College transfer students are an increasingly significant segment in our undergraduate student populations. More than one-third of all undergraduates are college transfer students—they started at one institution and, for whatever reasons, have moved on to the next. That amounts to millions of college students transferring each year. While more than 37 percent transfer during their second year of college, many (22 percent) find themselves transferring even later, during the fourth or sometimes fifth years. And these students aren’t just transferring from one four-year campus to another. Forty-three percent transfer from a four-year campus to a two-year college, a trend that may surprise many who are just now beginning to pay attention to this group of students.
These mobile college transfer students make their decisions for a variety of reasons. Some of these students can be called “transfer-by-design” students—transferring has always been part of their plan because, perhaps, they first earn an associate’s degree, or have started at one institution in order to leverage that experience to gain admission to another, often more selective college or university that they would not have been accepted to initially. Other college transfer students fall into the “transfer-by-default” category. These may be students who picked a new institution because they were not successful at their first one. They may also have been forced to transfer due to circumstances such as a need to be closer to home, attend a less expensive college, or enroll at a community college to reset their educational compasses and develop new plans for their futures.
Understanding the motivations of college transfer students
Regardless of the past experiences of these college transfer students, they arrive at campuses with expectations—beyond what they may have shared in their admissions applications—for what this next, new college experience will offer them. A recent study of 1,708 transfer students (who responded to the Second-Year Student Assessment between 2010-12) found that these students had specific requests for assistance in four major categories: academics, advising, career planning, and finances:
- 49 percent of college transfer students newly enrolled at four-year public institutions requested tutoring support in one or more of their courses;
- 42 percent of transfer students at four-year private institutions wanted help with study skills;
- 50 percent of transfer students at two-year schools wanted help in developing a written plan leading to graduation;
- 63 percent of transfer students at four-year public institutions wanted help in discussing options for financing the rest of their college education;
- 78 percent of transfer students at four-year public institutions requested information about internships in their majors; and
- 62 percent of the transfer students at four-year private institutions asked for information about advantages and disadvantages of their major and career choices.