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How to choose the right transfer programme

The choice of college a student will initially attend prior to transfer incorporates a standard set of decision parameters

William O’Brien
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William O’Brien is the President of the American College of Dubai.
Gulf News

Last week, I dealt with the aspect of utilising a transfer strategy to help families mitigate the cost of higher education. While finances are indeed a vital component of obtaining a university degree, it is equally important to pick the right institution at which to earn one’s initial course credits for transfer.

In this article, we’ll address the factors families should consider in the first phase of a transfer program - -namely, the choice of the institution (usually a college) at which the student will begin his or her studies.

We can usually break down the university-bound student population into two segments: Those who have already made a firm decision as to the degree they wish to pursue and those who are less certain and intend to ‘declare a major’, to use a standard term, at some point after beginning their studies. The transfer concept can work equally well for both – though obviously at some point all students do have to make a binding decision as to their chosen academic path.

The choice of college a student will initially attend prior to transfer incorporates a standard set of decision parameters which should be considered.

In that regard, I would investigate the following: 

1) Does the college have a history of successful student transfers?

This is a particularly important criteria to consider as it serves as operational proof that an institution can do what it says. Additionally, a college with a history of student transfers will naturally have developed a reputation with a number of international universities which, in-turn, helps the college’s students with subsequent admissions. 

2) Are the counselors knowledgeable about the workings of North American Higher Education? Can they help with applications, explaining the admissions requirements of US and Canadian institutions? Are they familiar with the processes involved in applying for student visas?

While the transfer process is well-known in North America, there are still a number of ‘moving parts’ that can make the difference between a smooth educational experience and one where both time and money are wasted. Before making an enrollment decision have an interactive session with a prospective college’s admissions and counseling staff to see if you get a comfort level that they indeed understand both the system and processes involved. As with any ‘consumer’ decision, seek out referrals from families who have previously had students enrolled in the transfer college you are considering. 

3) Do North American universities actively recruit students from this institution?

Such recruitment is a sign that the college is viewed favorably by the international higher education establishment as there is a recognition that its students are well prepared and qualified for degree completion in North America. Additionally, students from colleges that are favored for transfer often are eligible for scholarship and other financial concessions which add nicely to the savings already being realized under the transfer construct. 

4) Does the college offer an extensive array of general education/liberal arts subjects?

These offerings should include humanities, social sciences, natural sciences and mathematics – basically the subjects all students must complete during their initial one to two years of North American higher education.

While there is a strong degree of commonality in the first two year coursework of major North American universities, there is nonetheless some variation and a college that offers a wide range of general education courses is best equipped to ensure a successful credit transfer. 

5) For engineering/computer students, does the college offer university-level Physics and Chemistry courses as well as higher end mathematics and calculus subjects?

Engineering and computer science degree programs are unique in the fact that in addition to the traditional general education/liberal arts requirement, they understandably require a more rigorous science and math course of study during the initial year of study. Generally speaking, students wishing to utilize the transfer process in these technical types of disciplines should limit their study at the transfer college to one year. 

6) Is the semester schedule such that it allows for students to transfer in a manner that is consistent with the academic calendar followed by North American universities?

Each student’s academic progress at the post-secondary level is unique and not always consistent with the traditional Sept to June full academic year construct. As a result students in transfer program often make their transition to university in what is essentially ‘mid-year’ (January in most cases) - - thus a college that parallels the US/Canadian semester system will offer an important degree of scheduling commonality. 

7) Is the college’s accreditation recognised by North American universities?

Institutions recognized and accredited by the UAE Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research enjoy what is essentially mutual recognition by North American universities. Similarly, overseas branch colleges under the purview of the KHDA/Dubai International Academic City should also be viewed favorably by North American Universities.

While not essential for accredited colleges, it is sometimes useful to check for specific articulation agreements between the college and various North American universities. These articulation agreements map out exactly which subjects students should complete at the college and provides an extra guarantee of transfer credit being awarded. 

Transfer programs represent a unique advantage that tends to be limited to the North American systems of higher education. As with any educational endeavor, good planning and assessing all of one’s options are essential to making the transfer process work – and making the right college choice at the outset will set the stage for subsequent academic success.

The author is the President of the American College of Dubai