What it's like to matriculate differently at MSU
Elementary education sophomore Bethany Caswell and communication sophomore Sophie Lynskey were not able to experience welcome week, moving in the dorms with hallways full of people. Instead, they came to MSU at a time where campus had no signs, nearly empty and only Brody’s dining hall was open. No groups, no welcome and no freshman experience.
Caswell and Lynskey are non-traditional students — they were admitted to the spring semester of their freshman year.
“You don’t get to experience all the people coming back to campus and being new together,” Caswell said. “You don’t get that at all. You don’t get the, ‘all these people are freshmen, too, we have no idea what we’re doing.’ ... You kind of feel like you’re a freshman on your own when you start in the spring.”
In the experience for some students who do not matriculate traditionally, coming to MSU lacks directions on how to find their classes, navigate through MSU’s resources and socializing opportunities. But for some, like international students, there is even more care.
According to Director for Inclusion, Strategic Planning and Student Success John Ambrose, about five years ago MSU began granting admission to start in the spring. Students go through a one-day orientation, as opposed to the traditional two-day AOP during the summer and a welcome week that lasts at least three days before classes begin.
The number of spring admits varies based on availability for the spring term, which is determined by how large the graduating class in December is and typically includes 300-400 freshmen.
“We do a holistic review,” Ambrose said. “There’s no specific formula or formulaic combination that says one student gets fall versus a student gets spring. ... We deem these students to be admissible to the university.”
University Activities Board Manager Cathy Fitzpatrick said some resources are available for students in nontraditional situations, specifically transfer students. However, there is nothing specific for spring admits.
Caswell and Lynskey still believe it is a unique situation. They found getting in touch with other people in the same situation difficult. Without the drawn-out orientation and hundreds of other freshmen experiencing the same changes as they were, the transition to college was more challenging.
“They tried to do an orientation, but no one else was on campus and it was a very rushed orientation,” Lynskey said. “They all kind of assumed that we would know what was going on, especially when I got to classes. All the teachers assumed that we knew about D2L and all that stuff. It was very different compared to what I’ve seen freshmen go through last fall when I was here.”
Lynskey said she struggled making friends since other freshmen already solidified their groups by the time she and other spring admits came to MSU. Caswell said she doesn’t think she would have made any friends at all if it weren’t for her friend from high school who was already at MSU.
“There was no one here for a few days,” Lynskey said, referring to the last few days of winter break when spring admits have their orientation. “When everyone did get here they all knew each other already.”
Lynskey said at their orientation, they were grouped with transfer students, and because of that she finds it hard to explain her student status to others since the spring admission situation is still not common. She would just say she’s a freshman who started in the spring instead of the fall.
Though Lynskey came to MSU with credits from AP classes, Caswell fell behind because of her late admission and was a freshman by credits in what would be considered her first semester of her sophomore year. She tells people she was deferred to the spring if it ever comes up in conversations.
But besides her roommate, she has never met someone in the same situation as her.
Political science pre-law and criminal justice junior Christine Francoeur transferred from Eastern Michigan University in the fall of 2016 when she was a sophomore so she could be closer to her family and have more challenging coursework.
When she transferred to MSU, many of her credits from Eastern Michigan didn’t transfer into her degree and instead transferred into electives, which made her fall behind once she added her second major.
“A lot of them didn’t apply to a lot of the requirements for the general university or college requirements,” Francoeur said. “They just had fewer requirements, I would say, for science and stuff like that. It wasn’t quite as strenuous as it is here. For example, with science you can use a psychology class for that but here you have to take ISP and ISB and stuff like that.”
Ambrose said anything below a 100-level credit course doesn’t transfer in. Admissions also looks at what the requirements are at MSU for the intended major and makes sure course work from the school a student is transferring from is relevant to his or her degree.
“Let’s say they were looking for an associate’s degree in business at a community college versus here at Michigan State University,” Ambrose said. “An associates in business is going to be a very different kind of a product compared to a bachelor’s degree in business.”
Ambrose said around 1,500 students transfer each fall. Francoeur said her orientation was two to three hours long, and it was nothing like her experience at Eastern Michigan.
“I went to a few events on campus just because but not anything particularly going towards transfer students or anything like that,” Francoeur said. “Obviously, I had that at Eastern, but I didn’t have that here when I transferred in.”
She doesn’t recall any resources, like a Facebook page, available to transfer students, even though Fitzpatrick said there are events like the “Transfer Students Resource Fair,” which there is limited information available about online.
“Compared to Eastern, I feel like I missed out on the welcoming in as a freshman living in the dorms and you’re forced to communicate with people because you’re on campus, you’re in a dorm, you have at least one roommate,” Francoeur said. “That’s how I made my friends at Eastern, so I feel like that experience is important.”
International students receive a different kind of welcome compared to spring admits and transfer students.
Business sophomore Korn Supatrabutra is an international student from Thailand. He said he has never experienced anything negative about his non-traditional student status.
“As far as MSU goes with inclusion and accepting diversity, I think that they’re doing a very good job with that,” Supatrabutra said. “I feel included pretty much at all times. My friends here are great, they welcome me and treat me like one of them. I don’t want to generalize, but they look past where I’m from.”
Educational Programs Manager in the Office for International Students and Scholars Amber Cordell, who organizes the International Academic Orientation Program, or IAOP, said many resources are offered to students who come to MSU from international high schools, community colleges or universities. The university has volunteers from Community Volunteers for International Programs greet the students at the airport, bus stop and International Center lobby during IAOP. Additionally, Cordell said she hires more than 100 orientation leaders, both domestic and international, to serve as peer mentors for small groups of students.
“Rather than feeling like they’re one out of 1,000 new international freshmen, they have this cohort family feeling, where they have a classroom and they go to events together and they can ask questions of their orientation leader,” Cordell said. “So I think that’s very welcoming, it makes international students feel less overwhelmed when they first arrive.”
Supatrabutra worked as an orientation leader for the IAOP last year and will return to the position next year. He was in charge of about 15 international students and gave presentations about MSU, lead group sessions and gave advice.
“I really enjoyed the orientation, I made a lot of friends from the program,” Supatrabutra said. “I really enjoyed my orientation leader and I was like, ‘You know I really could be like him.’ I really like MSU so I thought it would be a way for me to give back and get the students fired up for MSU.”
Cordell said they also organize evening socials, karaoke parties, sports nights and coffee hour every Friday for the rest of the year to continue to make international students feel welcomed. Through the Thai Student Association Supatrabutra runs, he also hopes to bring the 35 Thai students that are a part of the organization together.
“Our job as an organization is to promote the culture of Thailand and just to make sure that every Thai student feels like they’re welcome here and that Thai Student Association is their second home,” Supatrabutra said.
To Francoeur, the difference between orientation for international students and spring admits or transfer students is noticeable.
Though she is happy about her decision to come to MSU, she said the kinds of events international students have access to and the standard freshmen orientation program are vital and something that could have changed her MSU experience.
“Transferring in is like starting over again without that motivation to meet people,” Francoeur said.
Even though international students, along with spring admits and transfer students, don’t experience the standard incoming freshmen welcome week, Caswell and Lynskey hope MSU will consider new ways to make all students, traditional or not, feel the same kind of welcome.
“It was very different now, starting in the fall this year ... I could see the difference like night and day,” Caswell said. “Moving in, there are people here to help you and it’s just totally and completely different. There are people here to help you and it’s just totally and completely different.”