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Transfer Student Migration:
Analysis of Social Engagement
in Receiving Communities

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After completing a literature review I discovered that most current academic research focused on the academic experience of transfer students. But what if we thought of transfer students as migrants entering a new community?


I completed an ethnography with 3 transfer students at the University of Georgia located in Athens, GA  as part of my Anthropology of Migration course.

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Key Findings


Independent project for Anthropology of Migration course


Complete an ethnography for a migrant community


Non-traditional migrants


2 Month Span

Interviewed participants at start and brief check in at conclusion

Doc Mentor Timeline
Doc Mentor Process
Research Question

Why do transfer students migrate and how do they establish community in their receiving community?

Recruitment Criteria & Process

I asked an acquaintance who was a transfer student to participant in the study. I was referred to another transfer student by a classmate who then referred her roommate to also participate in the study.  


A third-year African male who recently transferred

from Georgia Military College, a community college

1 hour 30 minutes from Athens, Georgia

A third-year Caucasian female who recently transferred from Georgia Southern University,

a public university 3 hours from UGA

A third-year Black female who recently transferred

from Georgia Southern University

Left the study due to busy schedule

Research Methodology
  • Semi-Structured Interviews

  • Participant Observation

  • Survey

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Who do you consider your support system?

Tell me about your experience as a student at UGA?

Why did you transfer schools? Why UGA?

How do you find out about campus activities?

Open Ended Interview
Sample Questions
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Closed Survey 

​How many off campus activities are you involved in?

How many close friends did you have when attending your last institution?​

​How many close friends do you have in Athens?​​

How many on campus organizations are you involved in?​


I attended Transfer Tuesdays at Tate, an event sponsored by the Office of Student Activities and Organizations that seeks to connect transfer students with on-campus resources and promote interaction amongst one another.


When conducting my interviews, I asked the participants the same questions in the same order to ensure an effective and comprehensive analysis.

To analyze my data, I used a color-coding system to identify each participant’s responses and retrieve themes from the participants' answers.


I then used bar graphs to visually compare nominal data

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Transfer students’ main reason for transferring schools is the desire to graduate with what is described as a “better degree."

Other factors that influenced transferring are socially based. The University of Georgia is viewed as bigger and full of more social opportunities than participants’ first post secondary institution.

"I don’t want to feel like I’m at orientation again"
Bar graph of number of close friends at previous school vs UGA

The number of close friends decreased or stayed the same for transfer students when they migrated to their receiving community.

Two out of three participants were aware of the existence of the Transfer Student Organization.  However, none of the respondents attended any of the events or utilized any of the resources made available by the organization.

The lack of participation in transfer student-oriented programs was confirmed through my attendance of one of the coffee socials held for transfer students. No students were present at the event. Upon discussing with one of the event coordinators, I learned of the minimal student participation at transfer student outings.

There was a stigma associated with participating in such activities. One respondent stated that she didn’t want to feel like she was at orientation again.

Having an already established social network aided two of the students’ transition. Being involved in an on-campus activity (rugby) affected the size of one’s local support system.


The participant without an established social network (random roommate, no previous affiliations to UGA except one alumni family member) struggled more with building new substantial social connections.


He was involved in one student organization, at the beginning of the semester but was no longer active at the close of the semester. The “cliquish” environment, or struggle to integrate an already established social network, caused him to remove himself from the organization.

"It's a bigger town with more things to do."

Although a secondary motivation for transferring was the appeal of a larger and more social campus, the oversaturation of information regarding on campus activities limited involvement for transfer students.


The female participants discovered information about activities through fliers posted on campus and emails while the male participant used social media to find social opportunities.


Living off campus was more financially beneficial for the participants, but the opportunity cost was the loss in on campus involvement. Long-term involvement was only sustained if a strong social network was present, as was the case with the female rugby players.

Next Steps & Recommendations

One respondent explicitly stated that she had a job. Future research about transfer students’ involvement in their receiving community should look at how factors such as employment, race, relationships, and resources contribute to the transfer migrant’s experience.

Based on current findings, explore development of discreet stigma free resources such as transfer student app or targeted social media marketing campaign

For non-digital marketing, conduct research to discover where transfer students congregate or frequent. More off campus marketing may be necessary to reach transfer students

Encourage pursuit of previous interests and team building activities such as sports

Focus on events with mixed populations (transfer and non-transfer students) and promote without transfer student label to avoid stigma

  1. Increased transfer student awareness of targeted resources 

  2. Deepened personal empathy towards transfer students

Reflections & Limitations
  • Interviewed two participants in coffee shop, which may have altered responses due to lack of privacy

  • Including perspectives from two participants who knew one another might have limited my findingsIn the future, including a more diverse population can provide more varied perspectives.

  • Much of my research consisted of interviews. If time permitted, I would have liked to spend an entire day with each participant in order to have a more ethnographic experience and better understand the everyday life of transfer students.

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