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The Transfer Student Experience During COVID-19

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After two years of COVID-19 restrictions, the on-campus mask order has been lifted, in-person instruction has resumed, and students have begun to readjust to some semblance of normalcy. For some, however, this easing of restrictions comes at the end of their time at UCI. Transfer students who are graduating this year will have spent nearly their entire time as UCI students during the pandemic.  

According to the Office of Undergraduate Admissions website, approximately a quarter of UCI’s student body consists of transfer students. While some of these students will have the opportunity to enjoy another year at UCI under what promises to be more normal circumstances, many of these students are set to graduate in Spring 2022. A few already completed their time at UCI at the end of winter quarter.

For some transfer students, this means that almost their entire time at UCI will have been spent attending online classes, leaving them unable to engage with the campus community and physically isolated from their peers. On top of this, even those students who have had the opportunity to attend in-person classes or will in the future have missed out on a significant portion of their time at UCI. While this holds true for all UCI students who attended the school during the pandemic, transfer students generally only attend for 2 to 3 years, as opposed to the typical 4 or 5 years that students accepted directly out of high school do. 

“When I was growing up, I heard about all the excitement and potential friends that I would make. Instead, on my first day of school I was still living at home having to log into my first class at this university that I had dreamed of going to for years,” fourth year criminology, law and society student Brandon Rodriguez-Theodore said.

“It was especially difficult because I enjoyed my community college in person so much but continued to think, ‘UCI is going to be so much better.’ Then Covid hit, and all that excitement went away.”

Rodriguez-Theodore is set to graduate in June.

Even under normal circumstances, transfer students generally have to fight an uphill battle upon their arrival at the university. The Transfer Student Center provides services to ease this transition and help transfer students build a sense of community and make the most of their two years at UCI. According to their website, the Transfer Student Center’s mission is  “to facilitate their transition and overall success at UCI.” 

“The Transfer Student Center directs students to appropriate campus programs and services. We also organize weekly workshops, provide formal and informal mentoring, and provide students with a space for studying. The Transfer Student Center strives to foster a sense of community among the transfers at UCI and advocates for them in order to enhance their academic and social experience,” states the website.

Unfortunately, due to the pandemic and its resulting restrictions, the center was also forced to conduct its activities online, making it all the more difficult for transfer students to adapt to life as Anteaters. 

The University has attempted to supplement some of these vital elements of the college experience via Zoom events and socials as well and the return to campus last quarter. However,  effects of pandemic restrictions on transfer students, particularly those who arrived in the fall 2020 and are set to graduate on time, have been described as devastating. 

After spending multiple years attending community college, many of these students looked forward to finishing their education at UCI only to spend most of their time as Anteaters watching lectures through a computer screen, unable to experience the full experience of attending the school. Even when in-person instruction resumed, many other aspects of university life such as social events, live talks, and sports games remained either remote or were conducted based on stringent safety protocols to protect students and staff, undeniably changing the experience. 

“I feel like it deprived me of the enjoyment of being at one of the most well-known schools in the country. I can tell people that I go to UCI and they ask me, ‘how is it?’, but I can’t speak much about it because all I know is what it’s like online,” Rodriguez-Theodore said. “I feel like I was deprived of so many events, social gatherings, clubs, et cetera that I would have greatly enjoyed but never got the opportunity to experience.” 

The path to transfer is complex and the requirements for transferring are different from those required for admission directly out of high school. Transfer students are encouraged to complete IGETC, a comprehensive course plan covering General Education requirements for the UC system. They must complete a prescribed set of courses determined by their selected major during community college and maintain a qualifying GPA above 2.8. Additionally, transfer students are still required to complete the application process, similarly to incoming freshmen. Many achieved admission to UCI through the Transfer Admission Guarantee (TAG). In 2020, transfer students had already committed to UCI before COVID-19 restrictions were imposed for the 2020-2021 school year. These restrictions left them with little choice but to attend UCI completely online for the entire first year of their studies at the school. 

In addition to missing out on the full experience of attending UCI, transfer students have also faced some practical challenges as a direct result of pandemic-related restrictions. Access to many of UCI’s resources such as academic counseling were limited to the online format for much of the past two years, making it more difficult to effectively plan courses and complete graduation requirements on time.  

Additionally, access to opportunities to build a social support network at UCI were significantly limited, leaving many transfer students to tackle their first year at UCI mostly on their own in the midst of the already stressful, isolating pandemic. Student mental health resources such as counseling were also moved online in compliance with COVID-19 safety protocols, which meant that support through the difficulties that accompanied the pandemic was only offered through a computer screen. 

All of these factors have contributed to what, for many transfer students, has been a profoundly disappointing college experience. Following years of work to earn acceptance into UCI, the pandemic transformed what would otherwise have been an exciting, rewarding time at the school into a more isolating, difficult experience amid an already stressful global crisis. 

“It felt nearly impossible to get a hold of any counselors to be able to walk me through what I should do while I’m at this school. I had to figure out everything on my own,” Rodriguez-Theodore said.

Fortunately, for those transfer students who remain at UCI next quarter and beyond, the future looks brighter than it has in nearly two years. As the university moves forward towards what looks to be a much more normal quarter, transfer students, as well as the rest of the campus community, will again have access to many of the factors that make the UCI experience worthwhile and rewarding. 


Quinn Tubiolo is a Campus News Intern for the Winter 2022 quarter. He can be reached at qtubiolo@uci.edu.