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How to Serve Transfer Students

February 11, 2011

Yesterday I talked about transfer students as liability vs. opportunity. It’s my conviction that they are often implicitly viewed as the former, but can very easily become the latter. Our ministry at Penn State involves a lot of transfer students. This is mostly by accident, but I’m glad for it! This year, in particular, many of them are the backbone of what we’re doing.

I should clarify what I mean by transfer, because here and elsewhere it can mean two different things.  1. It can mean a transfer from another school. 2. It can mean a transfer from another campus within your University’s system. At Penn State, we have thousands of the latter, coming to “main campus” from one of our twenty or so “commonwealth” or “branch” campuses spread throughout the state. These students often spend the first two years at a smaller branch, then come up to our big campus. But for all intents and purposes, they are transfers and present the same challenges/opportunities.

Here are some things we’ve found helpful in serving transfers:

  1. Build bridges to campuses that send lots of our students our way. Here at Penn State, the largest “branch” campus is 45 minutes down the road in Altoona. We have a great CCO ministry there, and they routinely send us quality students. That’s a connection I want to keep building. When I was at Temple, the Community College of Philadelphia was down the street. I wish I had built a stronger ministry pipeline between those two schools.
  2. Hand them the keys right away. Many ministries operate on a “Wait-and-See, Do Your Time, Wait Your Turn” approach to leadership. This is why we miss out on some great leaders who happen to be transfers. They are disqualified by default, because they didn’t go through a freshman Bible study. This is, to say the least, unfortunate. Our ministry structures should be open enough that a mature and godly student can jump in fairly soon if they’re ready. We have several students that we didn’t even know in August serving on our Leadership Team by October.
  3. Communicate that you’re not just for 4-year students. We don’t assume that everyone knows where everything is on campus. In fact, we currently don’t even meet on campus! This subtly demonstrates that we’re not just for freshman and sophomores, but for those whose affiliations with the campus are not as strong.
  4. Maximize their relational connections. When I meet a transfer student, I know this person may seem disconnected at main campus, but that they likely bring lots of connections from their branch campus. If we can get a few of them involved in our ministry, more will follow.

What have you found helpful in reaching out to transfer students?


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