Oct. 19, 2021
College is an important period in a person’s life, but for some, the journey is not the traditional path straight from high school to a four-year institution like Virginia Commonwealth University. Students often take very different routes to college.
A recent study found that around 40% of the students who graduate from VCU were transfer students. Seth Sykes, Ph.D., associate vice president for transfer initiatives, said some come from community college and transfer to a four-year institution. Others start at different four-year institutions and transfer to VCU. People in their 40s and 50s might return to college after dropping out to raise a family. Military students often come to VCU with transfer credits.
“There is no such thing as a typical transfer student,” Sykes said. “Each subset has different but real challenges.”
To recognize the contribution that transfer students make to campus life at VCU, the university is participating in National Transfer Student Week, Oct. 18-22, which honors transferring as a viable path to a college education.
Sykes said transfer students often come from lower-income backgrounds or are a minority and must find other routes to a college education.
“The students who are more likely to start off at community college are low-income students and your students of color,” Sykes said. “They do this mainly for financial reasons. It’s less expensive, so it’s a good way to start that college career.”
VCU is one of the top three schools in Virginia to accept transfer students (George Mason University and Old Dominion University are the others.) For the VCU incoming class this fall, around 1,600 of the 4,200 students transferred credits from another institution.
While being a transfer student has challenges, VCU works hard to make the journey as easy as possible. The university has the Transfer Center as a resource and the Pathways to VCU is a program that works with students from John Tyler and Reynolds community colleges. The goal is to make transferring as seamless as possible and keep students on the pathway to earning a degree.
“We pride ourselves on being a transfer-friendly institution,” Sykes said. “President [Michael] Rao has always had a great interest in transfer students.”
Two transfer students who started this fall at VCU talked to VCU News about their experiences.Portrait of a man in a hat. [View Image]Micah White, a transfer student to VCU, gravitated to the university's vibrant community. (Kevin Morley, University Marketing.
Where did you go to school before VCU?
I transferred from John Tyler Community College. I did two and a half years there. I had been out of college for two or three years prior to going to John Tyler. Right out of high school I went to the Art Institute of California in San Bernardino, but it was not for me. It was a lot for me to comprehend at the time. I had to figure out how to get to and from class. I went to suddenly living in an apartment that was far away from the college, and I didn’t have a car. I dropped out after one year.
What did you do after dropping out?
I moved here to Virginia and spent two or three years working. I mostly worked odd jobs here and there. I finally decided I wanted to go back to college. I went back to school full time but also continued to work. I have my own place and live by myself.
What have you learned as a transfer student?
I have learned that there is a path for students who do not go the traditional route. There are a lot of resources for students to still make it. You can still do great things and meet great people. But along the way, I picked up a lot of skills that I didn’t have when I first went to college, like time management and just generally being responsible.
Why did you choose VCU?
While I was at John Tyler, I spent a lot of time going back and forth to Richmond. I really enjoyed the city and everywhere there were always big VCU signs and VCU students. It looked like a really interesting community and a very vibrant community. It was something I wanted to be a part of because I always wanted to be in a downtown city environment. Plus, Richmond itself seems to have a lot to offer.
What resources did you tap into when thinking about transferring?
I participated in the Pathways to VCU program. I was part of that program for a year and a half while I was at John Tyler. They really helped with the transition and made it go smoothly. They set me up with an academic adviser. They told me how the system at VCU worked and rolled it out in a very digestible manner.
What has been your experience so far at VCU?
It’s been very interesting so far and different from other experiences I have had, partially because we are in the middle of COVID-19. It’s an interesting mix of doing these hybrid classes and only going to campus certain days. It’s been strange to get used to it, but I feel like I am getting my stride. The workload was something I was concerned about coming to a four-year institution, but now I understand how my professors operate and my classes work. The workload is more rigorous, but I’ve got a little bit of a rhythm now.
What do you want to do after graduation?
I want to go to graduate school, hopefully at VCU. My end goal is to be a clinical psychologist. I have talked with Career Services, and they have helped me chart out a path. They told me what kind of milestone I can hit as I’m working toward my bachelor’s. I think VCU has a lot of those types of resources to offer.
What recommendations would you have to someone considering transferring?
I think you need to start with the transfer adviser. They understand the system better than you, as a student, but also see if they can put you in touch with other transfer students. Use the resources that the school has. The Pathways to VCU program really made a difference for me. I was able to connect with people who were already at VCU. There is definitely a pathway for all kinds of students.
Portrait of a smiling man. [View Image]Jacob Dunn recommends transfer students get involved when they arrive at VCU. (Kevin Morley, University Marketing)
Where did you go to school before VCU?
I graduated high school in 2019 and then went to Reynolds Community College. I did two years there and got my associate degree, then transferred to VCU. My last semester at Reynolds was this past spring, so I've had a very consecutive journey.
Why did you decide not to go directly to a four-year school?
I am studying English at VCU, and studying for the LSAT as well because I want to go to law school. So going to community college for two years and then transferring to VCU was the best way to save money, considering I want to go to graduate school.
Do you live at home while going to school?
Yeah, we live in the West End of Henrico, so it's not a terrible commute. … I don't really have an environment that I feel I would need to immediately get out of, which I understand why college, for some people, is sort of their exit ticket.
What have you learned as a transfer student?
I guess when people hear that you're transferring to a school, they're always like, “Oh, be careful. The credits might not transfer. I know somebody who transferred in, and they were a year behind all of a sudden.”
That is why I would suggest making sure you know where your credits fit before you transfer and making sure you pick a major early. I couldn't imagine transferring to VCU still undecided, although I understand why that is the case. Coming in and still being undecided, that would be tricky.
What resources did you utilize to help make the transition easier?
I was part of the Pathways to VCU program. It totally set me up for a smooth transfer. … There was an entire day at Reynolds dedicated to discussing stuff, and I met with an adviser. So, for me, I think when it came to my transfer to VCU, it was the easiest thing in the world.
What advice would you give to someone who has transferred to VCU?
Get involved. I feel like that's what everybody says. But that honestly is probably the best advice that I could give because VCU is a very easy school to just show up and go to class and go home because it's in an urban environment. So I think that finding extra-curriculars and getting to know people in your classes. Make conversation with people.
How has the school year been so far?
I think my whole college experience has been different with COVID-19. I think that we were only going in person for my first semester at Reynolds. But I think that one of the things that I learned is that there is such a different level of academics at VCU. The caliber of the professors, for sure. I mean, they're all very knowledgeable in their field. That's one thing that I've really appreciated, depending on the class, you can see that the professor is clearly into what they're talking about. Whereas at the community college, and also at the 100 and 200 level at VCU, it's a little bit more general.
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