Enrollment Blog

How to guarantee transfer students will reject you

Four mistakes your institution should avoid

By Scott Booth

Across the past year, as I have crisscrossed the country advising institutions on their transfer student strategies, I often find myself sitting longer than I would like in airports.

During a recent delay at JFK, I passed the time people-watching. As there often are in airports, there were lots of frustrated passengers and staff to observe. This time, I was especially struck by how poorly the airline staff handled their customers. They struggled to provide acceptable answers and angry passengers muttered that they would never fly the airline again.

This observation made me think about transfer students, who, in a sense, are passengers as well, trying to take a trip to a new school. Sometimes it seems that four-year institutions are like the airline staff I was watching, so unaccommodating it seems they want students to reject them!

Based on what I’ve seen on my cross-country treks lately, here are four all-too-common, self-defeating practices for transfer student enrollment. If your institution wants to become more welcoming to transfer students, I strongly recommend pursuing none of the practices below.

Never miss another transfer enrollment best practice—here's how

1. Limit transfer credit

Many four-year institutions do a poor job of helping students to transfer their credits: sometimes past coursework does not count toward major degrees, sometimes only a few credits are permitted, and often information about the credit transfer process is confusing or non-existent. As a result, transfer students are left to assume that credit transfer is a barrier to entry and are fearful of potential credit loss, increased cost, and longer time to degree.

Four-year institutions should instead formalize strong transfer pathways with nearby community colleges, especially in high-demand programs, and guarantee that students who follow the formal pathway will have all of their credits transferred to the institution with junior standing. Support these formal pathways with easy-to-understand transfer guides that detail the courses transfer students need to take at the community college and at your institution, and provide credit evaluations prior to admissions decisions.

2. Make it hard to visit

Many four-year institutions offer only limited campus visit programs for transfer students. Compared to the frequency and depth of programs offered to first-time, full-time prospects, transfer visits are scarce.

Community colleges have begun to suggest that transfer students visit several four-year institutions to find the one that best fits their needs. Four-year institutions that invest in sophisticated transfer event strategies throughout the year will be well-received by these discerning transfer students who appreciate clear and welcoming communication of timelines, resources, and a sense of the campus culture.

3. Hide important information

Many schools I visit wrongly assume that their transfer student information is easily accessible when, in fact, it is buried in a long series of website links or missing altogether. Many transfer students consider the four-year application process to be discouragingly complex. A lack of information about your transfer admissions requirements and related deadlines typically results in missed deadlines—and missed opportunities for transfer students.

While most four-year institutions have their admissions process detailed both on and offline, many still need to develop and advertise simple, straightforward steps and timelines to completion, including essential financial aid office contacts, deadlines, and requirements.

4. Ignore community college advisors

Although community college advisors help students determine which college or university will best meet their needs, many four-year institutions fail to form relationships with these advisors that truly benefit the transfer student. This gap between two- and four-year staff undermines the ability of community college advisors to create strong transfer academic plans, provide necessary transfer resources, and, of course, guide transfer students through the application process.

Transfer-friendly schools must continually invest in relationship-building with advisors through frequent visitation, engagement, and sharing—and even co-creating—information about program pathways, course equivalencies, resources, and commitments to students looking to transfer.

The good news is that community colleges are grooming well-informed transfer student consumers. But enrollment teams at four-year institutions must ensure that they are not making these four common mistakes that can frustrate, delay, or deter prospective transfer students. I encourage you to take steps to guarantee that your institution provides a smooth flight to a transfer-friendly destination.

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