That shift, though, has paid much less attention to the parents of transfer students (for a few examples of schools that do give some focus to transfer parents look here and here--mostly information on the dates and times of orientation). This is, in part, understandable, since the reigning assumption about transfer students is that they are more mature, older, or have not had actively involved parents, hence their college path from one school to another. But the increasing number of students entering community colleges, and the fact that now nearly one-third of college students transfer, suggests that we ought to be paying a lot more attention than we do.
I have unexpectedly become the father of a transfer student. My oldest daughter, about whom I have written from time to time, made a slow and difficult decision to leave the private university she attended in California and enroll at Westminster. As I reflect on my role in her decision, here are a few things I've learned about the role of parents in transfer students' lives, especially those transferring from one four-year school to another.
- The decision about where to transfer is harder than the original decision about choosing a college. Choosing a college as a high school senior is a decision shaped by opportunities. Thousands of schools are possibilities, and most offer similar majors, aspirations, services, etc. The transfer decision is much more constrained. The courses a student has taken, the student's major, friends, habits, and debt load all constrain the decision. And that means that selecting a new institution is much more challenging. The pieces (course offerings, transfer evaluation, financial aid, etc.) are harder to fit together.
- The decision to transfer is psychologically difficult. My daughter was both quite unhappy at her previous school and quite connected to a few of the people there. And as a student with high aspirations, the decision to transfer included a feeling that she was betraying friends, abandoning possibilities, and wasting opportunities that she would never have access to again.
- The decision to transfer is financially risky. The financial risk in our case was limited because I am fortunate to have a wonderful tuition benefit at Westminster. But many schools set academic scholarships for transfer students at a lower rate than for new four year students. And since many transfer students will not live on -campus, the cost of housing, food, and transportation are less predictable.
- The exiting school can significantly impede a student's ability to transfer. My daughter's university in California charges money to withdraw from courses, hides information on how to do it, and provides essentially no advising to students struggling with the decision. So the host school both sets some of the reasons for considering transfer and does almost nothing to help in the decision.
- Things that should be simple are incredibly hard. Have you ever tried to send scores from your AP exams to a new school? Much harder than you would think (for example, you have to have your AP student number, the four digit identifier of your potential new school. Then you have to make a phone call to request that AP send the scores to your potential school--you can't do it on-line.)
- The parent's role is more complicated. Since I was involved in helping my daughter choose her original school, the advice I gave then, and my ability to give meaningful advice, are both in question. And since my daughter is two years older and significantly wiser than she was when she originally made a choice, the things she wants and needs to hear from me are different. Our discussions have been both harder emotionally, but also more professional and focused. And as a parent who has watched his daughter struggle, grow, and suffer, the stakes feel even higher the second time around.