laptop screen showing data dashboard

Gathering Transfer Student Data

Knowing who your transfer students are is essential to advocating for their needs and increasing their visibility to others on campus.

While it is good to be aware of national trends related to transfer students, it is critical to understand the specific transfer student population on your campus. Transfer is a localized phenomenon, so there is often great variation in the transfer student populations across different campuses.

The NISTS Beginner's Guide to Gathering Transfer Data is written for practitioners who are ready to learn more about the transfer students on their campus. Most professionals know the importance of using data to support their practice, but this task of gathering and interpreting data can feel overwhelming. It’s hard to know where to start!  

The good news is that multiple departments on your campus might be helpful in gathering information about your transfer population, including Institutional Research, Enrollment Management, Financial Aid, Campus Administration, University Relations, and even the Grants Office. That said, you may be the first person who is asking for this particular information, so it is very important to explain exactly what you need, why it is important, and how it will be used.

The information below provides an overview of the type of data to gather and the general steps involved, but we encourage you to download the complete guide for details on how to chart particular demographics and other key transfer data points. 

If transfer student data is already readily available on your campus, then we encourage you to check out our Transfer Student Data Template, which is a tool designed for institutions to get a holistic picture of transfer student data and trends over time.  

Demographic Information

Intentionally reviewing your campus’s transfer student data will help you determine if this group has different demographics than your general student population. For the purposes of this guide, we define a transfer student as one who has post-secondary experience at another institution of higher education.  Please note that if your institution classifies students differently, you may need to adjust some of the data points listed below, and this may influence the type of student information available. (Detailed definitions and uses for each data point are included in the complete guide.)

  • Age

  • Gender

  • Ethnicity/Race

  • First-Generation College Student Status

  • Veteran/Military Status

  • Classification

  • Part-Time vs. Full-Time Enrollment

  • Academic College/Major

  • In-State vs. Out-of-State (Geographic Location)

Transfer-Specific Data

In addition to identifying basic demographics, there are other transfer-specific data points you should gather to get the full picture of the transfer student experiences at your institution.  Data unique to the transfer student experience can be used to determine the impact of your programming and support structures for this specific population. Similarly, this data can be used as a justification for additional or continued support from your institution to better enable your work with transfers.

  • Sending Institutions (Name and Type)

  • Number of Credit Hours Transferred In

  • Incoming GPA

  • GPA in First and Second Terms

Additional Data to Consider

In addition to collecting the data above that specifically applies to transfer student populations, another approach is to use data that is already being collected by your institution and using a transfer lens to analyze it. This information can be used to justify the necessity of transfer programming and the support you provide to these students. It also highlights why transfer students are an important population to invest in.  

  • Retention between Terms and Years

  • Graduation Rates

  • Percentage of Graduating Class Who Transferred

  • Percentage of Students Who Transferred

Basic Steps in Beginning the Data Collection Process

Getting started can feel overwhelming, but breaking the process into steps and celebrating small victories along the way can help make the process more achievable. 

1.  Identify key partners in data collection. 

Are they a part of Institutional Research, Academic Affairs, or Admissions? Once you have started to find those key partners, find out what data they are currently collecting.  This will allow you to complement what is presently available and not re-invent the wheel in the process. Gathering this information in a Word or Excel table can prove to be a valuable resource in your data collection efforts.


2.  Prioritize your list of data points. 

Think about your current situation and determine the information that is most important to you right now versus what can wait until later. It might be helpful to think about organizing your work into phases.  Throughout this process, think about how you will acquire the data and why you need this information. Being prepared to clearly communicate the justification for gathering specific data is essential to gaining buy-in from campus partners.


3.  Collect and analyze your data, then connect it to your current practice.

Think about the inferences you can make from the data, but don’t stop there! Share the data with the campus partners impacted most by it.  While some of the data may have negative connotations, you have the power to identify how this information can be used to better inform your institution’s practices and policies.


Finally, develop a plan for continual data collection. Think about how to move forward on your next priorities, while still sharing what you have learned from the data.  This daunting process can be easy if you just manage it in small steps.

Download the
Complete Guide

NISTS Beginner's Guide to Gathering Transfer Student Data on Your Campus

Transfer Student Data Template


This tool is designed to help institutions capture a holistic picture of transfer student data. The populated template will provide baseline data about transfer students and, over time, a picture of transfer students’ progress at the institution.