Steps to follow when your student takes time off from collegeKimberly Yavorski
First, don’t panic. It can be painful (and frustrating) to see your student unhappy, but the fact that they’re actively reflecting on their education and goals is a sign of personal investment and maturity. A 2015 study by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center found that over a third of college students transferred at least once. Transferring doesn’t equal failure; it’s about self-discovery and finding the best fit.
That said, transferring involves work. This advice will equip you and your student to make transferring in 2019 as smooth as possible.
It’s essential to discern their reasons. If it’s homesickness or a roommate problem, working through it might be better than transferring. If they've developed an interest in a field or career they can’t pursue at their current college, it’s worth considering transfer options. Ask how they feel about the academic rigor of their current school. Try to get a sense of your student’s overall comfort level. Have they found some real friends? Do they feel supported by professors, coaches or other adults? Do they have a healthy social life?
If, after winter break, your student is still serious about transferring next fall, they need to take steps as soon as they return to campus. Research each prospective school’s application deadlines (most transfer applications are due around March 1) and whether they accept students on a rolling basis. Encourage your student to use a planner or other organizational tool to make sure everything is submitted on time.
Your student should review their transcript since it will be sent directly to the new school and start writing admission essays as soon as possible. Suggest a visit to the writing center — feedback from skilled readers and a few thoughtful revisions will strengthen their essays. Make sure your student gives recommenders plenty of notice (at least two weeks, but preferably a month) as well as specific information about why they are transferring to make the letter writing as easy as possible. Remind them to always send recommenders thank-you notes, regardless of the result.
This is your student’s project. Just as an advisor’s job is to review options and information with students rather than steer them in a certain direction, families should encourage student independence. Start by sending this article to your student rather than using it as a checklist yourself to make sure everything gets done.
Mike Zunin, an Academic Advising Specialist at Chemeketa Community College, observes, “We help [students] get a running start, but part of being a successful adult is learning how and where to get answers, and what are the right questions that will lead to those answers. It is easy for me to get these answers for students, but that really doesn't benefit them long term developmentally, so we share the responsibility through the advising process.”
Your student’s individuality is the biggest factor in transferring successfully. In addition to exploring their academic interests, your student should make a list of other things to look for in a college, especially those not offered at the current school. Is there programming support for transfers? Designated housing options? Research clubs and student organizations — getting involved right away is crucial for transfer students. If possible, students should have informal conversations with students on the new campus or, ideally, others who have already transferred there. The admissions office may be able to facilitate these connections, so don’t be afraid to call and ask.
Encourage your student to speak with academic advisors at both the current and new school about how many credits will transfer and how long their preferred degree will take.
Research the difference in tuition as well as other outside costs (especially if your student will live off campus) and help your student weigh the results. If your student currently receives financial aid, they will need to apply for financial aid for the next academic year; be aware that at some institutions, transfer students may not be offered as much financial aid. Your student should contact the financial aid office and research scholarships. Help your student understand the burden of taking on loans if they decide to go this route.
Mike Zunin points out that some students are dual-enrolled at Chemeketa C.C. and universities like Oregon State or Western Oregon in order to take general education classes at the community college, where credits are more affordable, or in order to get back on their feet after not having the success they hoped for at the university. Dual enrollment can help a student regroup before returning to a university full time, or provide an opportunity to redirect their academic interests.
Utilize outside resources — Transfer fairs, magazines like Transfer and websites such as The College Transfer Guru provide information and answer questions you and your student may not have thought to ask.
Students should visit professors, especially those in the field they are interested in, to ask questions and discuss options. They should schedule an appointment with an academic advisor to talk about transferring and what will be required. At the beginning of the new term, students should also talk to advisors about adding or switching courses in their current schedule in order to aid the transfer process. Talk to coaches or club sponsors.
Remember that talking about transferring and asking questions about how or why to do so does not seal the deal. In the process of learning about other schools or programs or diving deeper into what their current school has to offer, and building relationships with faculty and staff through these conversations, your student might decide that they do want to stay—or not—and either outcome is okay. It’s healthy to explore all options fully, and relationships with faculty and staff will benefit your student whether they stick it out at their current school or need letters of recommendation for a transfer application.
Positive relationships with faculty are essential for recommendation letters and can also help your student start off strong at their new college. Professors usually know colleagues in their field at schools around the country and often can connect students to them before they even set foot on campus. Taking advantage of these networking opportunities can help your student adjust at a new school and can have a positive impact on their academic and professional careers.