Transfer student: Best questions to ask

by Jennifer Johnson,

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Transferring to a new college is a big decision — and not one you make overnight. 

Sometimes it’s hard to tell if it’s the right step or just a passing feeling. Maybe you’ve hit an unexpectedly long stretch of loneliness because you live far from home and you’re not finding friends yet. Maybe you've been displaced by a college or program that closed or you're at a 2-year college and realize that transferring to a 4-year is the natural next step.

Whatever the reason, you’re not sure if what you’re experiencing is worth uprooting your life — or finances — again. A good approach is to be as well-informed as possible, and you can start by asking your preferred college specific questions. 

How will merit scholarships and financial aid work for me? 

Just because it has a high price tag doesn’t mean it’s financially unattainable, said Cady Campbell, Willamette’s assistant director of admission and transfer coordinator. 

“You might find new opportunities for financial aid and competitive scholarships that aren’t available at your current school,” she said. 

How are my credits going to transfer? 

It’s important for admission officers to know the context behind a student’s credits. Are you at a 4-year or 2-year college? Are you working toward a particular degree or completely changing your career path? 

If you want to transfer, you have to do more than ask the right questions to see if it’s a good fit. Provide the story behind your credits to admission counselors so they can help you figure that out, she said. 

Most of the time, transferring credits is easier than it might seem. If you’re at a 4-year college and want to transfer to another 4-year college — or if you’re at a 2-year college and want to transfer to a 4-year — with careful planning, it’s usually no problem. But if you’ve taken a lot of vocational school credits or want to entirely transform your future career, say from being a realtor to studying history, transferring credits can be a little more complicated, Campbell said. 

“My best advice would be to talk to an admission counselor who works with transfer students,” she said. “Share your story and be open-minded to recommendations that would help strengthen your application.” 

Do you fit the student profile? 

For smaller universities and colleges, or institutions with specific programs, this question should really establish if it’s a good fit — or if you need to look elsewhere. 

At Willamette, we look for students who are bright, intellectually curious and well-prepared for a very rigorous academic program. When admission counselors inform students of this fact, they don’t always take it seriously and are often surprised when they arrive, said Campbell. 

What are your priorities in addition to college? 

Maybe you’re attending college in New York but want to move closer to relatives in Oregon, or you’re a non-traditional student who has a family to look out for. 

Draw up a list of concerns or lifestyle preferences you think need to be satisfied while you’re attending college. Salem, Oregon, for instance, is very family friendly, but you wouldn’t necessarily know this without asking around, Campbell said.  

How do faculty engage with students? 

If you start at one college and finish at another, good relationships are essential to your academic and social success. At a small university like Willamette, relationships are even more important because that’s where you find support. 

“The relationship students and faculty develop is a hallmark of an arts and science education, and often transfer students appreciate the engagement the most,” she said. 

The level of investment Willamette faculty have in students and how much they care — not just about someone’s academic pursuits, but how they integrate the pursuit into their lifestyle — is probably something transfer students haven’t experienced before, she said. 

Visiting campus will give you the best sense of faculty engagement. Even if your time on campus is short, sit in on a class, join a campus tour and meet with an admission counselor, Campbell said. And if possible, meet one-on-one with a professor who teaches in an area of academic interest to you.

“It’s essential that you understand that people are here to connect with you, and you need to be able to develop that connection faster than people who starts here their first year,” she said. 

How will the university help get you where you need to be? 

You may not have a concrete idea of your future yet, but you asking about internships and career services is a great place to start. 

Determine how many paid or credit-only internships are available and what resources the university has to help students with jobs, said Campbell.

At Willamette, students find that the university’s location, faculty research and regional reputation as an arts and science college gives them a distinct advantage in their future career. 

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