Why Your Transfer Student May Be in Shock

There is a phenomenon called Transfer Shock.  If you have a transfer student, she may be experiencing this tendency for students who transfer from one school to another to experience a temporary dip in their GPA during their transitional first or second semesters.

If you have a transfer student who did reasonably well in her original school and she is facing this transitional grade dip, she may be alarmed.  She may wonder whether she should have transferred after all – or whether she transferred to the right school.  It may help if you can reassure your student that this struggle, this dip in GPA, is normal; and that most transfer students recover their grades within a semester or two.

If you have a student who is considering a transfer next semester or next year, warn her ahead of time. Your student may be able to avoid it, but more importantly, if transfer shock does occur, she’ll worry less because she’ll know that others may be experiencing the same thing.

Why does transfer shock happen?

Some students may underestimate the difficulty of transitioning to a new school.  They’ve already made the adjustment to being in college, and they feel that a new school won’t be all that different.  However, once at the new school, students realize that there are new ways of doing things, new expectations, new traditions, and new policies.  Students may also encounter more difficult upper level coursework than they had at their previous institution.  Some students may also be taken by surprise at the social disorientation that they feel in a new environment and the effort that it takes to make new social connections and friends.

Students who are unprepared for some of the difficulties of transferring to a new school may feel overwhelmed, suffer from more anxiety and stress, and feel especially lonely.  Homesickness and questioning their decision to transfer are not uncommon.  Much like the culture shock that we experience when we visit a new country, it may take time for students to become comfortable in their new environment.

What can my student do?

If your student is considering a transfer but is still enrolled in her original school, she can check to see whether her school has any resources to help her bridge to her new school.  These resources are most likely to be available in a community or two-year school where students will be transferring to a four-year institution.  It is to the school’s benefit to have students do well at the new school and they may have resources that will help to prepare students.  It may be up to your student, however, to seek the help and advice available at her school

Once students transfer, there are several things that they can do to reduce the transfer shock that they may experience.

  • Attend any transfer student orientation or programs available. Some transfer students feel that they don’t need orientation since they have already attended college.  But each college has different policies and expectations.  Each school has different resources or ways of accessing those resources.  Orientation also provides students an opportunity to meet other transfer students and begin to make connections.
  • Ask whether there is a specific transfer office or counselor. Transfer students have specific needs and questions.  There may be someone on campus designated to help transfer students find their way.
  • Work to make connections on campus as soon as possible. Reach out to other students, visit faculty members during office hours, meet with your advisor, visit the tutoring center, writing center or career center on campus.  Learn what is available, even if you don’t need the services now.
  • Try to maintain balance in your schedule. Don’t try to make up time or a few lost credits by taking on too much during your first semester or two.  Don’t overload your schedule.  Remember that level of classes and course expectations may be very different in a new school.
  • Get involved on campus. This will help you get acclimated.  Join a club or organization.  Attend campus events.  Keep exploring the feel of the new campus.  Just as schools often recommend that first year students not go home during the first six weeks of school so they will get involved, try not to leave campus too much.  You have a whole new world to explore.
  • Don’t underestimate the transition and potential transfer shock. Remember that it is a normal part of the transfer experience.  Accept that grades may dip slightly temporarily, but usually rebound. This is normal.
  • Using some of the suggestions above, or other ideas of your own, create a plan to try to minimize transfer shock. It is common, but may not be inevitable for students who are prepared and who work at making their transition.

Parents, remember that transfer shock may occur. Don’t be alarmed if grades dip slightly. Be patient. Talk to your transfer student about her experiences, her feelings, and her plans for moving forward.  Your support will help your student with her adjustment to her new college experiences.

Related Articles:

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

Is College Transfer the “New Normal?”

Why You Need to Support Your College Transfer Student


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