Helping Transfer Students Adjust to Your Classroom and School

Imagine that it’s a month into the school year. You’ve finally learned your students’ names, and your classes are coming together well. Then, out of the blue, a new student arrives. Maybe she just moved to your town from out of state. Maybe she’s switching between private and public school. No matter the reason, she needs help adjusting to your both class and the school’s culture.

In this article, we’ll look at some common problems new students face before diving into what the research has to say about the best ways to help them succeed academically and socially.


There are many possible academic speed bumps a student can encounter when joining your class. She might arrive in the middle of a big project, such as a research paper or multi-week science lab. You may not have access to her academic transcript. Also, if she has an IEP, it may take a week or longer for your school’s special education teacher to go over it with you and her other teachers.

First off, be proactive. Reach out your new student’s family for essential information about learning styles, a possible IEP, or other need-to-know information.

Now that we’ve discussed some generalities, let’s dive into what the research has to say about helping transfer students succeed academically.

A worrying statistic: the dropout rate for transfer students is more than double the rate for all students. How can you help prevent your new students from going down this path? In his graduate dissertation at Loyola University, Ph.D. candidate Benjamin M. Grais interviewed 10 transfer students to determine the best academic interventions that teachers can use.

Regarding academic impact, Grais discovered an often overlooked part of the transfer experience: a significant proportion of transfer students are English Language Learners (ELLs). If your transfer student falls into this category, you need to reach out people within your school to ensure that your new student’s ELL instruction is not interrupted, lest her English skills deteriorate during the transition.

Another important takeaway from Grais’s study was that teachers must not only review a transfer student’s academic transcript but also ask the student about the difficulty of her new classes. After all, an honors class at one school can have a different set of expectations than at another school, especially if the student transfers between a private and public school. You recognizing a new student’s struggles early on will have the greatest impact on her future academic success.


Students switch schools all the time. When a family moves far away, the student must adjust to not only a new school’s academic expectations but also its culture. This change can lead to feelings of alienation, social isolation, and even depression. To help your student adjust, let’s explore some research into how you can best help her become a successful student.  

In “High School Transfer Students and the Transition to College: Timing and the Structure of the School Year,” the authors examine a variety of ways to help transfer student succeed in a new environment. One takeaway is when a student transfers in later grades (5th or 6th grade in elementary school or 11th or 12th grade in high school), she enters a school environment with established social circles, cliques, and other established barriers to acceptance.

One way the authors suggest that you can help your new student adjust is to recommend that she join extracurricular activities that align with her interests. Not only do extracurricular activities look great on a college application, but they expose her to a peer group where she can feel accepted. With a new peer group, she will be less likely to become socially isolated or start negative or self-destructive behavior.

To encourage your new student to become involved in a school activity, it never hurts to discuss opportunities with the entire class. This way she won’t feel singled out, but still learn what her new school has to offer. If a few weeks pass and you still sense that she is isolated, then you can talk to her one on one about possible ways to become involved at her new school.

Final Thoughts

Being the new kid is never easy. As a teacher, you have the tools to help new students succeed. I encourage you to review the research linked in this article. There are many great tidbits that can help you become a more effective teacher to all your students.

Thomas Broderick is a freelance writer and consultant in the education field. He lives in Northern California. You can learn more about Thomas on his website.