Choosing a college or university to attend is a big time and money commitment. It's important to be sure you have made the right selection, but like any other product or service, the representatives of each college you visit will likely only tell you the benefits of choosing that school. Often, statistics speak more plainly to what college life and academics really look like at the school you are considering. One of the ways to determine whether the school is the right choice is to look at how many students transfer after the first year. You can typically find this information by reviewing school reports.
What First-Year Transfers Tell You
Just because a student transfers from one college to another does not mean that the first college offered a poor experience. The student could be transferring for financial, personal, or academic reasons. However, when students leave en masse after their first year, you might want to consider whether the college isn't meeting their needs.
When looking at transfer data to influence your college selection choice, it is important that you consider first-year transfers and not second-year or third-year transfers. It is actually fairly common for students to transfer after their first two years of school due to expenses. However, students who transfer after their first usually do so for other reasons.
How to Find School Data Reports
Just like businesses keep records of their clients, schools keep records of their students. Usually completed every year or every two years, the school's report show how many students are in each grade level, each major, or each specific school or program. Because schools ultimately try to encourage retention, they also have detailed information available about students who leave school, either to transfer or because they are unable to complete their degrees.
You can usually find school data reports on their websites, though you might have to do a little hunting, as they're not typically published on the front page. Most schools offer a search option. By searching for words like "Transfer Rates" and "Transfer Reports" or even "Retention Rates" and "Retention Reports," you're likely to find the information you're looking for. Some schools make this easy by having a statistics tab or link right on the homepage.
If you can't find the school's data report, you can always call the main switchboard or the records office and ask where it is located. In most cases, school data reports are public knowledge, and the school should offer helpful advice in assisting you with finding it.
Other Information You Can Learn from Transfer Numbers
In addition to reviewing how many students have left a school in their first year, transfer numbers can help you make other decisions about a school. For example, U.S. News and World Report publishes a list of the schools with the most transfer students. This list can help you determine which schools attract transfer students and why. However, it would be incorrect to assume a school that does not attract many transfer students is poor. The magazine also notes that many smaller schools simply don't have room for transfers.
In the end, students transfer for many reasons, but schools with a large first-year transfer rate should raise red flags, and this is certainly something to bring up in a meeting with an advisor or administrator.