Transfer Student Transitions: 3 Colleges’ Approaches to Support Incoming Transfers

As we begin another academic year, college campuses across the state are busy with transition programs for new students. From welcome week activities to first-year seminars to peer mentoring programs for incoming freshmen, the opportunities for first-year students to get help mastering their transition to college are abundant. However, it is important to recognize the great work that many colleges and universities are doing to help a different group with their college transition: transfer students. Three campuses, Iowa State University, Central College, and the University of Iowa, shared their initiatives to help transfer students make a successful transition to their new university.

Iowa State University begins their transfer support initiatives before students even arrive on campus with the Admissions Partnership Program (APP). APP is designed to give community college students access to exclusive benefits including academic advising, libraries, career fairs, recreational facilities and clubs, and more.

Participants can plan for a successful transfer to Iowa State though advising opportunities and ensure satisfying academic requirements to earning a bachelor’s degree. The application and program is free for eligible community college students.

Some of the benefits include:

-          Mentoring and guidance from both institutions. A student in APP will have an academic advisor at their community college and an academic advisor at Iowa State in the area of their academic interest, even if undecided.

-          Opportunities to access services and resources at Iowa State while still enrolled at their community college. Participants will have opportunities to access career exploration and other campus resources, and attend athletic and cultural events at student prices.

-          Receive their Iowa State student ID and access to additional student activities (fee required).

-          Opportunities to participate in orientation and registration prior to transfer.

-          Guaranteed acceptance into a bachelor’s degree program at Iowa State by meeting program requirements.

Interested student can apply for APP as soon as they graduate from high school and have registered for classes at their community college.

Iowa State’s New Student Programs also offers a separate student welcome program for transfer students called Transfermation. It is a one-day program within the Destination Iowa State program to address transfer student issues as campus logistics, apartment living, commuting, adult learners, students with children, and organizations for veterans and military students.

Interested students, academic advisors, and guidance counselors can contact Iowa State University for more information about the Admissions Partnership Program at [email protected]; or contact Tim Hauber, Assistant Director for Transfer Recruitment at [email protected].

Brian Peterson, the Associate Dean for Curriculum and Faculty Development at Central College, says, “The focus of the work we do for transfer is lodged in our Intro to Central Success course that I offer to all transfers. The course helps them acclimate to Central by building on what they have already learned at other institutions and finding ways to transfer that knowledge to Central processes. It is almost entirely discussion-based, with several reflection assignments. My goal here is to ensure that we’re the last stop on their road to graduation.”

Central has a specified transfer admission counselor to work with their transfer students throughout the whole matriculation process. All admissions staff at Central work very closely with the Registrar’s Office to ensure that transfer students are aware of how their classes will transfer to Central and what classes they will still need to take once they get here (especially for liberal arts core requirements). Once transfer students make the choice to enroll, Central has a designated class dean (essentially an extra academic advisor) who works with them to get them acclimated and help set up their first semester of classes at Central. Transfer students attend orientation with incoming freshmen, but we set aside one orientation day that is more geared toward transfers. Transfer students are invited to move in early and attend welcome week activities with the incoming freshmen.

At University of Northern Iowa, UNI Now is the extended orientation programming. New and transfer students are invited to attend all sessions, but UNI Now has some specific sessions that are a highlight for transfer students. The Transfer 101 session is always a highlight of UNI Now! As we know, transfers aren't new to college, but just new to the institution! Transfer 101 helps bridge that gap, and learn the tips and tricks about UNI. This Q & A discussion helps transfers get acquainted with campus by covering topics such as printing in the library to Quesadilla Day in the Union! 

Another transfer support initiative is the Transfer Advocacy & Involvement Group (TAIG), the first UNI organization dedicated to transfer students. This group was developed by transfer students that are passionate about helping their peers with the transition. This group facilitates socials and community service projects. This group takes time to learn and understand the challenges and barriers of the transfer student population. With understanding the economic barriers of transfer students, TAIG established an annual food drive for the UNI Panther Pantry. Last year TAIG collected over 500lbs of toiletries for donation and raised awareness to the campus community. TAIG provides fun, affinity, and a home base for transfers. Even through this time with social distancing, TAIG has done an impeccable job in creating a warm and greeting environment on campus!

The University of Iowa has an initiative called the Transfer Support Team (TST), which provides each transfer student with a team of support including their academic advisor and one additional staff member who check in regularly with transfer students throughout the semester to provide resources and additional support. The Transfer Support Team was first implemented at the University of Iowa in Fall of 2016, in tandem with the launch of the Excelling@Iowa system. With a large quantity of new off-campus transfer students, the Excelling@Iowa team knew that additional assistance was needed in supporting and connecting with these students, which is why the idea of TST was developed.

Over the course of the past four years, the Transfer Support Team (TST) has seen many successes, however, two specific successes stand out. First and foremost, the largest success of TST is consistently instilling a feeling of support for all new off-campus transfer students. While not all students respond to this intentional outreach, we know from focus groups that students connected to TST members appreciate the outreach they receive and are thankful to have a clear, specific connection point at the institution, should they need or want it. TST allows for a structured form of support for a group of students who, systematically, do not have a large volume of structured supports as they make their transition in comparison to their first-year student peers. Another primary success of TST is the ability to create opportunities for faculty and staff to connect with and support current University of Iowa students. Many TST volunteers share a desire to build relationships with undergraduate students, but not all of them have the opportunity to do so in their primary role on campus. TST is a place for them to remain connected to the undergraduate student experience and serve as a part of a student's support team.

While the needs of transfer students vary based on the student and the college or university that they are attending, it is important to find creative and innovative ways to support these students, especially in the first few weeks of the semester. Does your college or university have any unique programming for first-year or transfer students? Share with Iowa ACAC by emailing Susan Dickinson at [email protected].

Thank you to Tim Hauber (Iowa State University), Kayla Van Wyk (Central College), and Stephanie Huntington (University of Iowa) for their assistance with this article.

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