Articles College

College Transfer Students: How to Maximize Your Success

By Rebecca Mannis, Ph.D. | Contributor

College admissions in the age of COVID has created new opportunities for many students. One significant trend is that students are gaining acceptance for mid-year transfer (or for traditional fall entry) to select universities, public institutions and even Ivy League schools that were “out of reach” pre-COVID.

These transfer students now have the chance to study at a longed-for school but may have relatively weaker skills than what the curriculum requires. Here are some realities and strategies for managing the transfer, so your child can feel competent and confident and attain maximum success.


High school and standardized test performance predicts college adjustment. That’s why colleges typically incorporate test scores as one factor in their “holistic review” of an application. Your child has hopefully matured and developed some good learning systems in college. But it’s also possible that the curriculum at the new university will be a stretch, especially if it is a school that didn’t initially admit him or her.

Here are some ways you can help your child meet those increased demands:

  • Locate syllabi for courses he’s considering to find a balanced and manageable mix of courses.
  • Analyze the syllabi for amount of reading and independent study time that’s likely required. “Test drive” the courses by reading PDFs of selected courses or PowerPoints that professors may have posted from prior semesters.
  • The rule of thumb is that over the course of a term, students will on average devote three hours per week of independent work for each credit hour of a class. By trying out some coursework, your child can assess the rigor of the courses and whether that average pacing feels on target. If not, then a different combination of courses may be more manageable to take on.
  • How far along is your child in college when making this transfer? If it’s beyond freshman year, keep in mind that there may be different course requirements at the transfer school or for her major that are more time-consuming in nature. Here, “test driving” classes by analyzing the work in advance can better ensure a manageable course load and strong GPA.


The frontal lobes of the brain, which help us negotiate “executive functions,” develop into our kids’ 20s. Between COVID learning and the demands of adjusting to a new school and social landscape, those brain cells are bound to be “on overdrive.”  The more we can help our kids plan the details, the more they can effectively and efficiently learn to “be their own CEO.”

By sweating the small matters in the new college life early, the more they can use those brain cells that are under construction for planning, prioritizing and sequencing – with less of the stress that can cause anxiety or otherwise deplete their thinking resources. Here are some items to make sure your child checks off the list in advance:

  • Download and enter passwords for the school software – communication and enrollment systems.
  • Set up new bank accounts or other local matters so that the passwords are stored and secure, with necessary links and activation codes in place. Same for standard food deliveries or other consistent orders that can be set for ongoing, predictable times.
  • Update class schedule and other activities in your calendars, with syncs in place for college platforms.
  • Update computers or transfer files to new machines and devices, as well as file management systems synced for ease of use.


Adjusting to the culture and requirements of a new school and set of friends is easier when you know yourself and have systems to manage these new expectations. The key is stronger skills and systems and insight, which educational psychologists refer to as “metacognitive awareness.” It’s all in the planning and problem solving. Here are tips for your college students:

  • Purchase or rent the textbooks when you can – or add money to your account to print out materials. Why? Research by UCLA’s Professor Maryanne Wolf, reported in Reader, Come Home indicates that students (and yes, even we) tend to overestimate what we understand and retain from material we read online. For “deep reading,” going to the paper source is likely to yield what she refers to as “deep comprehension.” Save the phone for Snapchat or TikTok, and go old school when it’s time to read for tax law or poli sci.
  • Use the time before school starts to develop sleep and exercise routines to manage stress and regulate your energy level. Adjust these habits, keeping the winter season in mind.
  • Check out the student companion sites for textbooks so that you can preview lecture content – helps with note-taking and managing stress when the lecture gets fast-paced or you find there’s a lot to read due to asynchronous classes.
  • Check out sites that simplify storing information for later usage, whether checklists or other key info. One of my favorites is the Evernote app, which works across platforms and simplifies storing web sites; PDFs, photos, jots of notes, scans, and even voice memos. You can tag them to filter with ease and even share with classmates or people in your club.


College is not just about grades – it’s about learning and that includes developing relationships. Developing those connections at a new school can have a different vibe during COVID. Here are some suggestions for overcoming these unique social challenges:

  • Check out video links and webinars for courses, departments and clubs to get a feel for who you might connect with. This makes reaching out easier and more natural.
  • Go to office hours and introduce yourself to your professor and teaching assistant. This eases the connections and gives you access to clarify things or connect in a way that can be intimidating in large socially-distanced lectures or by Zoom.
  • Offer to lend a hand. You bring lots of life experience, including knowledge about another school to the table. Whether it’s that information or skills you have, by helping others you can find your place and become an important part of the school community.

So, congratulations on this exciting change in plans. If you’re headed to a new school, it’s with knowledge of your goals and the chance to further your course. By easing the details of transition and thinking tactically about managing the changes, you’re setting yourself up for success and the opportunity for wonderful friendships at this next phase in your life. And: If you’re starting to think about the college application process, please find additional tips about using the application process to develop lifelong skills by clicking here.


Rebecca Mannis, Ph.D. is a learning specialist with expertise in Developmental Neuropsychology and Education. She consults to students of all ages, schools and corporations about brain-based learning strategies, including college and workplace success. She is based in Manhattan and has done remote consultation worldwide for over 30 years. Learn more at www.ivy-prep.com.

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