3 Tips for Recruiting Transfer Students

Date posted: August 16, 2013

Transfer students tend to be an overlooked market in the realm of student recruitment, rarely mentioned in admissions marketing or else relegated to somewhere in the nearly hidden back pages. For a long time, transfers were seen as a bonus, worthy of enrollment attention only as a backfill for an otherwise unsuccessful freshman recruitment season. This perception has been rapidly evolving as demographic changes and intensifying competition are forcing colleges and universities to look beyond traditional recruitment channels. Rather than wait for transfer students to try and find them, proactive schools are being more intentional in their recruitment efforts.

Prospective students are more often pursuing their education from multiple institutions before committing to one as “their” university. With an ever increasing range of educational options, students may look to transfer from community colleges, online courses or satellite locations. Transfer students often start at a community college due to lower tuition costs, more relaxed admission requirements, or demographic convenience, then attempt to transfer to a university after completing one or two years towards a degree. These students have varying motivations depending on whether they are transferring laterally between similar types of universities, or vertically, from community colleges to four-year institutions to earn a bachelor’s degree. Career advancement and cost are top priorities for any adult student, and transfers will carefully evaluate specific academic programs and the completion time to earn a degree. Transfers tend to be a proven investment with greater maturity and focus than those just out of high school, and provide valuable geographic, cultural, ethnic and age diversity to the student body.

A combination of economics, mobility and demographics has made transfer students an important component of any enrollment management plan. Keeping in mind that these students don’t follow one single path to the application process and often aren’t exposed to key messaging received by high school students, your website may be their first contact with your university to determine whether you are transfer friendly. Here are some tips to maximize your school’s outreach to transfer students:

1. Targeted messages in marketing efforts

Since transfers are further along than incoming freshmen in terms of credits and life experiences, they require unique services to successfully meet their needs. Targeted communication efforts should therefore integrate a more sophisticated blend of rational argument and emotional appeal, answering non-traditional student concerns regarding child care, housing, employment, campus adjustment, tutoring resources, study skills, mentoring and peer counseling.

Thus far U.S. universities have led the way in targeting the transfer student market, with cost and accessibility prominent reasons why community colleges are more popular than ever. In recent years there have been greater efforts to build relationships between colleges and universities in Canada but there remains much confusion regarding credit transfers, and many students and their guiding sources are uninformed about existing possibilities. Many students considering transferring look to school websites for answers, so it is imperative that these resources are clearly available.

Example: Walden University’s home page features a tasteful scrolling display of testimonials, including a specific call-to-action for transfer students. The Admissions section features a prominent “Degree Acceleration” section, and clicking on Transfer Credits brings an appealing offer to transfer up to 50% of required program credits with a free transfer of credit evaluation.


2. Unique orientation and transition services

While transition and retention programs are plentiful for first-year students, few exist specifically for transfer students – taking the freshman approach and slapping “transfer” on the title won’t work. Transfer students often face issues involving both academic and social concerns, including faculty-student interaction, campus navigation and available services. Institutional leadership is required to declare your eagerness to accept these students, with dedicated admissions staff trained to guide the transition to a different culture and limit “transfer shock.” Giving transfer students priority registration will help them overcome the challenges of entering programs that may be already closing.

Consider the characteristics of your transfer student population in terms of demographics and academic backgrounds to best address their needs. Even commuting adult students with other family and work responsibilities value campus involvement, and special social programs can encourage integration and motivation, while being a recruitment tool. Facilitating transitions with counseling, tutoring and non-traditional student services will increase the potential for persistence, retention and graduation.

Example: The University of Waterloo provides exclusive orientation activities for transfer students with a live chat option to gain valuable advice from upper-year students.


3. Ease Transfer Credit process

The number of articulation agreements between Canadian colleges and universities have been steadily increasing over the past decade. Ontario has more recently moved in the direction Quebec and the western provinces have taken in initiating formal articulation links between university and college programs, resulting in rising numbers of college students pursuing post-graduate studies at universities. Transfer agreements whereby college grads receive specified transfer credits that reduce their requirements for a university degree are becoming more common, though recent research suggests that many students are unaware or unclear about these opportunities. Transfer students are often left to negotiate credits one-on-one with admissions staff with inconsistent results. Admission processes often lack transparency and the perceived complexity of transferring evidently prevents many students from attempting this path.

Transfer credit promotion can provide an incentive to the significant population of adults who have earned some postsecondary credit but for one reason or another haven’t completed their degrees. Many universities seem to incorrectly assume that applicants are aware of transfer credit options and do not emphasize this in marketing materials. Universities that make it easier to understand the transfer process and provide transfer credits will be at a competitive advantage for this enrollment source.

Example: The University of Manitoba provides a Transfer Credit option in their Admissions section with several resources, including an impressive Transfer Credit Equivalencies database, which displays an extensive pre-application equivalency review according to the institution and subject transferred from.


Clear goals, accompanied by measurable enrollment objectives, are priorities for institutions engaging in competitive transfer student recruitment and admissions. Successful student marketing strategies possess an understanding of how and why students move between colleges and universities, and the motivations for choosing a particular school. An honest assessment of existing transfer policies and procedures will identify areas for improvement, and continuous evaluation of transfer student experiences and retention results will ensure that your institution is optimizing its efforts regarding this growing market.

What steps has your school taken to improve transfer student recruitment?