Not all students start at university and graduate four years later from their initial university. Some students start at community college with a plan to transfer to a four-year university in an effort to save money, have smaller, more supportive foundational courses, and/or explore different courses prior to settling on a major. Others enroll at a four-year university but determine that the school is not the best fit for them after all. With a global pandemic causing financial hardships and making college visits more difficult, independent educational consultants (IECs) may find themselves guiding more transfer applicants to four-year universities.

Below are tips for IECs helping student applicants manage this transition.

College Grades Matter Most

Whether students are enrolled in a community college or another four-year university, students should know that admissions officers will be focusing primarily on the college courses taken and grades earned. Some universities may have specific unit or course requirements for transfer students, such as having completed a minimum number of units or core courses in a breadth of subjects. Determining transfer eligibility will require careful research of each potential university. 

To a lesser extent, admissions officers will be looking at engagement in clubs and activities while at college. Strong transfer applicants will have made the most of their time at their initial institution. Extracurricular activities from high school or a gap year may be considered if the student has spent less than two years at the initial college. 

The Major

Most transfer applicants will need to apply to a specific major. Unlike first-year applicants, transfer applicants generally cannot apply as an Undeclared or Undecided major as the university that the student is applying to wants to know that the applicant will be able to complete their degree within two to three years of transferring.  

Appropriate preparation for transfer may include the completion of prerequisite courses for the major, especially when applying to competitive or impacted fields. Ask students to acquire and save syllabi from their classes whenever possible, as some schools and major departments may use these to evaluate course equivalencies.  

Articulation Agreements and Transfer Guarantees

Some community colleges have transfer admission guarantee programs with universities, but applicants must meet very specific requirements, and students may need to start with a detailed plan when they initially enroll at community college in order to take required courses (especially important for STEM majors for which successive courses require prerequisites). In some cases, these guarantees may require completion of an associate’s degree.  

If there is no specific guarantee or transfer pathway in place, or if the student is hoping to transfer between four-year schools, look for articulation agreements and course equivalency guides. Many universities post transfer courses that have previously been accepted for credit, or participate in a central database, such as Transferology 

Transfer Application Essays

The community college to four-year university application essay should focus on how the student has planned and prepared for transfer and may include details about extracurricular activities at the college or in the workforce. 

 The four-year university to four-year university transfer application essay should focus on the positive reasons for transferring, and what the student will do differently at the new university in order to be successful. It is best to avoid saying anything negative about the previous university (aside from it not being the best fit for the student). 

The Transfer Transition

Check to see if there are transfer coordinators, transfer support programs, and transfer housing at the schools being considered. All of these will help the student make the transition to a new university.  

Map out a path to graduation at potential universities. Some transfer students find that an additional semester or year is required to graduate in the desired major. It may be useful to check on maximum unit policies and fifth-year senior housing possibilities in some cases to ensure that the student will not just be able to gain admittance to a new university, but also graduate with a degree in a reasonable timeframe. 

Finally, check to see what financial aid may be available at the universities where you will be applying to transfer to. Applicants will need to submit the FAFSA in order to receive any need-based aid that they qualify for. Some, but not all, universities offer merit aid to transfer students. 

IECA members: Join the Transfer Students Affinity Group on the Member Network for more support and discussion on working with college students exploring undergraduate transfer opportunities. 

By Jaime Smith, MA, IECA Associate (OR) and Priscilla Vivio, MEd, IECA Associate (WA),  IECA Transfer Students Affinity Group Coordinators 

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