Helping Community College Graduates Adjust to a Four-Year Institution | Michael L. Arias

Written by Michael L. Arias of Florida Atlantic University.

Transfer students are typically non-traditional students with a wide variety of needs, academic preparation levels, and aspirations. The transition to a four-year institution is often a challenging adjustment for transfer students. Student affairs professionals can help new transfer students by engaging them directly through targeted programming and services.

My own experience as a transfer student was a rocky one. Although my first experience on a large public university campus was positive, after attending the transfer orientation, I was left on my own. Feeling disconnected and self-conscious because I was older than most students, I spent my first weekend on campus at home playing video games. It turns out that students between the ages of 21 and 25 are twice as likely to leave after their first and third semester (Ishitani, 2008, p.407). My grades suffered that first year and I later learned I suffered “transfer shock” (Hill, 1965, p. 202). Transfer students need to build community to help ease their transition and be successful at their new institution. Therefore, the purpose of this article is to provide suggestions for helping community college students transition and adjust to their new four-year institution.

Transfer students are more likely to assume services are not available to them, so it is important to advertise and promote extracurricular opportunities to them. Here are specific suggestions for involving transfer students on campus:

Transfer Student Programming: Does your institution offer any programs that cater directly to transfer students? The first step is identifying programming that may already exist on campus for transfer students. The next step is to survey transfer students to find out what services they need and what times would be best for them to attend events. It is important to engage transfer students within the first few weeks so that they can connect early with other students as well as faculty and staff.

Learning Communities: Four-year intuitions would benefit from participation in transfer student learning communities. These communities would allow transfer students to build relationships with other transfer students by taking two or more classes together. Ideally, programming would be provided to inform and engage transfer students in student organizations and leadership opportunities.

Social Media: A dedicated social media site for transfer students, such as Twitter or Facebook, can be established to connect keep transfer students connected. Posts on social media can direct students to campus resources for student involvement. For example, the first place I looked for engagement opportunities was the student union on campus. Many student affairs offices are located within or central to the student union. Events promoted at the student union would be easier for students to find.

Tutors: Transfer students need to be continually reminded about tutoring services that are available on campus. Transfer shock is a real phenomenon, so transfer students need to be encouraged early and often to seek help.

Athletics: Attending athletic events allow transfer students to get excited and feel connected to the campus community. Consider having a tailgate event prior to the event specifically for transfer students.

Timing of Events: Transfer students may not be on campus during regular hours and are often unaware of clubs, organizations, and groups on campus. Scheduling an open house for representatives to present to transfer students directly may make them more inclined to become more involved.


Transfer students want and need to be part of your campus and gain new experiences. The challenge is to offer them a variety of options for becoming involved. This population is underserved and needs to have programming developed specifically to meet their needs. By tailoring events for transfer students, student affairs professionals will have the opportunity to help them successfully integrate into the campus community.



Hills, J. (1965). Transfer shock: The academic performance of the junior college transfer. The Journal of Experimental Education, 33(3), 201-215. Retrieved from

Ishitani, T. (2008). How do transfers survive after “transfer shock”? A longitudinal study of transfer student departure at a four-year institution. Research in Higher Education, 49(5), 403-419. Retrieved from


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