Transfer Student Myths: Debunked

When envisioning #FutureBadgers, the image is likely a recent high-school graduate just beginning their transition to college life. Although incoming freshman do make up a large portion of UW-Madison’s incoming students; another very different group adds to this population: #UWTransfers.

According to CFYE’s Assistant Director of Transfer Initiatives Tracy Mores, nearly 40% of undergraduate students transfer schools on their way to a degree. However, the unique experience and perspective of these students can often be overlooked and potentially misinterpreted. This results in many common misconceptions that can distort the reality of our students.

With Tracy’s help, we will debunk a few of the most prevalent transfer myths and provide a more realistic picture of what #UWTransfers experience at our university.


Myth #1:  Transfer students have it easier when it comes to academic difficulty and competitiveness in the admissions process.

Realistically, admissions for transfer students is very competitive and selective. In recent years, while the freshmen admissions rates have hovered around 50%, the admission rate for transfer students has consistently been lower. This suggests that transfer admissions can often be more competitive than freshman admissions, not less.

A related misconception is that it’s easier to get in as a transfer student, and that transfer admissions functions as a “back door” to the university.  However, the data tells a different story. UW-Madison transfer students are incredibly well-qualified and have worked hard to earn their admission here. They have often chosen UW-Madison for its academic rigor, and have shown that they can handle the challenge through their previous collegiate work and life experiences.

Myth #2: It is easier for transfer students to maintain a good cumulative GPA until graduation; because they did not have to complete their early courses at UW-Madison.

If anything, transfer students need to work harder than continuing students to adjust to a new university climate and a new set of expectations, while taking more advanced level courses. Mores says transfer students who graduate with distinction are some of the most impressive folks (and hardest workers) that she knows. They have earned every honor they have received.

Myth #3: Transfer students perform worse academically than students who enter as freshmen.

On average, UW-Madison transfer students do just as well as continuing students in terms of GPA , with an average 3.0 GPA in their first term. This GPA success is in spite of  a phenomenon transfer students experience known as “transfer shock.” Transfer shock describes the enormous transition these students have made and is often accompanied by a GPA drop.  Although UW-Madison transfer students are learning new academic policies and procedures and adapting to a new lifestyle at UW-Madison, they still manage to perform as well as people who are used to the campus culture. This is impressive, says Mores, particularly considering many transfer students enter as juniors and are thrust into more challenging coursework from day one.

Myth #4: Transfer students do not need assistance or student resources, because they have done this before.

Transfer students bring many transferable skills with them: they know how to meet new people, how to manage a busy schedule, and have previous experience learning within the academic culture of a rigorous institution. However, because policies and culture differ from one place to another, transfer students do have some unlearning and relearning to do. Because transfer students typically have less time to explore than freshmen, the need to learn all this new information can leave them feeling behind (even though, in reality, they are not).

A list of top campus resources for transfer students could include their academic advisors, who can guide them through what they need to know relative to their school, college or department and the Advising Resources website, which provides a host of information on what other types of advising are available on this campus. Here they can find learning support services and links to additional resource. The Transfer Transition Program is also available for studentswith professional advisors and Transfer Ambassadors that can act as an information and referral service, as well as a resource to help students process their transition and work through issues that they may be encountering.

One of the most important pieces of advice for transfer students trying to adjust is to never be afraid to ask for help or information. UW-Madison is a big institution, and even students who have spent their whole four years here do not know all the available resources.

Myth #5: The transfer student experience is singular and predictable.

Transfer students have a wide diversity of experience to offer to our campus. They may be Wisconsin residents, from out-of-state, or international students. They may be returning adult students with lots of life experience outside of college. They may be veterans who have put their lives on the line for our country. They may have children to care for or other family members they support. They may be on their own and struggling with food or housing insecurity and trying to find resources to support themselves.

No matter their background, every transfer student brings a fresh perspective not only from their life experiences, but because they have also attended at least one previous institution.  UW-Madison is a world-class university, but Mores believes we could learn a lot from the way other schools operate and from the way our transfer students experience campus. She encourages each member of the campus community to listen closely to the individual experiences of our transfer students and to use that information to reflect on how we can better serve the needs of our transfer population.


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