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Tony Lazarowicz, Jessica Davis, Marko Delic, Holly Herrera, & Jacqui Rogers, Advising Community on Transfer Students members

Tony Lazarowicz.jpgTransfer articulation agreements have been critical to assisting students in the transition between two- and four-year institutions. While some institutions have transfer centers or transfer-specific programs, many use pre-admission advising and articulation agreements to assist students in planning their transfer. A guide, however, can go a step further than an agreement by providing more robust information than course-to-course articulations alone. By highlighting the roadmap between institutions, transfer guides can increase two-year degree completion and positively impact the transition, retention, and persistence of transfer students. Staff at both the transfer-sending and transfer-receiving schools should collaborate on creating the transfer guide, making it a strong foundation for student success.

Jessica Davis.jpgCreating a success plan requires transparency in the process. Transparency often begins with clear definitions of terms and parts of such a process. The following definitions can aid the reading process and implementation of the transfer guide at your institution, regardless of its role in the implementation process:

  • Transfer-Sending School: The institution at which a student’s academic journey begins. After completing a set of courses, students transition to another school. Generally speaking, this is a two-year institution partnering with a four-year institution.
  • Transfer-Receiving School: The institution that the student would transfer to from another institution. Generally speaking, this is a four-year institution from which students intend to receive a bachelor’s degree.
  • Mark Delic.jpgArticulation Agreements: The documents that outline a pre-set curriculum at a transfer-sending school in a program of study that seamlessly transfers to a transfer-receiving school.
  • Transfer Guide: The written roadmap students use to clarify their transfer intent, goals, and use this space to proceed in their academic journey. Individual student transfer guides are provided by transfer-sending-school advisors at the time of students clarifying their intent to transfer.
  • Campus Champions: The staff and faculty members at each school involved in the process. The champions communicate the purpose of a transfer guide to students, ensuring students’ successful retention at transfer-sending and furthermore their retention and matriculation at the transfer-receiving school.

Holly Herrera..jpgTransition Theory

Originally developed as a counseling theory, Schlossberg’s Transition Theory (1984) emphasizes the key aspects to the experience of transitions, which are defined as “any event, or non-event, that results in changed relationships, routines, assumptions, and roles” (Goodman et al., 2006, p. 33). Transitions can be perceived both positively and negatively depending on the individual and the holistic context in that moment in time (McGill & Lazarowicz, 2012). 

The three major parts of this theory are: approaching transitions, taking stock of coping resources, and taking charge (Schlossberg et al., 1995).  

  • Jacqui Rogers.jpgApproaching Transitions explores whether the transition is an event or lack of an event that relies upon a change occurring. The key factors include the type, context, and impact of the transition. Understanding the underlying nature of the transition allows an advisor to best understand how students experience similar transitions differently. 
  • Taking Stock of coping resources allows an advisor to leverage resources based on students' perceptions. Students may perceive resources as both liabilities (negatives) and assets (positives) within each of the four categories (4 Ss) of self, support, strategies, and situation. The students’ perspective (referred to as appraisal) can assist the advisor in understanding how the student feels about and copes with the transition and the level of optimism for success. 
  • In the Taking Charge stage, “the person experiencing the change begins to use new strategies to manage her or her personal evolution” (McGill & Lazarowicz, 2012, p. 131).   

Guides can begin to help a student approach a transition with confidence and provide understanding of available supports. As Transition Theory posits, transitions are individualized. Guides can provide strong support but should also be designed to allow for individualized customization, whether that includes reflection, a convoy of supports, or a variety of strategies that students can employ to navigate the transition successfully.  

Why Should Institutions Incorporate the Transfer Guide?

Using a transfer guide can help students create a sense of belonging at not only their transfer-sending institution, but also the transfer-receiving institution they plan on attending. First, these create an institutional effort in normalizing the transfer function to those who seek to transfer. Additionally, creating it in tandem with the transfer-receiving institution supports and validates students as they work with both institutions toward their educational transition. 

This guide complements both the transfer-sending and transfer-receiving institutions’ missions by sharing information and resources specific to transfer students. It acknowledges and incorporates the lived experiences of students who come to campus as they create a roadmap of goals and objectives to work towards at the transfer-sending institution and know what they need to complete for the transfer-receiving institution. Finally, establishing a transfer guide allows the student to focus on course material and completion, not course selection and requirements. 

Who Creates Transfer Guides?

Four-year institutions must play an active role in creating meaningful transfer guides through collaborations with their two-year partners as it is the starting point for information exchange. First, it is an opportunity for faculty from both institutions to discuss curricular content and alignment. Inter-institutional faculty collaboration can dig deeper into the full course sequence beginning at the community college and ending with the final course at the college or university. This interrogation of course content and learning outcomes can result in more effective course-to-course transfer equivalencies in addition to a deeper understanding of student preparation. 

Second, admissions and student affairs professionals from both the transfer-sending and transfer-receiving institutions should also work to create the roadmap to a successful transfer. Admissions representatives can indicate required courses, standardized test scores, as well as deadlines for applications and related materials. Student affairs professionals can share how to demonstrate leadership pre-transfer and tie that to post-transfer opportunities. The guide could also direct students when to update their resumes and create a portfolio so that they can gain internships and other professional experiences at several stops along the way. 

What are the Transfer Guide Components?

The transfer-sending campus champion will identify a student’s program of study and institution they intend to transfer to in order to proceed with the appropriate transfer guide. Components of that guide should include:

  • The student’s intended timeline for completion (e.g. 2+2 or 2+3 academic year plan). 
  • Outline of transferable credits per transfer equivalencies or an articulation agreement. 
  • If there is an agreement allowing a transfer of an Associate’s degree to a four-year institution, the transfer guide will show a two-year timeline during the student's journey at the transfer-sending school, as well as a two-year timeline following their transfer, that the transfer-receiving campus champion will use to further guide the student. 
  • Degree plan that individualizes a student’s term-by-term timeline based on personal goals.
  • A questionnaire about the student’s goals, tips to ensure the student’s preparedness to transfer (e.g. budgeting or transportation), information about supportive services, and co-curricular interests to be aligned with transfer-in school’s offerings.
  • Motivational exercises to encourage persistence and mindfulness. Each school will be responsible to include this information based on their resources and understanding of their student population.

When seeking out examples, it became clear that most institutions focus on the second and third bullet points above. Some go beyond baseline articulation agreements and have used other terminology such as Transfer Maps (See an example at Virginia Commonwealth University at https://majormaps.vcu.edu/transfer). However, these examples still lack some of the components, particularly those that encourage personalized reflection and planning. One of the authors of this current manuscript completed a graduate project focusing on transfer guides, which outlines a number of the key concepts discussed in this section and can be found at https://drive.google.com/file/d/1nGMEMfYsM9JA7--yFTTFYHZiJhB70z6b/view?usp=sharing.

When Should Advisors Incorporate the Transfer Guide?

The earlier a student maps out their transfer process, the more time the student will have to prepare. There are factors for the student to consider that will impact their first semester at the community college: Do I need to earn my associate degree before I transfer? Are there gateway requirements for my desired institution/major that I must meet in order to transfer? What should I look for in a desired transfer institution/major? Using reverse engineering, the clearer idea students have for their end goals (transfer and career), the more easily students can work their way backwards to figure out what steps need to be taken. A transfer guide can assist them in navigating these steps.

Community colleges have the opportunity to introduce students to their transfer guide during their orientation or first year seminar course. While the community colleges are orienting students to college, they can orient students to utilizing their transfer guide. Transfer guides can also be incorporated into coaching or advising appointments. Coaches or advisors can utilize concepts in the transfer guide to navigate their appointments with students.


Transfer guides must be individualized depending on the two institutions creating the guide. All parties that support a student in their transition should be involved in the creation of the guide to create the best resource that connects to their student population. They must also challenge students to take ownership of their own academic goals and dreams. 

Articulation agreements are a great first step in helping students navigate the pathway from one institution to the next. The guide expands upon the role of the articulation agreement to encompass the full transition experience of a student beyond credit transfer. Taking into consideration the students’ experiences and long-term goal setting, a transfer guide more thoroughly sets up transfer students for a successful transition.

Tony Lazarowicz, Ph.D.
Associate Director for Academic Advising
College of Arts and Sciences
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
[email protected]

Jessica Davis, MA.Ed.
Senior College Advisor/MAC Supervisor
College of Social and Behavioral Sciences
California State University, San Bernardino
[email protected]

Marko Delic, MA
Director of Admissions
Kellogg Community College
[email protected]

Holly Herrera, PhD
Associate Provost for Transfer Initiatives and Academic Partnerships
Columbia College Chicago
[email protected]

Jacqui Rogers, MA
Coordinator of Transfer & Articulation
College of Southern Maryland
[email protected]


Anderson, M. L., Goodman, J., & Schlossberg, N. K. (2012). Counseling adults in transition: Linking practice with theory (4th ed.). Springer.

Goodman, J., Schlossberg, N. K., & Anderson, M. L. (2006). Counseling adults in transition: Linking practice with theory (3rd ed.). Springer.

McGill, C. M., & Lazarowicz, T. (2012). Advising transfer students: Implications of Schlossberg’s transition theory. In T. J. Grites & C. Duncan (Eds.), Advising transfer students: Strategies for today's realities and tomorrow's challenges (pp. 131–133). National Academic Advising Association.

Schlossberg, N. K. (1984). Counseling adults in transition. Springer.

Schlossberg, N. K., Waters, E. B., & Goodman, J. (1995). Counseling adults in transition (2nd ed.). Springer.

Cite this article using APA style as: Lazarowicz, T., Davis, J., Delic, M., Herrera, H., & Rogers, J. (2020, December). Beyond articulation: A guide to incorporating transfer guides. Academic Advising Today, 43(4). [insert url here] 


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