As an academic advisor at a state university, I have a lot of opportunities to observe what makes a transfer student successful here and what pitfalls transfer students may experience. Not only that, I myself was a transfer student as well as one of my offspring. Here are some of my lessons learned in the form of advice to new transfer students.
1. Act as though you are a first-class citizen of your new college or university (because you are).
At a typical state university, transfer students from two-year institutions, along with a smaller number transferring from other four-year colleges, make up a large fraction of entering students. At my university (UMBC), we admit more than 1000 new transfer students each fall and another 500+ in the spring-quite a sizeable contingent in a school with about 9400 total undergraduates. (Private colleges accept fewer transfer students, but even the most prestigious schools accept some transfer students.) Transfer students are essential to the financial health and overall vitality of state universities.
Therefore transfer students should think of themselves as first-class citizens and fully deserving of a high quality experience, whether they are entering with 12 credits from another college (so-called “freshman transfers), a full Associate of Arts degree (about 60 credits), or even 80-90 credits from another school.
This is an important point because there is a definite tendency for transfer students to think of themselves as less important or integral to the university community than students who entered as first-time freshmen. This is not true. Put more bluntly, without transfer students, my university would reduce its student body by about half! In these lean times, every student counts and you, the transfer student, are highly valued.
2. Do not assume that “everybody” already knows “everybody else”.
At a school of any size (let’s say more than 2500 students), many of the native freshman students know only a fraction of their classmates. Every student, native or transfer, has the potential to make new friends at any point. Coming in with an assumption that you are somehow “odd man out” is not only depressingly counter-productive, but usually factually inaccurate! And if you are entering a small liberal arts college where almost everyone at least vaguely knows everyone else, as a transfer student you may have a competitive advantage. Your arrival can engender excitement–a fresh face, a new Ultimate Frisbee player, trumpet player for the pep band, and who knows what else? Students at tiny schools welcome reinforcements.
3. Fight for your transfer credits.
Well, I don’t recommend you fight in a literal sense, but make your case strongly and persistently and to the right people. The initial evaluation of your credits is not the final word. By presenting more detail in the form of course descriptions, syllabuses, even copies of tests or textbooks, you may be able to convince the faculty of your new college that the course you took at your old college should be accepted. They may even accept it as a substitute for a requirement of your major. It is crucial that you ask and that you do the legwork. Fighting for your transfer credits may not be productive when you are transferring from an in-state community college that has established articulation agreements with the four-year state schools. However, articulation agreements are not always kept up to date, so there may be some room for negotiation even there.
4. Plan your first semester schedule carefully.
Here are some very common pitfalls to avoid when building your first schedule at the new college.
• Don’t overschedule; be conservative with the number of credits you undertake so you have some time to make the adjustment. It will be a very significant adjustment nearly as challenging as initial entry into college.
• Avoid registering for a course you have already taken or may already have taken (if the transfer credit evaluation is still in progress). Also avoid taking a course if it is unclear whether you have the needed prerequisite course because of a pending transfer evaluation.
• Do not overlook potential credits from high scores on Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, or College Level Examination tests. Each college and university handles these differently and may require an original copy of the score reports.
In general, the point is to give yourself time to adjust and set up what will almost certainly be a successful first semester with no wasted effort on courses you do not need.
5. Make a deliberate, genuine, no-backing-out commitment to yourself to get involved in something on campus beyond attending your classes. Here are some ideas:
• Get a part-time job on campus. You can work in an academic department, the library, check IDs at the gym, or be a Resident Assistant in a dorm. You do not need to be a “work-study” student with a financial aid package or a residential student to work on campus.
• Do an undergraduate research project with a faculty mentor. Most colleges have programs to encourage and support this activity. Some faculty members hire students to be research assistants or to work in their labs.
• Join an intramural team, club sports team, or even consider trying out as a walk-on player for a varsity team if you have the athletic talent.
• Join a club or special interest group with like-minded students (cycling club, history club, drama club, Persian students club, or Young Democrats or Republicans, environmental awareness club, etc., etc.)
• Volunteer to assist at campus events, to be a campus tour guide, to help middle school students attending a program at your college, etc.
• Attend campus events-basketball games, lectures, concerts, plays, ice cream socials, bus trips, career days, scholarship information sessions, and more. Attend even if you have to go without a friend. Just go!
Whether you are a commuter student or a student living on or near campus, there is nothing more important to your assimilation into your new college than doing something or multiple somethings on campus. Transfer students who are happy and successful academically view the college experience as more than attending classes.
Conclusion: Aim High!
A transfer student can bring something “extra” to the table, particularly if they are a year or two or even more years older than the 17-22 year olds at a typical university. For example, a student who was editor-in-chief of her community college newspaper may have skills that will make it easy for her to slide into a leadership role on the university newspaper’s staff. A transfer student with some experience in the paid workforce may find a job on campus or an off-campus internship more readily.
I personally have worked with transfer students who have won places in top graduate and professional schools; in particular I know two who have gone on to programs at Harvard University and one who won a major national fellowship to attend graduate school at New York University. Another currently attends medical school at the University of Maryland on a full fellowship, and another went to Turkey on a Fulbright student grant. Transfer students have become physicians, attorneys, research scientists, nurses, social workers, artists, and college professors. Transfer students can be highly successful academically, socially, and economically. Therefore I urge you, the transfer student, to set your sights on the stars.
Source for UMBC data: UMBC website, www.umbc.edu/oir