Admitting Transfer Students

illustration of a report with graphs and charts

This week, the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) released a report detailing how institutions of different types and sizes are weighting different admissions factors when reviewing transfer student applications. Among other findings, the report confirms that most (though not all) institutions have begun weighting postsecondary grades and achievements over secondary grades.

Responding to the NACAC survey, Kurt Thiede, vice president for enrollment management at Bucknell University and a leader in recruiting and engaging transfer students, offers tips for reviewing transfer student applications and for better integrating transfer students into your enrollment strategy.

Admissions Factors

When reviewing transfer student applications, Thiede advises, “look at their academic achievements in totality”:

  • GPA earned
  • Strength of schedule
  • Pace at which the student took the courses

Regarding pace, Thiede cites the case of a 30-year-old student who has earned a 2-year degree with a 4.0 GPA but who did so by taking 1-2 courses per term over the past 10 years. This student may have a high GPA and an excellent schedule, but might not be ready for the pace of education at your institution.

One factor Thiede advises not weighting for transfer admissions is standardized test scores. These test scores may be several years dated for many applicants, and their post-secondary record is both more recent and likely more indicative of how they will perform at your institution. Thiede cites examples of students who may not have had a strong high school record, but who have since turned that around and achieved a high GPA at a respected two-year institution.

“The further a student gets from the secondary experience, the less weight that secondary experience should have.”
Kurt Thiede, Bucknell U

For smaller, private colleges who are more likely to have the time to consider more of the non-cognitive factors in a transfer student’s record, Thiede recommends avoiding one-size-fits-all criteria for these. For example:

  • Besides achieving an associate’s degree, Student A served as the student president at his two-year institution, and has been very involved in service activities.
  • Besides achieving an associate’s degree, Student B has two children and a full-time job, and has made early strides in her career.

If you review Student B’s record in search of traditional examples of service and leadership activities, you may not find what you’re looking for. Yet Student B may be as well-equipped as Student A to bring her life experience and what Thiede calls “that maturity of life” that will enrich the learning environment at your institution.

Thiede cites a specific example from his own university, a young father of four who works as a master carpenter and is now completing a civil engineering degree, after originally coming to Bucknell from a community college. This student had the experience of studying alongside some peers who had a better understanding of the math and the physics behind structuring a wall, while he had a better practical understanding of how to build a wall without it falling down. Combining his knowledge of practice and the other students’ knowledge of theory helped create a fuller, mutual learning experience.

Integrate Transfers into your Enrollment Strategy

Traditionally at many institutions, transfer students have been treated as an enrollment float — one year, a small college needs 5 seats filled, so they bring in 5 transfers. The next year, they need 0 seats filled, so they don’t bring in transfers.

Thiede recommends taking a more intentional approach to integrating transfer students into your overall enrollment strategy. Rather than reviewing applications ad hoc, take your enrollment goal and decide on a number of seats to allocate to transfer students. To fill those seats, approach your feeder community colleges and partner with those individuals who have influence on college choice decisions. You want these individuals to be watching for those students who show greatest promise, and you want them to be in a position to connect immediately with your own advisors, faculty, or admissions personnel to open a conversation.

“We are already strategic in relationship-building with counselors at key schools. Take those practices and apply them to 2-year colleges.”
Kurt Thiede, Bucknell U

This allows you to identify top students and engage them before they apply, and rather than use transfer applicants to fill holes in your enrollment, you can use them to take the pressure off your freshman class.

“Pilot your transfer enrollment strategy and your transfer engagement strategies with a small sample (if you are a small institution, maybe 15 students rather than 100). Then scale it up, once you can measure your effectiveness.”
Kurt Thiede, Bucknell U

Learn More

Engaging Transfer Students Before They Arrive