Published on 2016/06/21
The EvoLLLution | How to Ensure a Successful Transfer Transition: The Obstacles
Four-year universities are typically designed and managed with traditional, 18-22 year old residential students in mind, which can create unnecessary challenges for transfer students coming in to complete their bachelor’s degrees.

The reality is that every student, every school, and every state is going to have a slightly different set of considerations and potential challenges when it comes to transfer students’ transition to a four-year university. Factors include institutional articulation agreements, transferring from a four-year or a two-year college, whether the school is public or private, semester versus the quarter system, transferring in the fall or spring term, transferring across state lines, transferring units from multiple institutions, and unit accumulation.

You name it, there are a plethora of differing transfer experiences.

Further complicating the transition for transfer students—and the institutions welcoming them—is the fact that one key characteristic unites all transfer students: the wide-ranging diversity of experience they bring to the table. Whether a transfer student is traditional-aged student (attending a college right out of high school and then transferring in to university) or is returning to school after years of pursuing other life goals, transfer students tend to have numerous identities. In transfer students we see a range of roles including (but not limited to!):

  • First generation college students
  • Community college students
  • Veterans, parenting students
  • Commuter students
  • Full-time workers
  • Undocumented students
  • Married students
  • Students over the age of 25
  • Students from low socio-economic conditions

This vastly differing set of experiences and student characteristics determines what questions students ask (or don’t ask), what specific resources they need once they transfer, and what challenges they face transferring from one school to another.

The transfer transition to an elite university may be further challenging if the culture or set of expectations at the new school differs significantly from the students’ previous institution. The two or three years that transfers students generally have to graduate does not give students much time to learn to navigate the new environment, find their niche, and make the most of their time at the new university. Another obstacle in the way of a fluid transition is the fact that many universities are organized on a traditional-student model—meaning they’re designed to effectively serve four-year, traditionally aged, residential students—and may not have the support structure, culture or community in place to best serve transfer students.

With such a variety of experiences, characteristics and potential challenges, it may seem that there is no way to generalize what students in transition need. However, there are many concrete actions that both institutions and transfer students can take to address challenges and make the adjustment to an elite four-year university more fluid.

Most importantly elite institutions can help transfers recognize the transferable skills they bring to the table, have resources in place to guide students in student navigating and adjusting to the new system/environment, and build a transfer supportive community on campus.

Transitions in life are challenging, but here’s the big secret when it comes to transfer students; they already have everything it takes to succeed in their new institution because they have done it before. Transfer students are scrappers; they took a non-traditional route to get to college and have the resiliency and savvy to transfer. Transfer students have amazing transferable skills and the aptitude and talent to thrive. It is easy to forget this fact however when entering a new and demanding environment, particularly if the university one is transferring to still functions on a traditional-student model and is not set up to best serve the needs unique to non-traditional/transfer students.

This is the first installment of a two-part series by Heather Adams on identifying and overcoming roadblocks to transfer facing non-traditional students. In this first piece, she focused on identifying the challenges. In the second installment, which will be published next week, she will share her thoughts on what it will take to overcome these obstacles to create a more transfer-friendly higher education environment.

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