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By AJ Howell-Williams

Understanding the Transfer Population

Let’s begin with some interesting findings from the recently released 2015 State of College Admission report, produced by NACAC. Nearly 40% of all students who began their college career in 2008 transferred at least once over the next six years. Thirty-seven percent of all first-time degree-seeking students in 2014 began their college career at a two-year institution, or community college. And finally, “reverse-transferring” is a thing: many students begin their college careers at four-year schools and transfer to two-year schools, before –presumably– transferring back to a four year. So the next time you find yourself on a college campus take a quick moment and look to you left, then to your right, because one of the people next to you might be a transfer student!

In my experience, no matter how “unique” they may claim their situation to be, transfer students usually fall into at least one of three categories: (1) They began their college career at a community college and therefore need to move on to a 4-year school. (2) Things didn’t go as planned at school number one. So after some time spent getting back on track –either at home, another university, at a community college, or years down the line– it’s then on to school number two or three. (3) Or lastly, school number one simply wasn’t a fit. And the student is now in search of the right campus for them.

The situation is pretty straight-forward for students in the first category. For some, community college is the best option to continue their education right out of high school. That could be due to finances, a lack of direction in terms of interest in study, or the fact that high school did not go so well and thus community college is the only option academically. In general, the first year to two years at most institutions will be spent working on lower-division general education or core requirements. So the ability to knock out some of those universally required courses at an institution –usually a fraction of the cost of most universities or colleges– makes perfect sense.

For students in the second group, there are quite often a few familiar reasons why an initial college experience might not turn out the way one expected. It could be due to a lack of time management and self-control on the student’s part; too much freedom, too soon, usually leads to too much partying and too little studying. Thus, after a quarter or semester, both the school and the student –usually one side more than the other– come to the agreement to part ways. Other times an athletic experience doesn’t turn out as expected. There are sometimes medical issues, both physical and –increasingly– mental, for either the student or a family member, that necessitate a return home to be handled properly. In some cases, hopefully less frequent than not, there are incidents which make a student so uncomfortable they simply cannot remain on a particular campus. And for some international students, continental relocation, or American educational aspirations, force a change in circumstances.

But for students in the second group, in general, the trend is usually to start off at a 4-year school, experience some form of struggle, transfer to a community college, then move on to a different 4-year once they’ve rebounded. Other times the student is solid enough academically to move straight from 4-year to 4-year.

For the third group, there are numerous potential reasons why a particular institution may not be the right “fit” for any given student. Sometimes homesickness lasts longer than the first few weeks, quarter, semester, or year; that said, a small but growing trend is for students to seek a transfer halfway through orientation. Sometimes a campus is massively, overwhelmingly large, or uncomfortably, suffocatingly small and intimate. Sometimes school spirit is lacking, Greek life is unescapable, or a social life is hard to find period because everyone commutes or a campus is too rural and isolated. Sometimes students realize it’s more fun to visit snowy places than to actually live in them. For these and many many more reasons a particular school can sometimes simply not be a fit for a student, and a move must be made.

Regardless of the reasons for transferring, the clear reality is that transfers are now, and will forever be, a significant and probably growing contingent of the students on American campuses. So the question then becomes, “How will your campus welcome them?”