Field Notes: The value of a transfer student communication plan

"Field Notes" is an occasional Connect column covering practical and philosophical issues facing admissions and registrar professionals. The columns are authored by various AACRAO members. If you have an idea for a column and would like to contribute, please send an email to the editor at connect@aacrao.org. 

by Karen Reinoehl, Director of Transfer Admission, Trine University, Angola, Indiana

Establishing an institutional recruitment goal can be challenging to say the least. It requires a great deal of planning and calculation, drawing upon previous institutional enrollment data and current enrollment trends to arrive at that magical number. Various recruitment strategies, including a communication plan, are used to help reach the institutional enrollment goal.

Despite projections, the matriculation of transfer students can be a wild card. Frequently my peers at other institutions share how recruitment efforts are focused more on first-time, first-year students, but when enrollment goals fall short their leadership then look to transfer students to make up the shortfall.

The Challenge & Complexity of Transfer Recruitment

Successful transfer recruitment is not a crapshoot. Transfer recruitment must be intentional. A foundation of partnerships, articulation agreements and tailored recruitment strategies geared toward transfer students is necessary to effective transfer recruitment. One of the most important, but often overlooked, strategies involves specific messages that address the issues, concerns and questions important to transfer students, such as transfer credit evaluations and cost of attendance. Transfer communication plans should also include elements of a traditional communication plan to create a communication portfolio uniquely designed for transfer students.

Diverse Audience with Diverse Experiences

Working with transfer students over the past 8 ½ years I have learned to appreciate that transfer student populations comprise a diverse mix of experiences, backgrounds and challenges. Transfer students may be traditional or non-traditional; domestic, undocumented or international; have prior military experience; be a recent high school graduate, a working professional or a retired senior, and previous enrollment at a community college and/or a college/ university. Furthermore, they present with different expectations, obstacles and goals. Their reasons for transferring may be due to the wrong fit academically, socially or athletically, students who follow a pathway, such as an articulation pathway or bridge program. So how do you build a communication plan geared toward a diverse audience? Although transfer populations are diverse, there are several key issues that are important to most transfer students.

Put yourself in their shoes!

Think about your institutional practices. Does your institution have a specific communication plan that is targeted toward transfer students? From a transfer student perspective, imagine how they must feel when they receive mail or an email that references them as a high school student. Think about the message this sends to the student. They may feel confused or less important to your institution.

It’s All in the Timing

The timing of messaging for transfer students also differs from the frequency and timing of communication sent to traditional students. The importance of a communication plan is to provide information, as well as, build interest and keep the student engaged with your institution. First and foremost, transfer students want to know how their credits will transfer and how long it will take for them to complete their degree. This information should be provided to the student as quickly as possible. Secondly, transfer students tend to be savvy shoppers and are concerned with scholarships and costs of attendance. Scholarship information can be provided early in the application or admission process, while awaiting for the financial aid office to process financial aid awards.

Key messages…what’s important to transfers

The types of information most relevant to transfer students differs from the information geared toward first-time, first-year students. Although, it is important to note that due to increasing dual enrollment opportunities for high school students, first-time students may also benefit from your institution’s transfer credit policy information.

Transfer students are generally more focused on their choices and only looking at a few schools. Primarily transfers have three concerns: how their credits will transfer, the degree completion timeframe and how much it will cost to attend the institution. Although, their concerns may also include other areas, such as:

  • graduation/job placement rates
  • housing options for transfers
  • academic policies
  • how to register for classes
  • athletics/student life organizations
  • internships/co-op opportunities
  • academic resources
  • career services
  • experiences of current transfer students
  • specific success stories of recent graduates
  • assimilating into the campus culture & community – will I fit?

In addition to the need for transfer related messaging it is also important to consider incorporating a variety of communication modes to reach their preferred communication style.

The diversity of experiences that transfer students possess can greatly contribute toward the overall student experiences in a campus community. A transfer communication plan can help set the tone from the initial point of interaction and throughout the entire enrollment process. Intentional messages that acknowledge the student as a transfer will help them connect and know that they are valued on your campus.

For more insight into best transfer practices, review AACRAO's recently-released Best Practices Guide for Awarding Transfer and Prior Learning Credit.