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Strategies for Recruiting Community College Transfer Students

Strategies for Recruiting Community College Transfer Students


Transfer students have become increasingly important to some four‐year universities as many higher education institutions face enrollment challenges. The Brookings Institution conducted a study on community colleges and concluded that “confronted with high tuition costs [at four‐year institutions], a weak economy, and increased competition for admission to four‐year colleges, students today are more likely than at any other point in history to choose to attend a community college.” These same factors that make community colleges more attractive to many students also affect enrollment at four‐year universities.

Some students begin their higher education career at a community college and then plan to transfer to a baccalaureate program, which creates new recruitment opportunities for four year institutions. In this report, Hanover Research presents best practices for marketing to and recruiting transfer students, including four‐year institutions’ approaches to evaluating transfer credits.

This report is intended to support four‐year institutions seeking to strategically plan for effectively targeting, marketing to, and recruiting transfer students from community colleges. The report is organized into the following sections:

  • Section I presents best practices for recruiting community college transfer students.
  • Section II explores marketing strategies used by institutions to increase their pipeline of potential transfer student applicants.


  • Institutions that have had exceptional success recruiting transfer students begin recruiting these students early, often before they graduate from high school. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill guarantees admission to high school students who do not meet its freshman admissions requirements but who later complete an approved set of community college courses. These students participate in campus activities at UNC‐Chapel Hill and become familiar with the university before they transfer.
  • Institutions that successfully recruit transfer students also work closely with community colleges, which help identify students who are ready to transfer to four‐year institutions. The University of Central Florida begins working with community college students after they complete 30 units. Regularly sending its academic counselors to community college campuses allows UCF to adviseinterested students and minimize potential transfer issues.
  • Transfer students have a tendency to make quick enrollment decisions, so institutions should try to accommodate this need. Instant Decision Days, like those at St. John’s University, allow students to receive an immediate admissions decision. At the same time, counselors share important information, such as conducting a credit evaluation and discussing financial aid options.
  • Institutions should continue to support transfer students even after they enroll to help them succeed. Transfer‐specific services could include orientation, straightforward credit transfer processes, career advising, academic advising, and transfer student housing. Marketing these services during the recruitment process may help attract transfer students.
  • Three of the institutions reviewed here – St. John’s University, The University of Scranton, and Loyola University of Maryland – provide a quick turnaround for credit evaluation. Research shows credit transfers are extremely important to transfer students and strongly influence their interest in a transfer institution.
  • There appears to be low student demand for four‐year institutions to accept credit earned through massive open online courses (MOOCs). Other low‐cost, online education platforms partner directly with four‐year institutions to ensure students earn credits for these courses.
  • Interactive and social media are new marketing strategies used by institutions that have resulted in returns on investment. That said, traditional media are still common and considered effective. Transfer‐specific marketing strategies include focusing on financial aid commitments and campus‐based recruiting events and efforts. The University of Michigan‐Flint, for example, enrolls an average of 50 community college transfers during each of its “On the Spot Transfer Days.”

To receive a complimentary copy of the full report, complete the form below.


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