Adjusting to the University as a transfer student

Student Council’s proposed launch of a comprehensive guide and the presence of Student Transfer Peer Advisors can help eliminate some of the challenges faced by transfer students.

transfer-headshots-collage-jenn-brice-ariana-gueranmayeh-paige-waterhouse-courtesy-kendal-madar

Top: Kendal Madar, Natalie Groder. Bottom: Brian Lee, Raheel Tauyyab.

Paige Waterhouse and Jenn Brice and Ariana Gueranmayeh | Cavalier Daily

This fall, 688 transfer students enrolled in the University — 272 of whom are second-year students, as well as 404 third-year students. The remaining 12 students now belong to the fourth-year class. Each semester, the arrival of transfer students brings with it the challenge of assimilation to the rigorous academic climate and social environment of the University.

Raheel Tauyyab transferred from George Mason University after his first year and is now a second-year student in the College. He was recently elected as the Transfer Student Representative for Student Council, with a campaign that called for the integration of transfer students into the University community.

Tauyyab spoke about Student Council’s new bill — which passed Oct. 15 — to develop an ad-hoc committee that will work to develop and launch a comprehensive online guide for transfer students. 

“Having this comprehensive guide in place, specifically for transfer students, is really important in making sure students can access something whenever they need it, and it’s not something they have to look for or is really difficult to get,” Tauyyab said.

The online guide is planned to launch this upcoming spring semester, elements of which will be available to transfer students during the application process, and especially during the gap between acceptance and the first day of classes. The guide will feature a variety of information such as tips on choosing classes, steps to meeting with advisors and access to mental health resources. 

As the project is still under construction, few transfer students are aware of its proposed launch. However, students such as Tiffany Ngo, a second-year in the College who also transferred to the University after her first-year at George Mason, expressed enthusiasm at the possibility of this resource. 

“I feel like that would be easier,” Ngo said. “It’s online, so I could just do it whenever I’m free or whenever it’s most convenient for me.”

Others like Kendal Madar, a second-year student who is also in the College and transferred after her first-year at John Tyler Community College, had apprehensions. She said that “resources that are more person-to-person, face-to face — activities that you can do together with someone else — would be more beneficial.”

One policy that assures person-to-person resources and facilitates a smooth transition for transfer students is their assignment to a Transfer Student Peer Advisor. The advising team is composed of third- and fourth-year students who have experienced the transfer process themselves and wish to provide guidance for incoming transfers. 

Alyssa Bedel, a fourth-year College student, spoke about her experience as a captain of the Transfer Student Peer Advisors. 

Bedel became an advisor after transferring from Christopher Newport University after her first year there. Her personal relationship with her own peer advisor inspired her to give incoming transfer students the same welcoming experience. After the admissions process, TSPAs are given a list of 15 to 20 transfer students that have been enrolled for the upcoming fall semester. TSPAs send postcards, extend their phone numbers and send a plethora of emails throughout the summer to begin the welcome process and start walking students through the crucial steps before the first day of classes. 

“You’re there to connect them to resources,” Bedel said. “Help them pick classes and professors and make sure they’re meeting deadlines.”

As one of the five captains of the Transfer Student Peer Advisors, Bedel takes on the additional roles of directing the advising staff and organizing frequent events for transfer students. This semester, her team has consistently managed an event every other week.

According to Brian Lee, a third-year Engineering student who transferred from Northern Virginia Community College after two years, these events have been a staple in helping him acclimate to the University. He said that events such as Garden parties, tailgates before home football games and free Bodo’s Bagels on the Lawn all help facilitate the immersion of transfer students into the University’s social atmosphere. 

Lee describes the events to be inclusive of non-transfer students as well, saying “it’s a good mix of both — I’m able to meet transfer students and ... just regular students too.”

Natalie Groder, a third-year College student who transferred after her first year at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, talked about her experience in getting involved in some of these activities.

Groder spoke to the consistency of the University’s contact with transfer students, making note of transfer advisor Elizabeth Ozment, an association dean and assistant professor of music. Groder said that Ozment sends regular emails to keep transfer students on-top of academic planning. 

However, she confessed that more initial social bonding activities between fellow transfers and other University students would be beneficial in helping students feel more included.

Groder joined the women’s club rugby team upon arriving and attributes this decision to helping her feel included at the University. 

“It was really easy to adjust,” Groder said. “I came in and immediately found a group of people to hang out with. Joining a club sport was super helpful in adjusting.” 

In addition to attending the TSPA sponsored events and joining clubs, several transfer students attributed their acclimation to the University to their residential experiences. 

Living on-Grounds this year, Ngo appreciates the sense of community that comes from living in the hall-structure of the International Residence College. Madar also lives in University housing and found that living closer to Grounds and having a resident advisor as accessible resource to be a comforting experience. 

This semester, 203 transfer students elected to live in on-Grounds housing, and the remaining 485 reside off-Grounds. Though living off-Grounds might be a hindrance to community engagement for some, Lee remarked that living off-Grounds allows him to stay close to his friends and has thus benefitted his adaption to the University. 

However, as Bedell revealed, adjusting does not come as easy for some students. When speaking about some of the common problems transfer students face, loneliness was a prominent issue, along with class selection and housing.

Remembering her own experience as a transfer student, Bedell said, “I wanted to stand on my own, but at the same time it’s lonely at first — and I’d say that’s the biggest issue.”

Adding to this list of challenges that transfer students face, both Bedell and Tauyyab mentioned the stigma that often surrounds transfers. Both students expressed the feeling of exclusion that came with mentioning their status as a transfer student in a social or academic setting. Bedell mentioned that transfer students are sometimes seen as “lesser” simply because they “didn’t get here originally.”

Bedell combatted this statement, stating that transfer students belong at the University just as much as any student who attends for the standard four years.

“We’ve proven ourselves time and time again — we’re doing just as well in classes as everyone else,” Bedell said. “Just because we transferred here doesn’t make us any less of a U.Va. student. We might not be here for the full four years, but we’re here.”

In response to the question about the strategies needed to help combat this stigma, Tauyyab stated, “It’s not a single resolution that’s going to be passed that’s going to do that, but it’s making sure that the environment we’re building is that transfer students are a part of our community.”

related stories