How the Coronavirus May Change the Transfer Process

Being a transfer already adds a new level to the college admission process--and now students have to navigate that during a pandemic. Here's some advice to help!

Whether you’re transferring to a new school for fall 2020 or you’re planning to transfer in fall 2021, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic is going to add (or already has added) a layer of considerations to the transfer admission process. College experts say the most important thing a transfer student—or any student—can do this year is plan to be flexible. Colleges are doing everything they can to help students navigate uncharted territory. Here’s what you should know about the transfer process during the coronavirus pandemic.

For students transferring this fall

Campuses will look different

Every campus is handling this situation differently, but many schools plan to maintain a blend of remote, hybrid, and in-person classes this fall, knowing that if the school has a concentrated outbreak, classes could easily be shifted entirely online. In this new campus environment, you might be required to get tested for COVID-19, wear a face mask, follow social distancing guidelines, and/or participate in contact tracing. If you plan to live off campus and take remote classes only, it may feel like getting connected to your new school is trickier, but it will be important for a successful transition.   

To get connected, reach out for campus services

Campus officials want to help you, but prospective transfer students should take the initiative to reach out themselves. “Don’t be afraid to ask questions,” says Bradley Brooks, a success coach for the ADVANCE Transfer Partnership program between Northern Virginia Community College and George Mason University. Erin Mulvey, Transfer Transitions Coordinator at Oregon State University, suggests tapping into campus resources to start making connections. Begin creating these important relationships with your new professors, residence hall staff, and cultural resource centers—even if you’re limited to only virtual communication.

If you’re not sure where to start, talk to your academic advisor. Your question might be as simple as “How do I join a remote study group?” but your advisor can point you in the right direction. For example, OSU’s Academic Success Center has a Learning Corner with many virtual documents about being a successful student, including Zoom tips for creating remote group study sessions. Connecting with peers is important for your adjustment, even if it’s through a virtual platform.

Also find ways to create accountability systems to stay engaged with your online classes. Brooks recommends regular email check-ins with professors, attending virtual office hours, and frequent virtual meetings with a success coach or academic advisor. Brooks meets with students virtually for weekly check-ins and helps them figure out how to create connections with the institution to cultivate a sense of belonging—which is especially important during online-only operations. Even if your college doesn’t require meeting with an academic advisor every term, you should do it anyway. Your advisor can connect you to resources for degree progression and help you navigate any academic and non-academic challenges.  

Get involved early

Finding your people takes time and effort in a typical transfer experience, but the coronavirus could limit in-person connections to clubs and organizations even further. If you’re not sure where to begin, your advisor could help with this as well. “Have honest conversations with your advisor,” Mulvey says. “Don’t be afraid to say, ‘This is what I did at my previous institution—how can I find similar opportunities here, even during the pandemic?’” That could include a specific club or sport, mentorship in your department, and the possibility of study abroad programs, research opportunities, or campus jobs. Typically, transfer students who get connected also do better academically, so don’t wait to explore your options. You can also talk to the career center or your department, because additional opinions and guidance never hurt.

If your transition to your new school feels bumpy, know that it’s normal. Many students experience transfer shock, and the coronavirus only makes everything harder. Even when students are familiar with college, starting over at a new institution isn’t easy. “Be kind to yourself in the process,” Mulvey says. “Find your way to get connected so you have people cheering for you.”

Related: 4 Ways to Avoid Isolation as an Online Student

For transfers expecting to transfer next year

Ensure you’re taking the right classes

You want your courses to transfer for full credit; that means being strategic about which classes you take. Having an idea of what you want to major in also helps; if you know your major, often a four-year institution can inform which classes to take at the community college level. “Many students don’t know to research or ask whether they’re taking ‘direct equivalency’ courses,” Brooks says. Some community colleges and universities have well-established articulation agreements, partnerships between institutions to fairly recognize credits earned—but you still need to research whether your particular classes will count toward the degree you plan to pursue.  

Reach out early and often to transfer advisors

The best way to make sure you’re on track is to work with a transfer or academic advisor early and consistently, both at your current institution and at the university you plan to transfer to, according to Bridget Jones, Senior Associate Director of Transfer Admissions at Oregon State University. Working with both advisors can help solve course alignment issues. “There may be curricular changes at either institution, and working with both advisors ensures staying on track,” she says.

In general, students should connect with their target institution early. “It’s not a burden to advisors,” Mulvey says. “You can ask about a particular program and the classes you’re interested in and find out if you’re handling classes correctly.” Don’t simply ask which of your classes will transfer; ask which will count toward your degree requirements. Because every institution operates a little differently, you might be directed to talk with an admission officer, a transfer advisor, or a transfer counselor, Brooks says. Typically, admission offices review course credits, so that might be the best place to start. If a transfer advisor at your target institution doesn’t know how a particular community college course aligns with degree requirements, they might be able to connect you to someone in the target department to articulate your classes, adds Jones.  

Related: What Are College Articulation Agreements All About?

Learn about your financial aid options

Transfer advisors can also advise on your number of classes taken and how that might affect financial aid at your four-year institution. Make sure you know the school’s FAFSA application deadline as well as individual deadlines for scholarships and grants. Figuring out your financial aid as a transfer student looks a little different, so talk to the financial aid office at your new school and check in at your community college too. If you took student loans out for community college, make sure to complete the paperwork when you transfer so lenders know you’re still in college (payment will come due if lenders don’t know you’re enrolled elsewhere).

Give yourself lots of time this year

Transfer students do best when they’re looking two or three steps ahead, Jones says. This year, expect to work with transfer advisors via virtual and phone appointments. “Give yourself extra time because remote services may take a little longer,” she says. Find out what your application should include, how to submit your transcript, and whether you also need to submit a high school transcript and ACT/SAT scores, depending on your transfer situation. 

Plan to attend transfer orientation activities

This summer, many transfer orientations are being handled virtually. At Oregon State, the one-day transfer orientation from years prior was revamped to a three-phase virtual orientation with modules students completed online, including registering for classes with advisors. By summer 2021, new student orientations may be held in person again—though campuses may retain online elements if they worked out well—but unfortunately, it’s impossible to predict where we’ll be in a year, let alone a few months from now.

Related: 7 Things You'll Learn Your First Semester as a Transfer

During your transfer process, always keep in mind that you’re in this together with many others—even if you feel alone—and navigating admission during the coronavirus pandemic is new for everyone, whether you’re a transfer or a first-time student. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and look forward to a unique learning experience!

Check out our Transfer Students section for more advice on the transfer process, and see our COVID-19 student resources page for more relevant information on the pandemic.

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