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Transfer Shock

You've already been to college - so maybe you expected starting at your transfer school to be easier. But if you're having a hard time, don't worry. 

You may be experiencing a phenomenon called Transfer Shock. Transfer shock is the tendency for students who transfer from one school to another to experience a temporary dip in their GPA, along with feelings of isolation or impostor syndrome, during their transitional first or second semesters.

If you did reasonably well in your original school, and now your grades are dipping, you may be alarmed. You may be wondering whether you should have transferred after all – or whether you transferred to the right school.  It may help you to know that this struggle is normal, and most transfer students recover their grades - and their confidence - within a semester or two.  

Why does transfer shock happen?

Some students may underestimate the difficulty of transitioning to a new school.  After all, you've already made the adjustment to being in college.  However, once at the new school, there are new ways of doing things, new expectations, new traditions, and new policies.  You may also encounter more difficult upper level coursework than they had at their previous institution.  Finally, you may also be taken by surprise at the social disorientation that they feel in a new environment and the effort that it takes to make new social connections and friends.

It's normal to feel overwhelmed, anxious, stressed, or lonely.  Homesickness, culture shock, and questioning your decision to transfer are not uncommon. Much like the culture shock that we experience when we visit a new country, it may take time for students to become comfortable in their new environment.

What can I do?

If your student is considering a transfer but is still enrolled in her original school, she can check to see whether her school has any resources to help her bridge to her new school.  These resources are most likely to be available in a community or two-year school where students will be transferring to a four-year institution.  It is to the school’s benefit to have students do well at the new school and they may have resources that will help to prepare students.  It may be up to your student, however, to seek the help and advice available at her school

Once you transfer, there are several things that you can do to reduce the transfer shock that you may experience.

  • Attend any transfer student orientation or programs available. Some transfer students feel that they don’t need orientation since they have already attended college.  But each college has different policies and expectations.  Each school has different resources or ways of accessing those resources.  Orientation also provides students an opportunity to meet other transfer students and begin to make connections.
  • Ask whether there is a specific transfer office or counselor. Transfer students have specific needs and questions.  There may be someone on campus designated to help you find your way.
  • Work to make connections on campus as soon as possible. Reach out to other students, visit faculty members during office hours, meet with your advisor, visit the tutoring center, writing center or career center on campus.  Learn what is available, even if you don’t need the services now.
  • Try to maintain balance in your schedule. Don’t try to make up time or a few lost credits by taking on too much during your first semester or two.  Don’t overload your schedule.  Remember that level of classes and course expectations may be very different in a new school.
  • Get involved on campus. This will help you get acclimated.  Join a club or organization.  Attend campus events.  Keep exploring the feel of the new campus.  Just as schools often recommend that first year students not go home during the first six weeks of school so they will get involved, try not to leave campus too much.  You have a whole new world to explore.
  • Don’t underestimate the transition and potential transfer shock. Remember that it is a normal part of the transfer experience.  Accept that grades may dip slightly temporarily, but usually rebound. This is normal.

Adapted from Collegeparentcentral