While incoming freshmen were celebrated on “D-Day”  aka “Decision Day” or “Deposit Day” on Monday transfer students still have time. I am reposting this to help them complete applications and make their best informed college decision.

Transferring from community college to a four-year school is widely promoted as a way to make a college degree more accessible and affordable. It can be, if you work the academics and the transfer admissions process correctly.

Here are a five tips that can help.

Finish an Associates Degree

The transfer process works more seamlessly with students who have completed at least 60 credits than it does with those who have fewer credits completed. It is more difficult to transfer from a community college to a four-year school as a sophomore than it is to transfer for the junior year. There are fewer openings for sophomores when a college has a high freshman retention rate; those that are there will be occupied by the students who are already there. Openings expand for the junior year not only because students transfer out, but also because continuing students go abroad or go into co-op assignments; both take juniors off campus for at least a semester.

Your community college is likely to have agreements with four-year colleges to offer admission to Associates degree holders to become members of the junior class. Admissions through those agreements are contingent on completion of the degree, and possibly good grades in the required courses that will transfer over to the four-year school.

Another advantage in completing the Associates degree is that introductory courses, while large at many schools, are likely to be much smaller at the community college. It is doubtful that you will see 200 to 500 students in a biology or chemistry course at a community college; this is commonplace at a large public university. In addition, the general education requirements for the community college are often the same as most four-year colleges. English composition (also called Expository Writing) and a year each of humanities, mathematics, natural or physical sciences, social sciences and sometimes a foreign language are commonplace. Enter community college as a junior and you can, if you plan correctly, go right into your major coursework.

Start planning for a major

The goal if you choose to start a college education at a community college is to earn the best grades possible in a program that prepares you for advanced courses at a four-year college. The community college can make this less complicated than a large four-year school because it is not subdivided into a college of engineering, a college of business and other schools. Everyone is a student in “the community college.”

For example, if you are undecided between engineering and a business program, you can take a course load that includes English Composition plus introductory classes in Calculus, Physics, Chemistry and Economics. Presuming that you earn all of the credits with As or Bs you would have the option of continuing in a pre-engineering curriculum, or going on into majors in Business, Economics, Math, Chemistry or Physics. If you choose engineering or a science, the Economics course fills an elective. If your choose Business, you also fill the science and math requirements; the other science becomes an elective that is filled, too.

Good planning will put a prospective transfer student in a better position not only to gain admission to a four-year school, but also succeed in their intended major. Community colleges have academic advisors as well as transfer advisors to help their students. Take advantage of these services.

Credits must go with you

The first two years in a community college will have “plain vanilla” courses for a prospective transfer student. Community colleges, like four-year colleges, have many courses that have more interesting titles than those that have “Introduction to” in their names. The difference is that when you choose the community college course that “sounds more interesting” it may not carry over credits towards a bachelor’s degree. You must take courses that the four-year college will accept so that you can graduate two years later. You save far less from choosing a community college over the four-year school if you need to take on a fifth or sixth year of college.

One reason that community college students do not graduate from community college is that they do not always follow-up on the progress that they are making towards a degree. A good community college, and there are many, will have an online student portal where students can monitor their progress towards their degree and major, and e-mail faculty member and advisors with questions.

Transfer application deadlines are later for several reasons

Most four-year colleges continue to take applications from prospective transfer students after the May 1st deposit date for the admitted freshman. This depends on available space in the transfer student’s intended major as well as the college’s housing policies. It is usually easier to transfer into a school that does not expect juniors to live on campus. The admissions office does not need to consider available beds in on-campus housing.

Another consideration, especially at schools where the vast majority of the students live on campus,  is competition for seats in the freshman class. If the college ends up over-enrolling freshmen there will be far fewer seats for transfer students. A college facing this situation can “put up a sign” in time to let prospective transfer students know that there were fewer spaces than expected. There is no reason for the admissions office to read transfer applications when there are no seats for transfer students.

A third consideration is community college grades. The admissions office would prefer to see two years of grades, sometimes evidence of the Associates degree, before taking a transfer student from a community college. Without two years of grades a college admissions office is more likely to ask for the high school transcript as well as scores for tests taken in high school. A community college student who did not have an impressive high school transcript as well as poor test scores, or no scores at all, but attains excellence in the academic program at the community college, will want the community college record and recommendations—a teacher recommendation may still be required–to carry the greatest weight in the effort to get into a four-year school.

Consider schools that know your community college

Most community colleges will have transfer agreements with four-year colleges. These schools are usually in the same state or metropolitan area of the community college. Mercer County Community College (NJ), as one example, has agreements with nine schools in New Jersey and the Philadelphia area. Read the fine print about these agreements. Some allow transfer into any major offered by the four-year school. Others limit transfer students only to specific majors where there is likely to be space for incoming transfer students who would enter for their junior year. Some have minimum GPA requirements to meet; others have course requirements. The City University of New York (CUNY) and the State University of New York (SUNY) have systems where you can find out which schools have room for transfer students by degree program.

In some cases these agreements provide good news; students have a second chance to try to gain admission to a four-year school that they might have wanted to attend as a freshman. In other cases they cannot. For example, the agreements between Mercer County Community College and Rutgers-New Brunswick as well as Rider University  allow for transfer into almost any major. The agreement between the community college and New Jersey Institute of Technology does not allow for transfer into most of the engineering programs. You have to go to Rutgers or the General Engineering program at Penn State-Abington.

Please know that you are not limited to these schools when you plan to transfer. However, it is still important to follow the recommendations for the courses to take as well as completion of the Associates degree. An admissions officer will evaluate a community college transcript with an eye towards finding out whether a transfer student can succeed as a junior in a degree program versus a freshman who enters undecided. The key is to prove that you are no longer a high school student. You are an adult who has gotten a taste of what it takes to succeed in college.

3 Comments on “Five Things to Know if You Plan to Transfer from a Community College

  1. The point that you made about how planning for credits that will be transferable to your desired university makes a lot of sense. My little brother is thinking of utilizing a helpful transfer program to help ease the costs of higher education. I will be sure to pass this information on to him so that he can make an informed decision in his future academic endeavors.

  2. I agree with most of what is suggested here except want to expand a bit about the associate’s degree. Getting the AS for non-technical majors is probably very important, but sometimes for STEM majors I believe it can be more important to stay on track with math/physics/chemistry coursework than to stick to a generic AS list of courses [which may have lots of social science requirements]. One has to decide whether the AS degree requires 3 years to complete and how that impacts a student’s plan. Check with targeted universities and your CC transfer officers to confirm this.

    If you have a specific university in mind for transfer, it can also be helpful if it is on the same academic calendar–quarter system to quarter system or semester to semester. When mixing the two sometimes credits don’t transfer as neatly to satisfy requirements.

    • These are some really good points, especially the last about academic calendars. Within California, the community colleges and most of the state universities are on the quarter system, as are Santa Clara and Stanford. But other schools work on semester systems.

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