Tips for Escaping “Transfer Shock”

If you enroll in a community or junior college, you may be planning to transfer to a four-year institution to continue your education or finish your degree. (Sometimes students that enroll in a four-year institution also change schools, transferring to a different college or university. Reasons for doing so will vary from student to student.

No matter where you transferred to, or why you transferred, you will face a period of adjustment.  Other students have already formed friendships, relationships, and study groups.   They are familiar with the campus, with its resources, with the sought-after instructors, with the local hangouts.  How do you catch up and feel as though you really belong?  Here are some suggestions:

Take advantage of orientation activities for transfers.  Yes, you already know about college, but this is a new place with new demands and options.  It’s much like moving to a new city, where we need to locate stores, post office, doctor, dentist, etc.; no matter how many places we’ve lived, we need to learn about the new town or neighborhood.  Orientation is a prime opportunity to learn all you can about your new school.  You’ll get acquainted with advisors, instructors, other students and available services before the term begins and you are too busy to search them out.

Use the catalog, a campus map, and the campus newspaper or weekly announcements to learn about your new home. Study the catalog, especially requirements and course descriptions in your major.  With a campus map, walk around campus and visit each building; read the campus paper cover to cover.  Get off-campus, too, to discover social and cultural opportunities in the neighborhood.  It can also be helpful to explore the institution’s website, information in the catalogue will also be found there but may be more easily explored. If your college has a portal, log in and explore the information there. Information not found at the public website will be found there.

Locate the College library and look for a library map or ask for a brief tour before the semester gets busy.  Libraries can seem to be intimidating places at first. Every college library is organized differently, and you’ll be a step ahead if you visited ahead of time before that first assignment sends you there with a deadline.  And, don’t hesitate to ask a library staff member or student worker for help with a specific task.  No one expects you to know it all, and a little guidance could save you hours of frustration and make the library seem less intimidating. Make sure to find out where study areas are and what the general rules are about the study areas.

Locate the College’s tutoring services Colleges typically make available services that help students with editing papers, study skills assistance and often will have a peer tutor program that can help you if you’re having trouble in a particular course. Depending on the institution, the service may not be called the Tutor Center, it might be called “Academic Skills Center” or something similar.

If You Are a Student with a Disability If you are a student with a disability, you may have been receiving academic accommodations at your previous institution. As always, it is your choice to disclose a disability and request accommodation. Even if you choose to not disclose your disability right away (not recommended), learn what office or department the disability services office is housed in, and where it’s located. (Not all disability services offices have “disability” in their name. Also have copies of your documentation on hand.

 Get involved in at least one extra-curricular activity right away, no matter how busy you are.  You’ll meet people who share your interests, reach beyond the classroom, and tap into the grapevine of informal communication.  Avoid the P-C-P syndrome!  (Parking lot – Classroom – Parking lot)

 Introduce yourself to one person in each of your courses.  Exchange phone numbers and email addresses, then plan to take notes for each other if either of you must miss a class.   You may want to compare notes or study together for a test, so look for a serious student, not a last-row latecomer.

 Swallow any shyness.  It’s not easy to walk into a classroom or cafeteria where you don’t know a soul and, worse, everybody else seems to know everyone.  (They don’t — it just seems that way!)  You’ve already survived at another institution; you can handle being a newcomer more easily with that experience. Smile, introduce yourself, and ask a question; suddenly, you’ll know more people than you did yesterday. The poise you develop will be valuable in both college and career.

Take stock and set some short-term and long-term goals. You’re at a natural turning point.  Evaluate your interests, aptitudes, and career possibilities.  Your advisor will help you match courses not only to your degree, but to your individual needs and talents.  As you set those goals, plan to take advantage the career, tutoring, library and other services offered by your new school.

Be prepared for classes to be different.  Depending upon the college you’ve transferred from, classes may be smaller or larger at your new school.  Faculty may seem more or less formal, and more or less focused on teaching, research, and writing.  Being surrounded by many students whom you do not yet know may make you feel less at ease.  Yes, the setting is somewhat different, just as your high school differed from your first college, but the goals of successful teaching and learning are the same.  Give yourself a few weeks, get to know your professors (see below), and you’ll be more comfortable.

Visit each of your professors during office hours or by appointment.  This may seem really scary but it can help. Introduce yourself, mention that you have transferred, and let them know that you are eager to take advantage of the academic opportunities at the school.  In short, become an individual, not just a name on a class roll.  Once you’ve established contact, sit near the front of the classroom, participate fully, and make your mark.  You’ll soon need career or graduate school recommendations from your major professors, and you don’t have four years to get acquainted with them in leisurely fashion.  It’s also far easier to ask for help with an assignment or after a poor test grade if the professor already knows you and your positive attitude.  After your initial visits, stay in touch with professors!  Do go to office hours to take full advantage of the opportunity to learn from that expert faculty member.  No, you don’t need to visit daily, and yes, a professor may have a bad day.  It’s okay too, to make an appointment to return later or to use e-mail and voice mail.

 Expect more demanding courses.  Upper-level courses are likely to require more study time than introductory courses; be prepared, perhaps for the first time, to really need the recommended 30 hours of study per week for a full course load.  You may need to be more active in your approach to study.

 Don’t be alarmed by low initial grades, but do take action.  Given all those differences, it is common for a transferring student’s GPA to drop in the first semester, but most students then make some adjustments and their GPA’s rebound.  Don’t panic if the A’s you expected do not materialize at first.  Some professors grade hard at the start to clarify their high expectations, and some just don’t award many A’s!  Once you get back the first graded test or paper, you’ll have a better idea of how to improve on the second one.  Pay attention to early grades, react quickly and appropriately, but don’t panic.

Honestly evaluate your study habits and skills, even if you had a 4.0 at your previous college.   Because professors’ expectations, reading loads, or grading standards may be different at your new college, the study system that worked before may need to be refined, especially for junior and senior level courses.    Make use of your institutions tutoring and study skills services and consider joining or forming a study group from your classes.

Monitor your own academic performance.  Take action at the first feeling of uncertainty about course content; the best step is often to devote more time to that course.  Plan time to keep up with the reading, to prepare more thoroughly for each class, to review weekly, to see the professor for advice, to meet with a study group, to see a tutor.   And to reduce both stress and procrastination, give yourself an academic checkup each Friday.  Look back at the past week.  Have you fallen behind in a course or two?  Devote some weekend time to catching up.  What’s coming up in the week ahead?  Get a head start on those tests or that paper over the weekend.  If you check yourself once a week, you’ll never get so far behind that you can’t get back in control.



WINAHEAD is made up of representatives from thirty institutions. Our members are professionals employed by two- and four-year colleges and universities who work directly with students with disabilities to ensure equal access to higher education. WIN indicates the geographic area we represent: Western Iowa and Nebraska. AHEAD is our national parent organization, the Association on Higher Education and Disability.
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