The folly of the Feb Frosh program

Let’s talk about Feb Frosh. Ah yes, those notorious students who arrive in January; however, we call them Feb Frosh because alliteration is paramount.

I was one of those souls deemed capable to excel in that unique first-year situation. The First Semester Abroad (FSA) program places upwards of 40 incoming students in one of two language intensive and cultural programs in Dijon, France or Salamanca, Spain.

Since 1985, the FSA program has been surprising students by forcing them to travel halfway across the world to go to their often top choice school. I have a love-hate relationship with my first semester abroad experience, leaning toward the hate.

I work in Donor Relations for the College and through my job, I work closely with the President’s Office. It just so happened that one day when delivering documents atop Mt. Eustis, I struck up a conversation with President Greene and the conversation eventually led to my opinions of Colby and my experiences here on the Hill and in Dijon. When I was asked about the future of the FSA program, I quickly responded that the program was an eye opening experience that Colby should continue. This question: “Would you keep the program around?” got me really thinking about my time as an honorary Frenchman. President Greene, I’m sorry to say that after much thought, I misspoke. I do not believe that the FSA program is suitable for Colby.

FSA programs have become the hot new thing for colleges to do. Schools like Northeastern, Hamilton, Michigan State and many others have instituted similar FSA programs. Colby was one of the first schools to implement this program. It originally began as a cultural experience that was an option for those adventurous and brave students who desired something other than the traditional first semester at college. Now, FSA is an admission’s driven program, meant to boost enrollment numbers. The program is not optional and draws students off the waiting list and out of normal admissions pools. The Feb Frosh, when admitted, are issued an ultimatum: go to Europe or don’t come to Colby at all. This second sentence of our admission acceptance letters sets the tone for how Colby will treat their Feb Frosh for the remainder of our freshman year.

Most of my issues with the FSA program stem from the selection process. As I briefly mentioned earlier, Colby utilizes the Feb Frosh to boost enrollment, in essence, to admit extra people to the school in a hope that they will come. However, with each student Colby admits to the FSA program, they are gambling, and often lose. The College selects students they “feel will excel during the abroad experience.” When talking to other Feb Frosh, I discovered a common trend of what Admissions looks for in FSA candidates. The majority of Feb Frosh admitted out of general admissions pools, and not from the wait list, discussed study abroad in supplemental essays, had their language teachers write their recommendations and discussed their willingness to experience new things. Although these characteristics may mean that these candidates may “excel” while abroad, it does not mean that those students will be able to excel coming back to Colby, a semester late. The freshman experience here at Colby is unique, the school does an excellent job easing first years in through things like COOT; however, the school forgets that 40 some odd students will have to return in January. These students receive a pathetic excuse for COOT—Iced COOT—which is meant to help us branch out, but the majority of people on our trip have already spent four months together abroad. The LINK program, designed to help us meet other students, attempts to reintegrate us, but its feeble attempts consist solely of parties,  disappointingly with other Feb Frosh. The second semester club fair consists of about three clubs tabling in Pulver, a month after the FSA students arrive. The college ignores us, why are we different than any other student? Why are we labeled as Feb Frosh for the remainder of our time?

Feb Frosh are left to find their way around Colby and many of us do, but often some students struggle to find that separate niche. This struggle results in FSA students having astronomically high transfer rates. The average freshman retention rate at Colby is about 96 percent, meaning about 4 percent of students who originally come to Colby, transfer after their first year. Of the 33 Class of 2017 Feb Frosh, 12 percent of the group transferred. That number is far too high for a program that claims to be life changing and will be the best memory of your time at this school.

To speak frankly, those four first months were the shittiest thing I have ever done here at Colby. It did change my life, I met great people, and I saw amazing things, however I chose Colby for Colby. Not for a Colby apartment on Rue Berbisey. I was mad at Colby when I came back. They had stolen time away from me, time that I can never get back. I almost transferred last year because of it; something about the Admission’s office’s arrogance and cockiness that everyone will always love Colby no matter their situation is offputting. I know I am not the only Feb Frosh who feels this way. Something needs to change.