An examination of UMass’ unfair transfer student policy

By Katie Waldron

Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian
(Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian)

Community college is a different world than a four-year university. The idea is to satisfy all general education requirements, usually prescribed by a four-year university, while paying significantly less to do so. However, the transition from a community college to a four-year university is often jarring and requires a transfer student to come into the university with absolute confidence about what they wish to do for the foreseeable future. There is no room for doubt, and any student who is not 100 percent set on an academic path is at a decided disadvantage.

Though community college transfer students are usually older than university freshmen and have two or more years of college experience under their belt, this does not automatically mean they have any idea what they want to do. Despite this, specifically in the case of the University of Massachusetts, all transfer students are required to declare a major to be accepted into the institution. The requirement to declare a major before transferring into the University forces students to select a path for which they may not necessarily be prepared.

Of course, there is a solution to this, which is not to transfer into a university with that requirement until one knows exactly what one wishes to do. But is this truly a solution? The marketability of a two-year degree (a credential that some transfers do not even have) is dismal, which creates a pressure to continue one’s education despite not necessarily being prepared to do so. Therefore, this issue of pigeonholing transfer students into majors must be addressed.

The next solution would be to change one’s major after entering the University for the first semester. But that solution does not necessarily work either. Assuming that a student spends one semester in a major and discovers it is the wrong major for them, they must change majors and then only have three semesters to complete the new major’s requirements. The student could remain at the University longer than that to complete requirements, however, the steeply rising cost of education and the crippling debt that most students graduate with are huge deterrents from extending one’s stay.

With these issues in mind, we might ask if simply waiving the requirement to select a major before a transfer is admitted to the University would be a workable solution to this problem. Perhaps not, as waiving this requirement completely may cause the same problem that changing a major after transferring in would cause: an inability to complete degree requirements in the time allotted to graduate. But a potential solution could be that a transfer student must select a major by the end of their first semester at the university.

If this policy were the case, it would give students time to adjust to the transition from community college to a four-year university, and it would allow for some breathing room. If a transfer student were allowed to take four or five classes their first semester from various departments at the university they are interested in, they would have access to faculty from those departments, as well as advisors, and they would be able to experience the energy and politics of those departments first hand. This would allow for a much more informed decision regarding the selection of a major and perhaps much higher student satisfaction upon graduation.

Katie Waldron is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]