BCCAT’s “ recent enabling” initiative that allows all institutions to be both sending and receiving institutions was in response to our greater understanding of student mobility. Transfer studies, comparing transfer students in universities with those who entered directly from secondary school, were incorporated into the research agenda as new types of degree-granting institutions came along. The key finding is that the transfer system works well: most students transfer successfully despite fluctuating enrolment quotas and GPA thresholds.

The finding that students who are less prepared initially benefitted from the transfer route to research universities helps to highlight the challenge of effectively matching students with programs and institutions. The role of colleges as a stepping-stone, foundational to the establishment of BC’s community college system, remains important, even as more institutions become degree granting. The body of research on BC’s distinctive and effective transfer system highlights the importance of adopting a systemic view of retention and  student success. 

Transfer to Research Universities

Analysis of Applications, Admissions and Registrations of BC College Transfer Applicants to BC Universities 2001/02. BC Council on Admissions and Transfer. December 2002. Heslop, Joanne.

This study examined the admissions experience from the point of view of the research universities that received applications from prospective students. The report also illustrates the focus of BCCAT research before more developed mobility studies became available. 

BC College Transfer Students in the Admission Funnel to BC Universities in 2001/02

Submitted application


Qualified for general admission


Received admission offer




Compared to applicants directly from BC high schools, transfer students submitted fewer applications (1.16 compared to 1.76 on average), received as many admission offers (85% of qualified applicants), and more frequently enrolled if they did receive an offer of admission (82% compared to 76%).

Profile of BC College Transfer Students 2003/04 to 2007/08. BC Council on Admissions and Transfer: Research Results, April 2010. Lambert-Maberly, Ashley.

BCCAT’s largest body of research, this study is the most recent in a series of five-year profile reports that stretch back over two decades. The publications began as studies at individual research universities that identified inputs such as the number of transfer students, demographics, program choice, and the number of credits transferred. The Transfer Profile reports generally examined a five-year period, and the focus was on students whose basis of admission was BC College Transfer or BC Associate Degree

The most recent system synthesis indicated that the number of students transferring to the five universities from 2003/04 to 2007/08 ranged from 5,100 to 6,200 annually. At some institutions, there have been nearly as many transfer students from BC colleges as  direct-entrants from BC high schools. Compared to direct-entrants to university, transfer students were more likely to be female, to study part-time, to pursue Arts degrees, and to be older. In terms of academic performance, the twenty years of research has found that although transfer students represent a different pool of students than direct entrants, their achievements resembled those of direct entry students.

Transfer to New Types of Institutions

Transfer Credits and Transfer Students at the University College of British Columbia: A Study of the Baccalaureate Graduates of 1998 - 2001. BC Council on Admissions and Transfer. May 2005. Church, Roderick and Holubeshen, Moufida.

Teaching intensive universities do not have a “transfer” admission category, nor do they routinely track transfer credits at the point of admission. They could not replicate the transfer profile methodology, but instead looked at more than 5,000 baccalaureate graduates to assess the role that transfer credits played in meeting graduation requirements. The overall conclusion was that transfer was alive and well at university colleges, although only about half as frequent as at what are now research universities.  

Almost one quarter of graduates could have been admitted as transfer students had such a category existed, which is consistent with transfer trends in research universities. Demographically, students with significant number of transfer credits differed from direct entry students in much the same way, but to a greater extent, as at research universities. They tended to have higher GPAs at graduation than direct entry students, the reverse of the situation in research universities.

Student Feedback on Transfer Experience

The public post-secondary institutions in collaboration with the Ministry of Advanced Education annually conduct several surveys of former students (collectively known as Student Outcomes surveys). BCCAT has prepared some questions for various surveys and has funded special analyses of the results to address particular issues about admissions and transfer.

2011 Admissions and Transfer Experiences of Students Continuing their Post-Secondary Studies in British Columbia. BC Council on Admissions and Transfer: Research Results, March 2012. BC Stats.

The 2011 Diploma, Associate Degree and Certificate Student Outcomes (DACSO) survey collected data from almost 5,500 students who had left their original program and continued their studies in another program or institution about a year prior to the survey. Over  the past decade, about three quarters of former Arts & Science students who completed at least 24 credits and left their original program went on to enroll elsewhere. The proportion of program leavers staying at the same institution for further studies, has risen, particularly for former Applied program students and for students at teaching intensive universities and institutes. About 80% were “very satisfied” or “satisfied” with the admission services and application processes at their new institution. Fourteen percent of respondents did not get all of the transfer credit they had expected. The main reasons were that their original program had not been designed for transfer to their new institution or some courses could not be used toward their particular degree.

Improving the BC Transfer Experience: Feedback from Students. BC Council on Admissions and Transfer: Research Results, May 2012. BC Stats.

The 2011 DACSO survey found that 79% of the respondents who continued their studies at a different institution expected to transfer credits, with the expectation being highest (92%) for those moving to BC research-intensive universities. 86% said they received all their expected transfer credits. Despite high levels of satisfaction and success with credit transfer, 8% nevertheless reported being dissatisfied  The top two reasons for dissatisfaction were difficulty with understanding the transfer process and difficulty in getting information.

Investigating Transfer: The Student's Perspective. BC Council on Admissions and Transfer: Research Report, July 1999. Andres, Lesley.

In the late 1990s, in-depth interviews of several dozen students were conducted as a three-phase study. Of all the issues associated with transfer, the frequent initial decline in GPA at university caused the students the most anxiety. Research shows, however, that  students entering post-secondary education from high school have a similar "university entrance shock" in terms of GPA decline. Despite university entrance shock, most transfer students enthusiastically felt they had made the right decision by beginning their post-secondary studies at college. College was described as having provided a solid preparation that eased the transition to university – the major advantage reported of the transfer system.

Transcript Assessment Studies: What Transfers? What Doesn't? BC Council on Admissions and Transfer: Research Report, October 2000. Karlinski, Jean.

This transcript assessment identified the extent to which credits earned at sending institutions were accepted by receiving institutions, and the reasons why some transfer credit was not granted.  BC college transfer students received transfer credit for 85% of the credits they earned at college. The percentage was lowest in Science, ranging from 79% to 83% across the universities, and highest in Arts, Human Kinetics, and Fine Arts. 

The most significant reason, representing almost half of the credits denied, was that the college courses were not designed for transfer. The other important reason, relevant in about one quarter of the credit denials, was differences in the credit weighting of courses among institutions. More frequent than outright denial of transfer credit was the practice of granting unassigned course credit, which ranged from 15-30%. Unassigned credit presents challenges for students in that some of those credits may not be useful for meeting the specific requirements of a particular program.

Credits to Graduation: A Comparison of Transfer Graduates and Secondary School Graduates at BC Research Universities. BC Council on Admissions and Transfer: Research Results, December 2010. Pendleton, Sham.

One indicator of the effectiveness of the transfer route is its efficiency in reducing or eliminating the need for students to repeat curriculum they have previously mastered, and minimizing the number of credits taken which are not applicable to the program which the student ultimately completes. The transfer route does not seem to disadvantage students in that transfer students graduate with approximately the same number of credits as direct entry students. 

Average Total Credits at Graduation
(Transfer Students: Transfer Credits Awarded plus Credits Earned at University)

Examining the GPAs of graduates in third year and higher courses, transfer graduates performed as well academically as direct entry students with only very small variations by university and program.

Suggestions for Improvement

Moving from Case-By-Case Transfer to Formal Articulation: Assessing the Business Case. BC Council on Admissions and Transfer: Research Results, September 2008. Finlay, Finola and Box, Dale.

This study sought to identify areas where the volume of students switching institutions appeared sufficiently high that it might be more efficient for institutions to formally articulate some courses in the Transfer Guide than to deal with them case-by-case. Most of the  students who changed institutions between 2004 and 2006 had taken courses in Arts, Science and Business at their original institution. There might be a good argument for moving selected courses at some institutions from case-by-case transfer to an articulated (automatic) basis.

Other Transfer Studies

Transfer Students: What Universities Need to Know. BC Council on Admissions and Transfer: Research Results, December 2006. Pendleton, Sham.

A special analysis of UBC’s Undergraduate Survey on Student Satisfaction and Engagement, administered to its Arts and Science students, examined whether transfer students behaved differently and had different levels of satisfaction than did direct entry students. It found that for all the key questions that emphasized the academic experience, transfer students were the most engaged. They were also more satisfied with their overall academic and educational experiences. Transfer students, however, were less satisfied with their overall social experience at UBC, suggesting competition for their time from external forces. They were less likely to participate in co-curricular activities in every category: academic, social, political or athletic. This is consistent with the finding that they were more likely to cite financial pressures or work obligations as the biggest obstacle to their academic progress. 

How Much Academic Instruction Occurs Outside Research Universities in BC? BC Council on Admissions and Transfer: Research Results, December 2009. Cowin, Bob.

Institutions in BC that were established as community colleges in the 1960s and 1970s offer a comprehensive range of programs. Some programs consist entirely of university-transferable academic courses. Many programs include no such courses, but others incorporate a few academic courses, e.g. in English, Psychology, Biology or Mathematics for students who are not university-bound. This study sought to determine the proportion of all credit instruction offered at these institutions that is academic in nature. Defining "academic" as the 9,700 courses that were listed in 2009 in the BC Transfer Guide, it appears that about one third of all instruction outside the research universities is academic. Half of all academic instruction was in the Arts and Sciences, and about one quarter in Business. The boundaries between applied and academic programs continue to blur.

Alternate Paths to SFU: A Comparative Academic Performance Study of BC College Transfer Students and BC Direct Entry Secondary School Students Admitted to SFU from 1992 to 1999. BC Council on Admissions and Transfer: Research Results, October 2004. Heslop, Joanne.

The purpose of the Alternate Paths study was to determine whether differences in graduating Grade Point Averages (GPA) for bachelor degrees between transfer and direct entry students still exists when controlling for secondary school performance. Direct entry students all performed well in high school, whereas transfer students were a mix of low and high performing students. The conclusion was that the transfer route is desirable for students who are less prepared initially and makes no difference for strong students. The 7-year degree completion rate (i.e. 7 years after high school graduation) was similar at about 72% for each group. When controlling for high school achievement, failure rates were the same.