Transfer Students Need Help Applying to College, Too

Posted: June 14, 2010 at 1:02 am, Last Updated: June 11, 2010 at 1:45 pm

By Catherine Ferraro

Andrew Flagel, Mason dean of admissions

The number of students who graduate from high school each year and go on to college is increasing rapidly. As they prepare applications and personal statements, the resources to guide them in their choices seem endless.

But what happens when the school they’ve chosen to spend the next four years isn’t a good fit, or they decide to continue their education after completing a community college curriculum?

For many first-time college students, this is often the case. In fact, nearly two-thirds of students in the United States end up transferring from their original school, either a community college or four-year institution, before receiving a baccalaureate degree.

This switch can often be challenging for students, who find that the information available to them about the transfer process is scarce.

This lack of information is surprising to Andrew Flagel, Mason dean of admissions and associate vice president for enrollment development, especially considering the high volume of students who make the move each year.

To help shed more light on this under-studied group of students, Flagel partnered with the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) on a report about the transfer admission process.

“The varied life experiences and backgrounds of transfer students can bring diversity, maturity and a broader perspective to the classroom. The reality is that transferring between institutions en route to a baccalaureate degree has gone from being the exception to the norm,” says Flagel.

“Recognizing both the academic and social implications transfer students have on institutions and the workforce, it’s important to gain more understanding about how this group of students is evaluated when they apply to another college.”

Transfer students don't have the wealth of information that is available to first-time college applicants. Creative Services photo

To expand understanding of the transfer admission process, NACAC, an organization that focuses on the transition from high school to college, distributed a supplemental survey to its annual Admission Trends survey in 2006.

Flagel designed the supplement to collect data about how public and private colleges across the United States evaluate transfer applicants.

Flagel’s research shows that several factors play a role in evaluating transfer applicants based on the type of institution.

Not surprisingly, a student’s GPA at their previous school was considered the most important factor for both public and private institutions. There were also, however, some unexpected findings.

Many colleges, notes Flagel, particular smaller, private institutions, appear to use factors for evaluating transfer applicants intended for evaluating freshmen.

Many institutions, for instance, continue to list standardized test scores as significant factors, although there is no data suggesting that those scores are useful predictors of transfer student academic success.

The report also includes some broad findings that may indicate where transfer students have the best chance of admission.

More competitive institutions, for example, indicate a preference for applicants intended to enroll full time. Larger institutions appear to prefer transfer applicants over the age of 25, but Flagel suggests more research is needed to determine if a bias really exists.

“The most important thing is expanding research on the subject. With the number of community college students at an all-time high, it is amazing how little research on the transfer admission process has been conducted,” says Flagel.

“Hopefully, this report highlights how inconsistently transfer applicants are being evaluated and encourages more researchers to engage on the subject.”

The full report is online.

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