Parenting Your College Transfer Student: Navigating the Decision, the Process, and the Transition

Roughly 2.5 million college students every year transfer to a different school.  Statistics from the United States Department of Education suggest that close to 60% of college students will attend more than one school before they graduate.  While many students find just the right college and stay there four years, these statistics suggest that there is a good chance that your college student may consider a transfer to another college at some point during their college career.

While the overall transfer rate in the United States may suggest that transferring is now the norm for many, if your child decides to transfer, the process is a significant event for them, and for you.  Even though others may be going through the same process, it does not lessen the impact of the decision for your individual student.

For some students who attend 2-year institutions, the decision may not be whether to transfer, but rather where to transfer.  For other students, the decision is more difficult because transfer is a choice.  Your student will need to go through a process of deciding whether or not a transfer is the right answer for them.  If they decide to make a change, they will need to complete the actual process of transferring, and finally they’ll need to make the transfer successful once it happens

What are transfer options?

Many students make what is called a vertical transfer.  Quite simply, this is a transfer from a two-year college to a four-year institution.  The student may have opted to begin their college career at a community college or a junior college.  After completing work there, perhaps with an Associates’ Degree, they transfer to a four-year institution to complete their undergraduate work for a Bachelor’s Degree.  Some two-year institutions have Articulation Agreements with four-year schools.  This means that the student may have direct entry into a program at the partnering institution.  This type of transfer is a big step, but does not have the emotional weight of a difficult decision.  It is a natural next step.

Most other students who transfer make horizontal or lateral transfers.  They transfer from a two-year to a two-year or from a four-year to a four-year institution.  Their reasons for transferring may be as varied as the students themselves.

Students may transfer:

  • because they want to be with friends who are at another school.
  • because they want a fresh start after a rocky first year,
  • because they want to be closer to home or further away from home,
  • because they are homesick,
  • because they have changed major or program of interest and another school has more to offer,
  • because they want a more prestigious degree,
  • because of a change in finances.
  • because they have been dismissed from a school 
  • because they simply believe that “the grass is greener” somewhere else.

Making the decision

Some of the reasons for transferring may seem more valid to parents than others, but it is crucial to recognize that whatever your student’s reason, it is important to your student.  You may wonder how you, as a parent, can help.  There are several ways you might participate in your student’s thinking about transferring.

  • Recognize that this may be a difficult, or at least, very significant decision for your student.  Try to be as supportive during this decision making time as possible.
  • Understand that your student may not have been able to make an informed decision about college when they were in high school.  Your student may not have understood enough about who they are, about the realities of college life, about their interests, or about possible majors. They may need to make a change now because they look at college, and life, differently.
  • Congratulate your student for recognizing when something may not be working and trying to do something to improve their situation.
  • Help your student try to determine whether the problem is truly with the institution, or whether it is something that they may be able to address without changing schools.  Might a change of living situation, study habits, social circles help?  Are there advising or support services available that might make a difference?  Is a new school going to be the answer, or will the student take the problem with them?  A change of school may be the best course of action, but it is possible that some other type of change may be what is needed.
  • Stand back and allow your student to make this decision.  If they ask for your advice, share your opinion.  But remember that your student must take responsibility for their college career.  If they feel that making a change will help, and you have guided then to consider all factors, then respect this decision and try to help your student make the change.

The transfer process

Once your college student has made a decision to transfer to another college, there are some important tasks to be done.

  • Gather lots of information about potential colleges and/or programs. Your student may know exactly where they want to transfer, or may be looking for the appropriate school. One advantage that your student now has is the knowledge gained through the time they have spent at their current school.  As your student thinks about the reasons for transferring, they will think of questions to ask the new school.  What are their priorities?  What wasn’t working (if anything) at the current school?  Encourage your student to take time to look carefully at the new institution.  Study the website.  Visit the school.  Stay overnight on campus if possible.  Talk to current students.  Meet with admissions or advising personnel at the new school. Ask lots of questions.
  • Ask specific questions about the transfer process.  Encourage your student not only to consider the school and its programs, but also to ask about the transfer process itself.  What are application deadlines?  What are financial aid deadlines and is financial aid available for transfer students?  What courses will transfer?  Is there a minimum GPA requirement?  When will your student know what courses will transfer?  Is there a maximum number of credits that can be transferred?  What courses will be required at the new school and how long will it take to complete a degree?
  • Understand that the entire process takes time and is complex.  Much like the process of applying to college in the first place, the transfer process requires several important pieces of information to all come together.  The admissions office will need the application, financial aid forms, and the student’s current transcript.

Once your student applies and is accepted, someone at the college will look at each course on the transcript to decide whether it will transfer. There is usually a minimum grade requirement for a course to transfer.   Courses are evaluated for compatibility with the courses offered by the accepting institution. Some schools are very generous in their acceptance of credits from other institutions, and some are more restrictive.   This is often a complex process which involves finding course descriptions and requirements from the sending institution.  Allow the college time to complete the process carefully.  Although your student may be anxious to get started choosing classes at the new school, they may need to be patient.  It will be to your student’s benefit to give the college time to gather all the necessary information.

  • Start early, pay attention to deadlines, and keep good records.  Because the process takes time, the earlier your student can get started, the less stressful the process will be.  Pay close attention to deadlines – especially for financial aid.  Encourage your student to keep careful records of what has been sent, dates of phone conversations, and names of people with whom they have spoken.  This is especially helpful if your student needs to follow up on any conversations.  They should also follow up on transcript requests to make sure the new institution has received all necessary information.
  • Don’t burn bridges at your student’s current institution.  Even though your student expects to transfer, perhaps at the end of the current term, there are some important things to consider as they finish up.  The new institution will need a final transcript with grades.  Your student should be careful not to let studies slide.  Although everything will hopefully go smoothly with the transfer, circumstances can always change.  Your student should register for classes for the next semester, go ahead with housing selection, prepare to continue the next semester.  It is relatively simple to withdraw from classes or housing reservations when the transfer is finalized, but it can be difficult to get appropriate classes or housing if your student should decide to stay.

Hopefully, your student has made an informed and considered decision about whether or not to transfer and has followed through carefully on the process.  Now they need to settle in to the new situation.

Making the transition: settling in

A transfer to a new college is a fresh start.  Much like entering college as a new, first-year student, this fresh start can be both exciting and intimidating.  You can help your student make this adjustment smoothly.

  • Help your student be prepared for a time of adjustment.  Yes, they are familiar with college life in general, but your student’s new college may be very different from their old institution.  Your student may feel out of place at first.  They will have an “in between” status for a while.  Your student is not a brand new freshman, but they are new to this institution.  It can be dangerous to assume that things will be done in the same way as they were in the old school. Encourage your student to ask questions often. This phase will pass, but they need to be prepared to give it some time.
  • Encourage your student to take advantage of any orientation or information sessions offered to transfer students.  Some schools do not conduct orientation for transfers, but many are beginning to recognize that transfer students have specific needs.  Although your student may feel that they already know it all, encourage them to attend any information sessions offered by the school.  In addition to the information they may gain, this is a great opportunity to meet other students who are also new to the school.
  • Encourage your student to get involved on campus in as many ways possible. In addition to going to classes, being involved in activities is an ideal way to meet other students and to quickly get a sense of the life and culture of the institution.  Getting involved will help them to get over the “out of place” feeling quickly.
  • Encourage your student to take advantage of the clean slate they now have.  They has no campus reputation yet, they have no GPA (strong or weak), they have no history.  Help your student consider how things will be different at this new school or how they will recreate the success at his previous school.
  • Remind your student that their path may be different from other students who have not transferred.  They need to be responsible for keeping track of courses, requirements, credits.  Your student may need to consider the possibility of a summer course or an intersession course or even an extra semester or year.  If their reasons for transferring were important, the extra time or effort will be well worth it, but they don’t want to be taken by surprise if extra time or courses are necessary.

Perhaps you’ve noticed that the words support and encourage are used often as we think about transfer students.  Your student has taken an important, and perhaps courageous, step in their college career.  It is a step that not all students need or want to take.  Your recognition and support of your student’s decision will help them to make the necessary adjustments and continue on the path toward success and independence.

Related posts:

Why You Need to Support Your Transfer Student

Should My Student Withdraw from College?

Is College Transfer the New Normal?

College Parents, Hold That Advice!


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