Published on 2016/06/28
The EvoLLLution | How to Ensure a Successful Transfer Transition: Four Solutions
Enabling a smooth transition for new transfer students can be a challenge for institutional leaders, but students and administrators need to work together to ensure they can overcome some of the standard obstacles that stand in the way of transfer student success.

This is the conclusion of a two-part series by Heather Adams on identifying and overcoming the roadblocks to transfer from two-year to four-year institutions. In the first installment, she reflected on the most significant obstacles community college students face when trying to transfer into four-year universities. In this conclusion, she shares her thoughts on what needs to happen to minimize the impact of these obstacles.

The doggedness, inventive strategies, and maverick attitude that transfer students (also called “transfers”) used to get themselves to a four-year university can be inhibited by culture shock, a lack of sense of belonging, and the dearth of the right type of institutional supports. Transfer students may initially struggle to adjust, sometimes saying that they feel like a freshman again as many educators and researchers have written about.

The good news is that minimizing these challenges is all about transition, and we have all made a gazillion transitions in our lifetime. The strategy for students to succeed and flourish in their transition becomes about exercising what got them to university in the first place.

This includes anticipating the potential challenges, recognizing what skills, attributes and knowledge you bring to the table, and deliberately applying these adaptive qualities to your new environment (and maybe picking up a few new skills along the way). Four-year institutions, in turn, can help students by guiding them more effectively through this process and helping transfers learn how to navigate the new system. In order to do this, however, institutions need to intentionally create campus awareness regarding the issues unique to transfers and provide a transfer-friendly campus climate, community and support system. Transfers have a very different experience than traditional students and they bring a different set of needs to the table. Through providing the appropriate scaffolding and supports needed, institutions can buoy transfer students onward and upward in the collegiate process, helping students more fluidly and successfully achieve their academic, personal and professional goals.

Below are four specific actions I have seen students and institutions take to help transfers build on their transferable skills, navigate the new environment so they can hit the ground running at their new institution, and create a more fluid and positive transfer experience and community:

1. Transfer-Specific Resources (Providing and Using Them)

Creating transfer specific resources and meeting students where they are through innovative outreach and programming can really help change the transfer experience. This may include having transfer specific point people on campus and/or providing a transfer center, program, or office that is specific to transfers so transfer students know where to go on campus for help. It can mean utilizing social media, video content, virtual outreach, peer mentoring, and providing a thorough guide or website for transfer to help get the information to students. For larger universities or those without transfer centers, providing students with a clear picture of where to go to ask questions and making sure that all campus departments and programs are aware of the transfer specific experience is important. This may mean creating a Transfer Resource Committee to build campus awareness and ensure open communication between campus departments reading transfer student needs. Staff and faculty should be cognizant of the fact that not all their students are traditional students and this includes being inclusive in the language they use and the outreach they provide.

Students can help their transition by finding and utilizing the resources available to them such as actively exploring the new campus early on, combing websites, visiting and touring campus if possible, and asking other students about what resources and programs helped them. Even if a campus resource doesn’t have “transfer” in the title it is a student resource and available to all students, so use it!  Also, talking to people, asking many questions and letting staff and faculty know the transfer student-specific experience is necessary. Chances are the university has a resource available to fit the students-specific situation, and if not the staff/faculty should be made aware of it.

2. Explore, Plan and Map Out the Next Few Years (Transfer Timeline)

Since transfers have less time to learn to navigate a new system it is important that students learn as much as they can about the new environment before they even start classes. This may sound like a no brainer, but taking the time to explore and absorb information about what is possible at the new institution is essential and this is especially true for transfers. Learning about the culture at the new institution and finding out about opportunities to get involved that may not have been available at a student’s previous institution is important. Dates and deadlines for specific programs and opportunities come fast and students can often miss out because they did not plan ahead or have access to the information. Students can explore options before classes even start by looking through websites, visiting campus, asking questions, joining campus Facebook groups, thinking about what they may want to be involved in at the new institution, and starting to prioritize and create a timeline of goals.

Institutions can anticipate that transfers need to adjust and learn about campus and campus opportunities in an accelerated period of time by providing the appropriate opportunities and resources for transfers to explore, absorb and prioritize their goals. Activities and events beyond transfer orientation and registering for class that provide students an opportunity to connect with seasoned transfers is a terrific tool. Peer mentoring activities allows transfers to connect with those that have stood in their shoes and been successful before them. Providing two-year timelines, check lists and information sessions focused on how to map out their courses and interests in two or three years can help. Providing guidance on how to incorporate research, jobs, graduate school preparation, travel aboard, and other interests into their time at the university allows students to visualize what can work for them and helps them prioritize their goals.

3. Building Relationships (Connecting and Building a Network)

A student’s best resource is most likely going to be the people that they meet at the new institution. Transfer students have a short period of time to plug in, build their networks, and find their niche. Therefore, building community and relationships becomes key to transfer student success and acclimation to the university. This can include connections with other transfers who have shared experience, faculty, staff, or administration. Both students and the institution can help to create and encourage the transfer support-network and transfer supportive culture. Institutions can create networking opportunities for transfers so they can meet others with shared experience and build transfer awareness with staff and faculty on campus. Students can help connect themselves by simply asking questions and talking to students and staff at their new institution. This process can start early and be accomplished in any number of ways such as attending events, joining the institutions social media platforms, going to professor and teaching assistant office hours, etc. This relationship building is imperative not just for plugging in to the university but for future success as well, as students will most likely want letters of recommendation for gradate school or be looking for research opportunities and want to have developed relationships with others who can help them.

4. Transfer Student Involvement (Finding Your Niche on Campus)

Diving in and getting involved is also key to transfer student success. However, because students have limited time and a lot on their plates already, institutions can help guide students on how to get involved while still allowing time for the adjustment to the new environment. And institutions and students need to be aware that student involvement is going to look very different for everyone depending on the student’s major, age, time constraints, whether or not the student is a commuter, etc. It can be as simple as attending an event or office hours or as all-consuming as starting a student organization or joining a campus committee. This is another area in which planning ahead and mapping out student goals comes in to play. Universities can help by opening up their view regarding what student involvement might look like for a diverse student population and providing information and support on these opportunities. Students can dive in right away and get involved as this is an important part of building their network, connecting with others and plugging in, but students also must be able to prioritize and manage their time. It is easy to get overloaded and over-committed.

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