Published: Oct. 17, 2019

5 Ways Your Business School Can Help Transfer Students Succeed

Transfer students make up a substantive number—around 38%—of all students currently pursuing a college degree. According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center’s most recent Transfer and Mobility report, more than one million first-time freshmen in 2011 transferred to a different institution within six years. With new data like these about transfer student populations, many colleges and universities are paying closer attention to this long-overlooked group of prospects. They are also admitting more transfer students than ever before; the University of California system accepted a record number of transfer students for the 2019–2020 academic year. Likewise, transfer students make up nearly 10% of the student population at the Leeds School of Business. Currently, 422 of the school’s 3,800+ undergraduate population are transfer students.

However, the transfer process often poses challenges for students, from loss of credits to additional years added to degree completion, which makes a smooth transition to a new institution imperative to their success. So how can four-year colleges and universities ensure that this population thrives at their schools? Here are a few tips to help ease this process for both students and their home institutions:

Tip #1: Organize transfer-specific open houses and orientations 
One way that Leeds has helped transfer students succeed is by offering an orientation program focused solely on them. This gives individuals who are in the same situation the opportunity to meet, learn the layout of the building and the location of their advisor’s office, and meet faculty members and current students of the program.

Lance Duffin, an advisor for transfer students at Leeds, says that the biggest factor that helps their orientation program ensure success is by “creating a cohort of students. They get to know each other, they learn names, build study groups and begin to network.” Duffin says these types of early connections are invaluable to the success of the transfer students with whom he works.  
Penn encourages a strong transfer community on campus starting with personal attention given in the admissions process. Historically, the school has held open house events tailored to transfer students and has a Transfer Student Organization that runs a mentoring program pairing new transfer students with previous transfers.

Other schools have begun offering transfers the opportunity to register and enroll at events for prospective and newly admitted students. In a process called instant decision days, students can meet with an admissions counselor and get their admission decision on the same day. Offering this opportunity for transfer students can help simplify an otherwise complicated transfer process.

Tip #2: Appoint staff that specialize in transfer student recruitment and advisement 
Admissions and recruitment teams should do their homework on this demographic; reasons cited for why these students enrolled in two-year colleges first are very different from the reasons first-years enroll in four-year institutions. According to Inside Higher Ed, a recent survey from the National Research Center for College & University Admissions breaks the transfer students into the following types of decision makers: Cost Saver, the Local Explorer, the Academic Improver and the Late Bloomer. Strategies to recruit these students should speak to these underlying motivations. 

Duffin describes his position as a support to incoming transfer students. “I’m here to help students understand their transfer evaluations and to help them be strategic before they get here,” he says. That approach saves students time by not wasting credits they earned at other schools. He further suggests that schools “relegate funds and staff to commit time and energy directly to these students.” 

At the Leeds School of Business, they have advisors devoted solely to transfer students, and students are required to meet one-on-one with their advisor before they can register for classes. According to Duffin, “Finding ways to bring [transfer] students in for face-to-face time is crucial.” 

Tip #3: Make information about transfer credits easily accessible
A 2017 report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the majority of transfer students lost, on average, 37% of their credits. One way to help these students avoid the obstacle of losing significant credits is by making detailed information about your curriculum accessible on your website. Ensure this information is up-to-date and as detailed as possible. Create custom content with logistics and details and make certain that content paints a realistic picture of what life is like at your school for a transfer student.

The GAO’s report demonstrates findings similar to many other studies: Both two- and four-year institutions do a poor job—or fail completely—at providing clear program maps for students to follow online. With a subpar user experience without proper guidance, students may take the wrong classes or be missing key credits they need. As the number of high school students who are searching for colleges on mobile platforms also grows, schools need to pay attention to the digital experience they’re providing all prospective students.

Tip #4: Partner with community colleges
Research shows that articulation agreements—partnerships—with community colleges that explain and align the credits needed for a specific program or degree are one of the biggest factors in transfer student success. With agreements in place, students can save significant money on tuition because they will not be repeating credits or having to “start over” once they arrive at your school. California’s community college system serves so many students, the state has created a strong articulation system called the Intersegmental General Education Transfer Curriculum (IGETC) with their two state university systems, the California State University and University of California systems.

Some institutions have taken a completely different approach to address and simplify the issue of non-transferrable credits by becoming a member of the Interstate Passport program. Member schools offer students lower-division general education credits as a block of credits to transfer with, eliminating the need for each course to be individually accepted and potentially rejected. Thus, if you attend a school that is a member of the program and transfer to a school that is also a member of the program, you can avoid the inconvenience, cost and time of the traditional transfer experience. 

Tip #5: Provide scholarships for transfer students
The New York Times has described the cost of college and the financial aid process as serious barriers for transfer students, many of whom are low-income. A vertical transfer from a two-year school to a four-year school offers underrepresented students a more financially viable option for completing their degrees; although, universities have typically not offered the same scholarships and grants to transfer students as they have to first-time, first-year students. 

Partial scholarships, work-study programs and other financial aid can also make a difference for many students considering a move to your school. By addressing cost concerns at the beginning of their time with your school, you can alleviate many of the major hurdles that prevent transfer students from succeeding in your programs. 

By prioritizing efforts to recruit and admit transfers as well as support their transition from one school to another, colleges and universities have a lot to gain. In addition to helping a college’s yield, transfer students bring schools additional revenue. They also provide an additional opportunity to diversify the student population with students who have a wide breadth of academic and life experience to share with their peers. The key is communicating transfers’ importance in your institution’s strategic planning and ensuring the resources necessary to support their success are provided for, which includes considering their wellness, residential living (if applicable), extracurricular activities and other aspects that contribute to a positive college experience.

Turning the corner 
It’s no surprise that the high cost of today’s higher education and student debt present a huge barrier for anyone considering college. In response, some states have passed legislation to make community college free, most recently California, whose community colleges make up the largest system of higher education in the United States, with 2.1 million students. New York was the first state to make college tuition free for two and four-year colleges (i.e., a State University and City University of New York), followed by Oregon. Tennessee, Maryland and Rhode Island also have policies in place that cover tuition at community colleges for students who meet state-specific criteria. Looking forward, the more two-year institutions become increasingly accessible and more affordable, the more colleges and universities will want to be prepared for an uptick in the number of transfer applicants in the near future.