Marie L. Miville and William E. Sedlacek


Research Report # 4-93


Data were collected in cooperation with the orientation office and were analyzed using facilities of the Computer Science Center, both at the University of Maryland, College Park.






Marie L. Miville and William E. Sedlacek

Research Report # 4-93



A sample of 295 transfer students (51% female) and 2584 freshman students (50% female) completed a questionnaire containing a number of demographic and attitudinal items as part of a summer orientation program. While freshman and transfer students were not found to significantly differ on either gender or race, these two groups differed in level of previous work experience and academic background. A greater number of freshmen, for example, were found to have higher high school rankings. With respect to reasons for attending and remaining in school and identifying the easiest/hardest aspects of adjusting to the university, however, transfer and freshman students expressed similar views. Freshman and transfer students also shared similar views on a number of attitudinal items, though transfer students expressed a significantly higher interest in counseling for both educational/vocational and emotional/social issues. Freshmen, on the other hand, expected to have a more difficult time adjusting to the academic demands of the university. Programming implications for the study are discussed, including the need to focus on similar aspects of the adjustment process for all students, as well as the need to incorporate demographic differences among students.




An important trend in higher education settings in recent years has been the steady increase of transfer students (Peng, 1978). While the term "transfer student" is used to generally describe those students who transfer from one institution to another, studies have demonstrated that persons within this group vary with respect to both pre-transfer and post-transfer performance along a number of demographic and academic dimensions: age, race/ethnicity, year of transfer, institution of origin.(two-year vs. four-year), and pre-transfer GPA (Flum, 1989) .


For example, persons from a higher socioeconomic (SES) background have been found to transfer from a community college to a 4-year institution at a higher rate than those who are from a lower SES background (Peng, 1978; Velez & Javalgi, 1987). Males have also been found to transfer at higher rates from community colleges to 4-year institutions than females (Velez & Javalgi, 1987). And Whites have similarly been found to have higher transfer rates from community colleges to 4-year institutions than persons from visible racial/ethnic groups (VREG) (Herndon & Leon, 1986).


There have also been studies of the post-transfer performance of transfer students. For example, while male students transfer at higher rates, men and women have been found to have similar graduation rates from these institutions (Holahan, Green, & Kelley, 1983). Additionally, studies have shown that female transfer students have similar or higher GPA's





on average than male students (Flum, 1989: Holahan et al., 1983) in institutions to which these students have transferred.


Research on ethnicity and post-transfer performance has been mixed and must be viewed carefully, given the small numbers of VREG students included in these studies (Holahan et al., 1983). Holahan et al. (1983) found that Latino students graduated at higher rates than White or African-American students, although White students had the highest overall GPA's. Durio, Helmick, and Slover (1982) also noted that White engineering students scored highest on various academic achievement measures, followed by Chicano and African-American students.


Transfer students have also been shown to differ from "native" or nontransfer students on a number of demographic and academic variables. Most studies have noted that nontransfer students tend to have higher GPA's (usually high school) than transfer students upon entering college. Nontransfer students have also been found to perform better within the institution, for example, earning higher grades and being retained at higher rates (Lunneborg & Lunneborg, 1976).


In light of these findings, the term "transfer shock" has been coined to denote the lowered performance of transfer students, in comparison to pre-transfer performance (Holahan et al., 1983). Coupled with lower performance are psychosocial issues, such as the relatively lower self-confidence and lower motivation of transfer students (Johnson, 1987) which may further affect post-transfer performance.  Holahan, Curran, and Kelley



(1982) have suggested that early performance has an important role in forming student expectations of subsequent academic performance. Thus, it is reasonable to suggest that early negative experiences may lower student expectations of, and motivation for, academic success.


In addition, transfer students also face adjustment issues that most new entering students deal with (Feldman, Sedlacek, & Wright, 1977). Studies conducted on freshman students, for example, have focused on a number of variables affecting the adjustment process. on campus involvement has been noted by several authors (eg., Astin, 1985; Sedlacek, 1987) as being critical in the adjustment process. That is, becoming involved either in on-campus organizations or in positive student/faculty interactions has been positively linked with student retention & Sedlacek, 1987 ; Johnson, 1987) .


On-campus involvement has been found to similarly affect the academic performance of transfer students. Volkwein, King, and Terenzini (1986) note that interaction with faculty can be critical in helping to develop the cognitive skills of transfer students. Academic integration or on-campus involvement, -particularly for female transfer students, has also been linked to both academic success and satisfaction (Johnson, 1987).


Thus, an important similarity in the adjustment process between entering freshman and transfer students has been noted. The question exists, however, concerning the extent to which the needs and expectations of transfer students during this



adjustment process are similar to and different from freshman students. For example, Wrenn (1967, in Feldman, Sedlacek, & Wright, 1977) wrote that "transfers are freshmen in every sense of the word except for a few more years of general maturity and some additional academic content gathered elsewhere." Such similarity may be seen in the fact that, while transfer students may have difficulty initially adjusting to university life,

graduation rates of these students are similar to those of nontransfer students, about 600 (Lunneborg & Lunneborg, 1976; Holahan et al., 2983). Transfer students also have not been found to take longer to obtain their degrees, in some cases finishing earlier than nontransfer students (Holahan et al., 1983). And, in another study, Feldman, Sedlacek, and Wright (1977) observed that transfer and freshman students were more

similar than different on a number of attitudinal items such as factors important to long-term career choices and choice of extra-curricular activities.


However, demographic variables may affect the performance and self-perceptions of transfer students, relative to nontransfer students. Transfer students tend to be of a more nontraditional college age, have children, work a part-time or full-time job, and receive less financial assistance once enrolled in the institution (Richman, 1979, in Johnson, 1987). It is reasonable to suggest that any number of these variables may affect the successful adjustment and retention of transfer students. In support of this statement, Holahan, Curry, and





Kelley (1982) observed that transfer students' awareness of themselves as a unique group was important in predicting transfer student expectations of academic success. Thus, the data are not clear on how potential demographic differences, such as age and marital status, existent between transfer and freshman students lead to both similar and different adjustment needs, and subsequently, programming needs.


The current study sought to combine a number of variables previously examined separately. These variables consisted of demographic, academic, and psychosocial dimensions of transfer students shown to affect performance. Thus, not only were items assessing gender, race, and previous GPA used, but items assessing transfer student expectations about the university (eg., participating in on-campus events, family support) were also included as well. These variables were measured at the beginning of the transfer students' experience at the transfer institution.  Transfer student responses were also compared with

those of freshman students to determine how similar or different these two groups were along various demographic and attitudinal dimensions.    



A random sample of 295 transfer students (51% female) and 2584 freshmen (50% female) completed a questionnaire as part of summer orientation programs at a large eastern' university. The questionnaire contained a number demographic and attitudinal items. Data analyses (multivariate analysis of variance and chisquare) were performed on responses to identical items between

6 the two student groups. Reported findings were significant at the .05 level



Demographic Variables. There were no significant differences in the racial backgrounds of transfer and freshman students. Transfer students were made up of 77% Whites, 12% Asian Americans, 7% Blacks, 3% Latinos, and 1% other race, while freshmen consisted of 70% White, 17% Asian American, 8% Black, 3% Latino, and 2% of another race. Both groups were also equally represented by males and females (approximately 50% female). Of the transfer student sample, 57% came from community colleges, while 40% stated that they were transferring from four-year colleges; seven students did not indicate their university of origin.


Freshmen and transfer students differed somewhat in previous work experience. Though the majority of both groups worked part­ time year-round (61% and 53% for freshmen and transfers,

respectively), more freshmen worked only during the summer (25%) than transfers (12%). On the other hand, more transfers had another employment arrangement (28%), such as full-time employment, than did freshmen (4%).


Academic Background. High school rankings of freshmen and transfer students were significantly different; many more freshmen identified themselves as being in the top five or ten percent of their class (34%) than did transfer students (24%). Transfer and freshmen students also intended to obtain differing levels of degrees. That is, transfer students set their sights mainly on obtaining bachelor's (39%) and master's degrees (36%), while freshmen were more likely to choose postbaccalaureate degrees, such as master's (42%), doctoral (16%), and law or medical degrees (2o%).


Freshman and transfer students also did not resemble each other in their family's academic background. More freshmen than transfer students had had parents who attended college (84% and 66%, respectively), although more transfer students (61%) had siblings who had previously attended at least one year of college in comparison to 480 of the freshmen.


Attending and Remaining in College. Rankings of reasons that transfer and freshman students had for attending college were somewhat similar. For transfer students, the top three reasons were: preparing for graduate school, gaining a general education, and getting a better job. Freshmen chose the following reasons: getting a better job, preparing for graduate school, and developing oneself generally. With respect to important components of long-term career choices, both samples were also quite similar. Transfer students selected intrinsic interest in the field, working with people, and prestigious occupation for their top choices, while freshmen selected the following: interest in the field, prestigious occupation, and high anticipated earnings.


Transfer and freshman students were also somewhat similar in their reasons for remaining in college. The top three reasons




for transfers were: that a college degree was the only way to enter a chosen career, interest in ideas/pursuit of knowledge, and a degree was required to enter graduate or professional school. The three most often cited reasons for freshmen included: a college degree was the only way to enter a chosen career as well as to enter graduate or professional school, and that college graduates get better jobs. Thus, despite demographic and academic differences, the motivations to enter and remain in college seem quite comparable between these two groups of students.


Adjusting to the University. Transfer and freshman students were also asked what they thought would be both the easiest and hardest aspects of adjusting to college life. With respect to the easiest part of adjusting, the three most frequently cited aspects were exactly alike for the two student groups: meeting and getting to know other students, deciding whether to get involved in campus activities, and selecting a field of study and/or career. Significantly more transfer students than freshmen, however, thought that earning satisfactory-grades and studying efficiently would be the easiest aspects. And more freshmen than transfers believed that meeting financial expenses and becoming a more critical and independent thinker would be the least difficult aspects of college adjustment.


The picture was also somewhat similar for describing the most difficult aspects of adjustment. For transfer students, the most frequent responses were: budgeting time (31%), meeting



financial expenses (18%), and earning satisfactory grades (12%). Freshman students chose the following responses most often: budgeting time (27%), studying efficiently (25%), and earning satisfactory grades (10%).


Student Attitudes and Expectations. On most items dealing with attitudes and expectations, freshmen and transfers revealed significant differences either in the direction or degree of their responses. Table 1 contains attitudinal items included in the questionnaires administered to both groups of students. The item where the sharpest disagreement occurred between freshmen and transfers was "I expect to participate in some form of intramural sports at UMCP"; freshmen were more likely to expect. such participation. Freshmen were also more likely than transfer students to expect to have a hard time adjusting to the academic work at UMCP. Relatedly, transfer students did not anticipate problems getting the classes they wanted, and were further more likely to expect their courses to be stimulating and exciting.


Insert Table 1 about here


Transfer students were also more likely to express interest in counseling for both educational/vocational and emotional/social concerns.




What emerges from the current findings is a complex picture of how transfer and freshman students are both similar to and




different from each other. Demographically and academically, the two groups of students are more different than alike, for example, in their educational aspirations and family history. Differences in expectations of what one is likely to do, especially in interactions with the campus community, also appeared. A number of attitudinal differences between these two groups of students were additionally apparent.


Of note is that freshman students were more likely than transfer students to be concerned about their ability to adjust to the academic work. These students, however, were more likely than transfer students to expect on-campus involvement, such as sports, religious activities, and collaborative efforts with other students. Meanwhile, transfer students were more likely to expect their courses to be stimulating and have little trouble obtaining them. These students were also more likely than freshman students to express interest in vocational counseling and expect a close relationship with their academic advisor.


It is conceivable that transfer students may be more able to identify formal sources of assistance for adjustment problems, thus leading to higher expectations of their abilities to adapt to the demands of university life. In contrast, freshmen tended to agree with items suggesting more informal ways of adjusting, such as engaging in religious activities or intramural sports, as well as having the support and interest of family members. Involvement in these activities may not appear to freshmen as ways of adjusting to college; they may perhaps underestimate the




power of these methods in helping them to adjust to the university. Developmental issues related to self-esteem may also affect younger students' self-perceptions of their abilities to adapt to college life whereas older students are not likely to be dealing with such issues.


But in terms of reasons for attending and remaining in college as well as more specifically describing the easiest and hardest components of adjusting, transfer and freshman students were quite similar. With respect to adjusting, for example, both groups tended to focus selecting a career and meeting other people as the easiest parts of adjusting, and budgeting time and earning satisfactory grades as the more difficult components. In line with previous research (eg., Johnson, 1987), however, transfer students were more likely to be concerned about meeting financial expenses than freshman students. Reasons for attending and remaining in college were also somewhat similar among freshman and transfer students. Such reasons tended to focus on preparing for graduate school and obtaining a better job.


The current study indicates then that both transfer and freshman students are similarly concerned about a number of issues that will affect them as students, regardless of their status as transfers or freshmen. Such issues center on obtaining appropriate advising, interacting effectively with peers and faculty, participating in on-campus activities, seeking available resources, and so on. Satisfactorily resolving these concerns would conceivably affect the successful adjustment and retention



of any student.


But similarities between freshmen and transfer students must be viewed carefully, particularly when designing interventions for transfer students. Interactions with demographic variables, such as age, marital or parental status, and occupation, may affect the level of participation transfer students can make in such programs. The findings of Holahan, et al. (1982) are relevant; their study noted that transfer students were aware that they were unique as a student group, and compared themselves with other transfer students, rather than students in general, to help determine their chances of success in college. Thus, devising strategies to encourage interaction among transfer students may help provide support and positive models within the university environment.



Alternate forms of interventions via the mail or telephone, as well as evening or weekend scheduling of special events may also need to be considered in making interventions for transfer students. Programming implications for transfer students should also include work-related differences;  transfer students may not

be able to be on campus as often as freshmen (i.e., they are more likely to be commuting and from longer distances) or stay on campus for long periods of time. Programs that universities create to help transfer students may additionally need to differ from those offered freshmen because of different family

situations (eg., being a single parent) and financial circumstances. Thus, student affairs professionals and

administrators interested in helping transfer students adjust to the academic and social demands of a university must be aware that transfer students, as a class of students, will be dealing with a variety of adjustment issues that are at once similar to yet different from those freshman students face.





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Table 1: Attitudes and Expectations of Transfer and Freshman Students: Means and Standard Deviations











1. I am interested in counseling regarding educational/vocational plans.






2. I expect that most of my college courses will be stimulating and exciting.






3. Everyone should do some form of volunteer work.






4. I expect to participate in some form of intramural sports at UMCP.






5. I do not anticipate problems in getting the classes I want.






6. I expect to get to know one or more faculty well in my first year at UMCP.






7. At least one person in my family will be interested in knowing what happens in my classes.






8. I expect to have opportunities to collaborate with other students in my major.






9. I expect to be involved in religious activities.






10. I expect my relationship with my academic advisor to be closer than with my college professors.






11. I expect a hard time adjusting to the academic work.






12. I am interested in seeking counseling regarding emotional/social concerns.






13. UMCP has a good academic reputation.






*Items significantly different at the .05 level using MANOVA.

Note: 1=Strongly Agree, 5=Strongly Disagree