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When we take inventory on how to best serve transfer students, many times we think about the essentials: articulation of credit, money, time to competition and onboarding. All these areas are valuable, but an area that we do not often think about is how we communicate to our prospective transfer students on an interpersonal level. It belongs in its own category, perhaps because it exists in each of the essential functions we first think about. It exists in all areas of our lives. Interpersonal communication skills can be referred to as soft skills, that deeper level of communication, where we connect with people on a smaller, one-on-one, personalized level. It is important to take an honest inventory of what transfer communication looks like at your institution and develop ways to incorporate interpersonal communication into the plan.

Start with this question: How do we communicate with our transfers? This question is not meant to review the traditional methods of campaign-triggered emails or scheduled text messages or mailings. While important, the question is meant to drill deeper to the level of communication being used:

  • Is it an interpersonal approach that makes meaningful purpose driven connections?
  • Does it send a message that transfer students are understood and resources are available to help?
  • Does it include one-on-one personal connections at certain points through the cycle?

This could be the approach that sets your institution apart and shows students you understand them on a deeper, meaningful level.

Interpersonal communication requires a one-on-one, personalized approach. This goes beyond personalized text messages and challenges us to connect with the student on a personal level. In a world where technology drives timely, effective communication, this approach challenges institutions to take time and resources to make a deeper connection.

How Can This Be Put Into Practice?

Review the existing communication plan. The first step in making a change like this is to take an honest inventory of what is currently being done. If the answer to this question is nothing, use that as a starting point. This is an opportunity to build and integrate interpersonal communication into how you want to develop the plan. If a plan exists, look at ways soft skills can be built into it. Ask questions such as:

  • Who is responsible for ensuring we can make these connections with our transfer students?
  • What resources need a deeper connection to the student experience?
  • Where in the recruitment and retention cycle does the student need more attention?
  • When does this need to happen to have a significant and measurable impact?
  • Why do we need to make these changes?

Perhaps starting with the why could help to answer the remaining questions. Use the why to drive the mission of what you are trying to accomplish.

Connect resources to interpersonal communication skills. This looks different at every institution; access to resources can be a challenge. What we do know is that resources are needed to see initiatives into action. Look at staff workload, funding and support. Identify areas where adjustments can be made to help strengthen how you communicate. Shifting resources does not need to be drastic. Small deliberate steps toward a goal can be a more manageable change from how it has always been done. Explore areas where more resources would help reach the goal of integrating a more interpersonal approach. This could look like more staff, more student workers, more purpose-driven interactions, multimedia updates or technology to automate manual processes and reallocate resources to other areas.

Use current or alumni transfer students. Whenever possible, it is a great connection to make for all involved. Share transfer student stories in marketing and add them to your events team to help with open house check-ins, tours and special events. Have transfer students be the first face-to-face connections visitors make. Incorporate interpersonal skills training into tour guide training. Give transfers space to share their experiences with prospective students and their families—the real story. Add transfer students to social media posts and outreach. Have current transfer students talk about their fears and how the institution was able to help. Empathy skills will go a long way, showing a transfer student that someone knows how they feel. That is a remarkable connection to make.

Talk about transfer across the campus. Use strong interpersonal skills when talking about transfers to the campus. With these skills, share how you communicate with transfer students and talk about the value added to the campus community. Establish this expectation across campus asking others do the same. Set the tone that the transfer experience is to be celebrated and welcomed. Remind the campus the word “transfer” is not a complex problem. Send the message to all faculty and staff that there is a person, place or office available when called upon. This helps shift the interpersonal message of “I do not know how to help you” to “I know whom you need to connect with.” This changes the experience on an interpersonal level.

A thoughtful approach matters. Adjustments like this need to be intentional. It will take time, and it will require resources. It will cross over many areas of the recruitment cycle and carry over into retention. A strong interpersonal communication action plan cannot stand alone—it needs to be thoughtfully and strategically woven together across all areas that impact transfer students.

There are many ways to adjust how we communicate. Intentionally adding interpersonal communication will look different at every institution, but it is important work to be done. Creating a more interpersonal approach is only the beginning. It is the starting point for change, however big or small, that can make a significant impact. We know transfer students are a unique population; here is an opportunity to integrate a unique approach.

Katie Schwienteck is the registrar at Pennsylvania State University at York and an adjunct faculty member in communication.

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