While attending a community or junior college prior to attending a four-year university might not be the route most college students choose, transfer students still make up a significant percentage of the population at universities across the country.
Often times, the majority of transfer students have previously attended a community college, but that is not the sole reason for college students transferring schools.
Transfer students have been known to face adversity ranging from not feeling like they fit in at their university, to simply having issues with their new college accepting courses they had previously completed.
I became interested in learning about the experiences of community college transfer students at the University of North Alabama. So, I spoke with three students about their transitions from their previous schools to UNA.
Initially, I began my investigative process by asking my interviewees if they had any issues with their credits transferring over from one college’s system to UNA’s.
“No, I did not have any issues,” said Rean Garmon, senior transfer student from Wallace State Community College. “My credits transferred and my advisor helped me take the correct steps needed to transition.”
Rene Shipman, a sophomore who transferred from Snead State Community College, did not have her courses transfer over quite as seamlessly.
“All of my credits did not transfer over to UNA’s system so when I came to orientation,” Shipman said. “I was very confused on what courses to take because I had already taken some of the courses that DegreeWorks was showing that I had not satisfied.”
Generally, every college has their own coding system in which they name and categorize their classes. This makes it easy for courses to be overlooked and thrown out by advisors who do not recognize the name of the course from the community college.
In reality, all universities should have a course equivalency chart for transfer students and their advisors to use to compare courses they previously took, see what that course is called at their new school and see where it can be applied. This process can be meticulous and time consuming. Unfortunately, this can result in students not receiving credit for all of the courses they took at their community college.
“I would say I might have taken one class that was wasted,” Garmon said. “However, everything else worked out and was not wasted credits.”
This is the successful story most transfer students share; however, there are a few such as Jennifer Reed who did lose a class or two during the transfer process.
“I had two courses wasted,” said Reed, a junior and transfer student from Northwest Shoals Community College. “But that’s because I changed my major.”
While this is not an issue directly related to her transition, had she been at UNA from the beginning of her college career, there is a possibility that her advisors could have guided her in the right direction to prevent any credits from being wasted.
Shipman also lost a few courses during her transition.
“Most of my courses transferred over, but there were a few that were wasted and were not applied at UNA.” Shipman said.
Losing courses is one of the most common issues transfer students have to deal with as they transition to a university. Although some of the courses are lost due to a change of major or degree path, most often this is a result of failure of past and present schools to communicate with each other, or a minor classification error.
Another trial transfer students are often faced with is not feeling included on their new campuses.
Undoubtedly, students that arrive as freshmen have more opportunities to get involved on campus through experiences such as Student Orientation, Advisement, and Registration (SOAR), Freshman Forum (the freshman branch of SGA) and even living on campus in the residence halls. These are luxuries that transfer students do not get to be a part of when they enter universities in their upper-classman years.
Additionally, some of the Recognized Student Organizations on campus, such as the LaGrange society, require you to be a student at UNA for a year before getting involved in their clubs. With community college transfer student’s time already being cut in half when they arrive, this makes getting involved even more difficult.
Garmon expressed that she thought the students and faculty at UNA were very welcoming and she found it easy to get involved on campus. The friendly atmosphere this campus cultivates inspired Garmon to become a SOAR counselor and meet and welcome incoming students the following summer.
“I felt so welcomed here and I wanted to make other students feel the same way,” Garmon said.
Reed agreed with Garmon as she also felt accepted on campus.
“I believe UNA is just as welcoming of transfer students as they are with freshmen, and that made me feel included,” Reed said.
Most transfer students shared similar opinions, but there are certainly some differences in opportunities that cannot go unmentioned.
“I don’t think UNA does a bad job of including transfer students, but there are definitely way more opportunities for freshmen to meet people than there are for transfer students,” Shipman said. “With the chance to live in the freshman dorms and do freshman forum, getting involved is easier as a freshman.”
At larger universities such as the University of Alabama and Auburn University, there are programs set in place specifically for transfer students similar to Freshman Forum. These clubs are a great way for students to meet other transfers and get involved on campus immediately.
The transfer students I spoke to all concluded that this area is a void on UNA’s campus. The implementation of a program of this caliber on this campus would help transfers feel more included and welcomed.
Overall, however, the transfer students all felt their transitions went smoothly and that UNA was to thank for that.
“I do feel like the transition was easy. UNA is a smaller university, so I felt like I belonged here. All of my professors were very welcoming,” said Reed.
Shipman added that it was an easy transition paperwork wise and acclimating to the courses here. “Yes! I feel like UNA made it really easy for me!” said Garmon.
Overall, the transfer students I spoke with all had good experiences with their transitions from community college to UNA. These students had little to no trouble transferring their courses over from their previous school to UNA’s system. These students also had no real issues with losing courses during their transition.
While these students had a great experience transferring here, there are still some changes that need to be made on UNA’s campus to give transfer students the same advantages of getting involved that traditional students receive.
The implementation of a transfer specific program that allows these students to host events and work with the Student Government Association in the same way that Freshman Forum does would be a tremendous asset to these students. All in all, UNA is a place where any student can find their home, no matter the journey they took to get here.