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The Transfer Transition: ‘Transfer shock’ leaves students struggling to adjust to life at UCLA

(Christina Wu/Daily Bruin)

By Sarah Karim

March 6, 2022 9:07 p.m.

“The Transfer Transition” is a series by Opinion columnist Sarah Karim, a fourth-year political science transfer student. These columns will explore various transfer experiences, from the application journey to the difficult process of transitioning to a new campus. The goal is to bring awareness to the unique struggles that transfer students face and to foster a deeper understanding of the transfer community.

(Katelyn Dang/Illustrations director)
(Katelyn Dang/Illustrations director)

Change can hit like a ton of bricks.

That’s how transfer students often feel during our transition to a new university.

Transfer shock” is the temporary dip in GPA that may occur after students transfer to a new academic institution. However, it is common to see students return to their pre-transfer grades shortly after their assimilation to campus.

With the unique set of challenges transfer students face when navigating a new environment, the transfer shock phenomenon isn’t surprising.

However, unsurprising as it might be, it is avoidable.

UCLA and other higher education institutions must do more to aid transfer students in navigating the difficulties that lead to transfer shock. The schools that send transfer students and the universities that receive them must work together to bridge institutional gaps in order to ensure a smooth transition.

Herman Luis Chavez, the Undergraduate Students Association Council transfer student representative and a fourth-year comparative literature and ethnomusicology student, said although there are many different reasons for why transfer shock occurs, it’s mainly due to differences between institutions.

For example, many community colleges operate under a semester-based system that differs greatly from the fast-paced quarter system under which most University of California campuses operate. On top of that, academic rigor can vary from institution to institution.

As a transfer student myself, I found it difficult to adjust from the semester system at my community college to the quarter system at UCLA. Courses at UCLA seemed to go at lightning speed – if I fell just a little bit behind, it felt like there was no time to catch up.

Abeeha Hussain, a third-year labor studies and political science transfer student, can attest to the nerves that come with changing academic systems so abruptly.

She said she wanted to ensure she factored in enough time to make new friends and adjust to the in-person transition that also came with this academic year.

However, transfer shock is about more than just academics.

In an emailed statement, UCLA Transfer Student Center director Carina Salazar said the educational journey of transfer students reflects the racialized social, economic, cultural and educational inequities throughout the United States.

Students of color and students from underrepresented communities are more likely to face financial and social inequalities, which carry over to their academic careers. According to UCLA Academic Planning and Budget, around 73% of transfer students who entered UCLA in 2018 graduated within six quarters, while approximately 84% of freshman students who entered UCLA in 2016 graduated within 12 quarters. Six and 12 quarters are the expected times to a degree for transfer and direct-entry students, respectively.

University life involves social life, too. With the little time they have at their new campuses, students can find it hard to decide which clubs and social events to attend, leading some to overexert themselves.

“I think one thing about being a transfer is that you try to join as many things as possible so you could get the most out of your experience,” said Kayla Lam, a fourth-year political science transfer student. “I joined too many things where I couldn’t focus on one particular club or interest of mine.”

Personally, navigating extracurriculars has been a struggle as a transfer student. Much like Lam, I found myself searching for the perfect organization to fit my interests. Only now, in my last year at UCLA, do I feel like I am able to establish myself in any organization.

Students have a multitude of realities that they must face when they transfer. Many of them go from living with family members to living alone. Similar to culture shock, transfer shock places students in a completely different environment, leaving many to play catch-up.

However, with the right education and resources, UCLA and other universities can do more to minimize the effects of transfer shock. Collaboration between different entities like the UCs, California State Universities and community colleges can allow students to transition with ease.

Currently, UCLA does offer a mentorship program specifically for transfers, which pairs transfer students with a mentor to guide them through their transition experience. Additionally, the Transfer Summer Program sponsored by the Academic Advancement Program is a great resource for students to start the adjustment process before the academic year begins, thus having a better chance of minimizing the effects of transfer shock.

UCLA is known as one of the friendliest schools for transfers. Transfer-specific programs exist to help students on campus, and there is more social acceptance for transfer students than at many other universities. Even so, UCLA’s transfer students are still marginalized in a multitude of ways. For example, Salazar said that 20% of transfer students are nontraditional students, meaning they must navigate financial and familial responsibilities on top of their education.

The differences in treatment between direct-entry students and transfer students can contribute to the alienation and shock transfer students feel. Just last year, UCLA initially excluded returning transfer students from guaranteed housing due to COVID-19 restrictions, despite prioritizing the housing needs of rising sophomores. However, if instructors better understand how and why transfer shock occurs, classrooms can be more accommodating, Chavez said.

Furthermore, UCLA should provide more academic support for transfers specifically.

“There are a lot of social and personal support systems that exist for transfer students, … but there are not as many academic funds,” Chavez said. “I think by increasing the academic support that transfer students receive, UCLA can help them to have a stronger transition in their first quarter at UCLA.”

As long as the university isn’t providing holistic forms of support, UCLA’s transfer students will continue to face academic and social hardships.

Change is always hard, but it is possible to take measures to make such changes easier.

And for UCLA, there’s a lot of work that has to be done before transfer Bruins can ever transition smoothly.

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