What You Should Know About Transfer Students

4 min read

Joanna Hughes

Transfer students have long been a second thought for colleges and universities. However, not only are transfer students growing in number, but they’ve recently claimed the spotlight as the higher institution sector increasingly realizes their value -- not only financially, but also in terms of diversity. Wondering whether your institution is making the most of the potential of transfer students? Here’s what you need to know.

The “Typical” Transfer Student Profile

Transfer students are typically more racially, ethnically and socioeconomically diverse than their traditional counterparts, according to a recent New York Times report on the uptick in interest by colleges and universities in transfer students. They also encompass a variety of backgrounds and experiences. For example, while one transfer student may be looking for a “fresh start” after struggling elsewhere, another may be looking for more academic opportunities after completing two years of community college.

Regardless of these differences, however, many of them do share a common set of characteristics, including the following as delineated by higher education enrollment management and fundraising consultancy Ruffalo Noel Levitz’s Anne Monroe:

● They’re more likely to be “nontraditional,” and may be first-generation, working, or with significant financial need

● They may experience “transfer shock” and other transition issues

● They may be less engaged than their traditional first-year peers

● They may have a greater need for development coursework in the early years of their academic journeys

● They may be veterans

● They may have competing obligations, such as family and careers

Furthermore, says Monroe, “[Transfer students] also tend to be more focused, having previously selected a major or program of study, and have an idea of the career they want to enter.”

Tips Recruiting Transfer Students

As universities endeavor to attract more transfer students, they first need to determine their own readiness for transfers.

Explains Monroe, “Many colleges desire to enroll transfer students, but haven’t made the necessary adaptations to their recruitment and student service practices to enable them to do this well. As an initial step, we advise campuses to first take stock of institutional priorities and practices—is your campus set up to work with transfers well?”

Once you’ve determined that your institution has the infrastructure in place to support transfer students, the following tips can help you be proactive in your efforts to capture this overlooked and undervalued market.

1. Optimize your marketing strategies for transfer students.

You have an outreach plan in place for freshman students; an outreach plan aimed at transfer students is equally important.

Proposes Monroe, “All too often, institutions lump transfer students in with their regular freshman communications, using the same language, publications, and even webpage links. Recognize that transfer students are a unique student subpopulation. They require more individualized attention and messaging.”

Specifically, your communication tactics should speak to non-traditional student concerns, including everything from study skills and mentoring to employment and childcare. Online content is also essential when reaching out to this demographic.

2. Have dedicated programming for transfer students.

Transfer students have different concerns and needs than traditional students. The best way to keep these top-of-mind? Allocate staff, structures, resources and programming specifically for transfer students. This will help you not only reach more transfer prospects, but also keep them engaged throughout the process. Transfer student-specific orientation activities, for example, can help mitigate transfer shock.

3. Minimize credit loss and facilitate academic pathways.

Only 14 percent of all community college students go on to earn bachelor’s degrees within six years, according to the Community College Research Center. Partly to blame for this phenomenon? Challenges pertaining to course equivalencies, credit evaluation and credit transfers. Simplifying this process as much as possible -- and communicating as such to prospective transfer students -- can help remedy the issue and open doors.

Formal community college partnerships, with local community colleges, meanwhile, can help further boost transfer student enrollment, engagement, and success.

4. Don’t dally.

Says Hanover Research, “Transfer students have a tendency to make quick enrollment decisions, so institutions should try to accommodate this need. “

Echoes Monroe, “The transfer student funnel is often compressed. Many transfer students seek to apply, receive a credit evaluation, register for classes, and finalize their enrollment processes in a short period of time. Your campus must respond quickly to transfers and not string them along for periods of time. “

Specifically, this means offering express application and enrollment days, providing evening services and opportunities, creating separate registration programs for transfer students, tailoring your financial aid communications for transfer students, and communicating transfer-friendly features, such as housing options and support services.

One last thing to keep in mind, according to Monroe? “Rarely will a single strategy impact enrollment of any student population. It is important to implement a number of these key strategies to gain increases in all levels of the enrollment funnel,” she says. The takeaway? Creating a comprehensive blueprint which integrates multiple aspects is ultimately the best way to grow your transfer student enrollments.




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