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Adult transitional theory and transfer shock in higher education: practices from the literature

Tammy Ivins (University of North Carolina, Wilmington, North Carolina, USA)
Kimberly Copenhaver (Eckerd College, St. Petersburg, Florida, USA)
Alyssa Koclanes (Eckerd College, St. Petersburg, Florida, USA)

Reference Services Review

ISSN: 0090-7324

Article publication date: 12 June 2017




This paper aims to outline foundational research on adult transition theory and transfer shock in higher education to provide the reader with a theoretical and practical framework for the library-focused articles in this special issue.


This paper is a review of relevant higher education literature related to transfer shock and core research related to adult transitional theory.


Transition is a period in-between moments of stability. The state of confusion and disorientation caused by the transition of transfer students from one academic culture to another is a form of culture shock known as transfer shock. “Transfer shock” refers to the decline in academic performance by transfer students immediately following transition to an institution of higher education and the corresponding recovery prevalent for most students in succeeding semesters. Recent studies have expanded the definition of transfer shock to include the academic and social factors that contribute to attrition and lack of degree persistence. Key factors that correlate to transfer students’ success or failure include gender, race, time of transfer, GPA, prior academic success, faculty collaboration, level of engagement with degree program and campus support.


Although most literature on transfer students published by librarians includes literature reviews citing relevant articles, it lacks an extensive literature review collecting research from social science and education literature.



Ivins, T., Copenhaver, K. and Koclanes, A. (2017), "Adult transitional theory and transfer shock in higher education: practices from the literature", Reference Services Review, Vol. 45 No. 2, pp. 244-257.



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