More than one-third of college students transfer at least once during their college career. Though this population continues to expand, transfer students remain underserved. Transfer student flow has not been immune to the effects of COVID-19, either. As campuses shutter around the nation and students look to stay closer to home, we’re bound to see the number of transfer student inquiries grow.
Earlier this year, we spoke to transfer professionals around the country to get a sense of what trends we could expect to see in the transfer world. Not surprisingly, they predict transfer student populations will increase as families reevaluate their college needs.
Imagine being excited to take the next step in your college education, or having to make a life-changing decision swiftly and safely, only to be met with a dearth of information online or confusing institutional processes.
Is your institution prepared to best serve transfer students online? mStoner partnered with the National Institute for the Study of Transfer Students (NISTS) to determine what information transfer students need and how to make a website as transfer-friendly as possible.
Let’s dive in.
You may be picturing a traditional-age college student completing two years at a community college and then transferring to a four-year institution. This transition is only one pathway a transfer student may take. According to research by Taylor and Jain (2017), a transfer student could be someone who:
Essentially, a transfer student is anyone who has completed college credits at one institution and will attend another before completing their degree. (Some high school students may take college courses for credit before their high school graduation, known as dual enrollment. In most cases, they’d still be considered a first-time first-year student).
Like a non-transfer student, some individuals will be highly directed and have a clear sense of their goals. While they would still benefit from guidance, they may know what information they already need. They may know to ask about internship and research opportunities, or perhaps they’ve had the benefit of seeing someone go through the process before.
Other transfer students will be overcoming obstacles; they may not know how to navigate the often complex systems of a college, or they may be undecided on a major. These students may need more guidance from an admissions counselor or academic adviser, which brings us to an important point: The trusted advisers of prospective students will use this webpage as well, and it would be wise not to ignore them.
Here at mStoner, we approach questions within a framework of empathy. We want to know our audiences’ thoughts and feelings. We want to be in their heads so that we can prepare your website to answer their questions as easily and seamlessly as possible. Working with NISTS, mStoner created an experience map to detail the journey of a transfer student: What are their thoughts, feelings, and actions as they search for, apply to, and decide on the next step of their college education? What do they experience in their first few weeks on a new campus?
We discovered that, first and foremost, transfer students are looking for credit evaluation information. A prospective transfer student needs to know which of their previous courses will transfer and how they’ll be counted. We can’t overstate how important this is to the search process.
For inspiration, look no further than the University of Maryland Baltimore County’s Transfer Credit Wizard. This site walks the user through the process step by step, provides checklists based on the term of enrollment, and points the user to additional resources — including a transfer-specific counselor.
Other essential content includes transfer planning guides or checklists, degree maps, and deadlines and guidelines for both admissions and financial aid. You may also wish to include feature stories about successful students and alumni who have transferred, career assessment tools, and SEO-optimized marketing content, such as blogs.
As with any other student, it’s important that transfer students feel welcome and supported once they arrive on campus. Does your institution have a transfer student resource center? Are there clubs or honor societies specifically for transfer students? Showcase these on your website with some storytelling, and include student voices through testimonials and videos.
Start with an information architecture that’s created with students in mind. When designing your navigation, ditch your organizational structure as a guiding principle. Instead, ask: “How would a prospective student think to navigate this page?” By approaching your page as a student would, you remove the obstacle of needing to understand an unfamiliar hierarchy and instead let the information speak for itself. That’s why experience maps are so important: They lay the foundation for everything from architecture to content.
And it’s all about solid content. You should have a mix of timely information, such as admissions events, and evergreen content (such as those transfer credit evaluation tools!). Write with a tone and style that reflects your institution, and speak directly to your audience. Imagine you’re having a conversation with just one transfer student who is sitting in your office. What do they need? Write as though you were speaking to that student.
Lastly, consider the governance of your transfer student pages. There are many people on campus who are responsible for the success of transfer students, from admissions to the registrar to a central advising hub. Who owns the content and is accountable for updating it? How often will you review the page for accuracy? It’s important to have a plan in place to keep your site up to date for the current admissions cycle.
We’re here to help. mStoner offers a Transfer Student Site Evaluation. We’ll perform an audit of your transfer student-facing pages to identify what’s going well and what’s not. Based on our findings, we’ll make recommendations for action in the short and long term to make your site, and therefore your institution, more transfer-friendly.
Laura Birdsall Account Manager Laura Birdsall unites account and project management to create a positive and collaborative client engagement experience. From ensuring a smooth onboarding process to creating and executing integrated strategies, Laura advocates for the needs of our clients at every step in the project.