freakonomics and Gladwell-esque pontifications. If you want to be good, you're going to have to know a lot of statistics (it might even be beneficial to be a math major) and to have some computer programming skills (to parse through large sets of data)
posted by unexpected at 3:07 PM on June 10, 2010 [13 favorites]


Whatever you decide to do, make sure your classes are technically challenging. "Behavioral Economics" is just fuzzy enough to where you don't learn how to do real analysis and instead try to make Freakonomics and Gladwell-esque pontifications. If you want to be good, you're going to have to know a lot of statistics (it might even be beneficial to be a math major) and to have some computer programming skills (to parse through large sets of data)

I think this is a great comment overall but wanted to add that you can't do "Freakonomics" without a very inventive and technically sharp understanding of econometrics. To put Steve Levitt in the same box as Gladwell is ridiculous; they may both be storytellers, but one of them is a damn fine scientist.
posted by grobstein at 3:18 PM on June 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I wouldn't transfer just for undergrad research experience. Finish up your current major (psych, econ, whatever), then look for RA positions in labs doing what you want to do. This will get you the research experience you want and not put you into another year in school problem. Then if you still like it, you'll be in a better position to apply for PhD programs if that's what you want to do (and in psychology, I don't suggest getting a masters before a PhD, unfortunately psychology programs look down on people applying for PhD programs with masters degrees, as it shows they couldn't get into a PhD program right off the bat, I don't know if economics programs are the same).
posted by katers890 at 3:19 PM on June 10, 2010


Response by poster: A further question to anyone reading this far: Does anyone know of any summer research opportunities that I can still apply for?
posted by LSK at 3:23 PM on June 10, 2010


Clearly you aren't looking hard enough- Paul Windschitl in your psychology department studies "judgement and decision making under uncertainty, likelihood judgement, and social cognition" (lower down on the page) Unless that page is outdated, you have someone perfect at the school you are at now.

You need to find this guy and find out if he needs an undergrad assistant. Seriously, just go to his office hours and ask nicely, and please read his stuff first in case he asks you questions, so you don't seem clueless. If that doesn't work, find another lab, because any lab experience is better than none, and maybe you can work for Windschitl in a year or two after proving yourself in another lab.

Your major can be either psych or econ or both- it won't matter much for grad school as long as you bring your GPA up.
posted by slow graffiti at 3:25 PM on June 10, 2010


For undergraduate research experience, consider an REU (Research Experience for Undergraduates). These are usually summer programs whose funding is provided for by NSF, but you apply directly to the institution in question for the programs.

One of their topics is "Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences". Check the list here.
posted by nat at 3:28 PM on June 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


Also, if you haven't done so already, check out this center at your own university for coordinating undergraduate research opportunities. See who's looking for undergraduate research assistants, and then contact them to ask if they have summer opportunities. At this point your best bet will be to find a project in your own university.
posted by needled at 3:32 PM on June 10, 2010


grobstein, I agree with you, I just don't want OP to end up with a very fuzzy major that leads nowhere. I feel like I've read a lot of pseudoscience since Freaknomics became popular.

The more I think about it, OP, if you were really feeling ambitious, you could triple major in economics, math, and psychology. You have time to, and taking that many classes would show a graduate program that you're serious about going to grad school.

Just make sure you're well prepared for the real world as well. Don't get completely fuzzy - life has a weird way of acting up and if you end up with nothing but a psych degree, or a B.A. in econ, you might just end up waiting tables (esp in this economy).
posted by unexpected at 3:32 PM on June 10, 2010


Major in mathematics, or perhaps math and economics. Take it from me: I am an econ student who discovered the importance of math way too late in my college career. A strong math background is a crucial part of a competitive application to grad school, which is where you'll actually get to study the interesting behavioral stuff.

You still have time, and Iowa has a good program. take as much math as you can in the next few years, and you'll be an excellent candidate for future study in behavioral econ. Without the math, it will be much more difficult. If advanced math isn't your thing, reevaluate whether you really want to pursue economics. I don't mean that as an admonishment—it is something I have been forced by choice and circumstance to do myself.
posted by ecmendenhall at 3:37 PM on June 10, 2010


University of Iowa has a pretty great school of public health and you may be able to take some of the intro courses as an undergrad. If you have a decent stats background at this point, a course in epidemiology methods would benefit you greatly given your stated interests. If you haven't taken any stats courses yet--do it and get comfortable with a stats program or two. That sort of skill can come in handy in many ways later on.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 3:55 PM on June 10, 2010


unexpected, be careful with the BA/BS distinction; they don't always have the same implications at all schools, and many schools only offer a BA that is just as math-y as you'd expect a BS to be, or vice-versa. Same goes for psych. It's sometimes difficult to make assumptions about "fluffiness" based on the name of one's major.
posted by thisjax at 4:20 PM on June 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


true that, thisjax. I'm just going by my own experiences at my own school. I have classmates that are killing themselves now b/c they tried to graduate with the easiest degree possible, and now lack the necessary background for their jobs.
posted by unexpected at 4:50 PM on June 10, 2010


Best answer: I wrote a behavioral economics thesis, but I studied economics. This is the way to go. Behavioral economics is very closely related to economics and if you don't enjoy macro, micro, and ESPECIALLY econometrics you won't have a good time doing behavioral. Take every econometrics course your school offers, well before you write a thesis, including applications courses like prediction markets. Take a lot of sociology courses and compare sociology articles to behavioral econ articles. You'll soon see that the math ability is what really sets the two fields apart.
posted by acidic at 6:30 PM on June 10, 2010


acidic, there's a good amount of significantly quantitative work going on in sociology/demography, if you look in the right places. It's probably not the right major for the OP, but try not to misrepresent the discipline as a whole, thanks.
posted by thisjax at 7:56 PM on June 10, 2010


apologies, thisjax. Can I amend to say that the math course requirements for an undergraduate sociology program are lower?

Also, OP, I was in a top-notch econ department, but still about 80% of my classmates blew off econometrics, because they were more interested in finance (and it's HARD). Work really hard in econometrics, and after the intro econ courses, try to exclusively take courses that require you to produce a term paper using statistical work. Be a Stata-ninja.
posted by acidic at 11:07 PM on June 10, 2010


If you are serious about behavioural economics, double major in economics and social psychology. A serious Psychology program will give you the stats and methodology training you will need, and the economics will train you in the issues and questions.

Behavioural economics is the application of psychology methodology to economics questions. At least one very well known behavioural economist -- Dan Ariely -- began his career as a
psychologist.
posted by jb at 6:56 AM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


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