Five Questions Every Transfer Student Should Ask

Christina Ciocca Eller, 2015-16 Graduate NYC Research Fellow, Columbia University

Transfer students comprise about two-thirds of the entire student population of four-year colleges within The City University of New York (CUNY) system.  Put another way: transfer students are in the majority!  In light of this important statistic, CUNY’s four-year colleges have started to acknowledge the unique circumstances and needs of transfer students. Some helpful programs and practices have developed, many of them striving to support transfer students’ transitions to and success within new four-year settings.

While CUNY’s four-year colleges continue to make progress, there are more immediate steps that transfer students can take.  During the 2015-2016 academic year – and with the support of Graduate NYC – I have researched the experiences of thirty transfer students at three separate CUNY four-years.  All of these transfers have come directly from two-year colleges, both within and outside of the CUNY system.  Learning from these students has proven both eye opening and humbling, as I have been inspired by their intense commitment to their educational futures.

Of the many lessons I have learned, one, in particular, stands out: transfer students need to know the right questions to ask as they transition to their four-year colleges.  Though transfers have experienced other educational settings, some of the specific issues arising in a new four-year context can feel quite unexpected and even out-of-the-blue.  Without knowing the right questions to ask, it can be easy to feel lost or overwhelmed.

Keeping this lesson in mind, here are five questions that every transfer student should ask as they prepare to start their four-year experience:

  1. When can I expect my transfer credit assessment?

One of the most important steps of the transfer process involves an assessment of academic credits earned at a student’s prior college.  This assessment often dictates how many more credits a student needs to graduate with a BA and what types of courses will be required to fulfill various core requirements and major prerequisites.  So, receiving the credit assessment – often from a college’s Office of Academic Advising – is critical for guiding students in their course registration process during the first semester.

The policies and practices surrounding credit assessment differ at each CUNY four-year campus.  Transfer students should be as proactive as possible in learning about the credit assessment process and speaking with relevant offices, such as Academic Advising, about the translation of their existing credits to their new college contexts.  Doing so will enable transfer students to register for the right courses in a timely way.

  1. Will I be able to declare my intended major? When is the deadline?

Transfer students often make an assumption that they will be able to declare their intended major immediately upon transfer.  However, the process is not always automatic, instead requiring the fulfillment of certain prerequisites or the submission of an application within an academic department.  Transfer students should connect with administrators or faculty members within their intended major departments to understand the major declaration process and ensure that they are on track.

This process gets a bit trickier when financial aid enters the mix.  Oftentimes, TAP and other financial aid payments are connected to major declaration.  Students transferring with 60 credits or more must declare a major by a particular deadline in order to receive their financial aid payments.  Transfer students should speak with Academic Advising or Financial Aid to understand when, exactly, the major declaration deadline is, if it applies to them, and how to ensure they meet can meet the deadline – even if this requires declaring a slightly different major than originally anticipated.

  1. What does success look like in your classroom?

When transfer students first enter four-year classrooms, their peers often will consist of students who have started at the college as freshmen or other transfers who already have spent some time at the college.  It is possible in such a context that professors might make some assumptions about their students’ understanding of how to succeed academically.  While the skills and strategies transfer students have learned in their prior colleges certainly will help in this new setting, it is possible that some clarification will be helpful or even necessary.  Transfers should be proactive in seeking out support from their professors or fellow classmates in understanding the academic “rules of the road,” establishing early on what “success” looks like for each professor.  Visiting office hours or sending professors emails are good strategies, especially early on in each semester.

  1. Are there any programs or events specifically designed for transfer students?

Some CUNY four-year colleges have started to develop programs specifically geared towards the needs and concerns of transfer students.  As just one example, Brooklyn College has developed a semester-long orientation program called, “TransferNation,” while also supporting transfers through their Transfer Student Services Center.  Finding out about programs such of this can open important doors for transfer students while also facilitating the transition to a new four-year setting.

  1. What are the available support resources and how can I access them?

More generally, all of CUNY’s four-year colleges offer a wealth of resources available to all students – including transfers.  Yet students often do not find out about these resources, which span from free printing to free shuttle busses to stress management workshops, until their college careers are almost over.  A good place for transfer students to start asking about these resources is during transfer student orientation, which transfers should make every effort to attend.  Another critical issue for learning about resources is college email access: many colleges choose to use school email to reach out about various opportunities, yet not all students check these email addresses.  By checking email regularly, many possibilities for support and opportunities for success likely will become available.

Taken together, posing these questions can help transfer students enter four-year settings with a proactive and inquisitive perspective – both of which will be rewarded many times over as their college careers continue in a new environment.


For more on Christina’s transfer research, view her report here.

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