College Transfer | Community College | Fall 2012

College Transfer: From Community College to Four-Year School

By Ellen Goldberg, City Colleges of Chicago transfer specialist | for

You’re studying at a community college, but dreaming about the bachelor’s degree you’ve always wanted. Congratulations: Like millions of other community college students looking to transfer colleges , you’re probably saving significant money by attending a two-year school before transferring. But be careful: transferring colleges to your ideal four-year college or university requires careful planning and serious thought about your educational goals.

As a transfer specialist at Harold Washington College, one of the City Colleges of Chicago, I frequently meet with students who want to transfer colleges, but don’t plan ahead. Unfortunately, they often end up earning unnecessary credits, having to take extra classes at the transfer college, or missing the application deadline for the four-year school they had an eye on. That makes the path to a dream degree bumpier and longer than it needs to be.

But if you follow these ten transfer tips, you can avoid spending extra time and money before getting your bachelor’s.

1. Hatch a transfer plan NOW. Everyone knows that if you wait until the last minute to find a new apartment, you may end up less than happy with your new digs. Why would transferring to a new school be any different? If you want to transfer, be intentional: seek out transfer resources at your school and speak with advisors. Think with the end in mind: What are your educational and career goals? Map out courses to help you get there as efficiently as possible.

2. Understand the value of an associate’s degree. I hear this almost every day: “I don’t want an associate’s degree, I just want to transfer.” It’s a shame that many students don’t realize how valuable a two-year credential is. Some schools (public and private) will accept all credits associated with a degree, and consider all general education requirements completed if you have one. If you don’t complete a bachelor’s program after transferring, an associate’s generally means more money in your pocket. If you need to work while studying for the bachelor’s, the associate’s degree will help you get the job while you continue to learn.

3. Get good grades. This is obvious, but some students don’t realize that getting into a four-year school isn’t guaranteed. Unlike community colleges, which are open access, four-year schools can reject your admissions application if they don’t like your transcript. Getting good grades is important for another reason: it leads to opportunities for merit-based financial aid.

4. Leverage special agreements with 4-year schools. Many community colleges partner with colleges and universities to provide a simplified, guaranteed transfer process for students. These “articulation agreements” detail specific courses and grades that will transfer. Memorize the transfer guides provided by four-year schools you’re targeting. (Here are some examples)

5. Go on field trips. If you’re dreaming about a particular school, visit its campus and talk with admissions and transfer counselors to understand what they’re looking for from incoming community college students. Remember that you don’t have to stay local. If you have rock star grades, you can transfer almost anywhere.

6. Go beyond sticker shock. It doesn’t matter how much a school costs—it matters how much it costs to you. Harvard University officially costs about $55,000 per year, but if you’re able get in, the school will meet your entire demonstrated financial need. Check out our recent article about financial aid for more information.

7. Take advantage of transfer scholarships. Explore scholarships and financial incentives for transfer students. At City Colleges of Chicago, students admitted to the Illinois Institute of Technology, and nominated by their college president for the Presidential Scholarship, can receive a $23,500 annual tuition scholarship renewable for up to three years. Also – don’t settle for the financial aid package you are offered. Seek out scholarships from outside your transfer schools. There are scholarships out there for every group of people—including community college transfer students. For example, the national Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Undergraduate Transfer Scholarships provides up to $30,000 per year to each selected student.

8. Apply early and often. Another important point that too many students overlook: deadlines matter – and not all schools allow mid-year (spring semester) transfers. I recommend applying to multiple schools so you can compare financial aid packages and attend the school you can afford. You don’t have to go into debt to get a bachelor’s, and, given the increasing importance of graduate degrees in many fields, you shouldn’t.

9. Follow up. After you apply for admission and evaluation of transfer credits, don’t be shy. Contact the 4-year institution or stop by your current school’s transfer center to make sure your application was received.

10. Don’t take “no” for a final answer. If your application is rejected, you can appeal the decision. If your recent grades are excellent but older grades are less than stellar, make the case that you’ve changed old habits and made school your top priority.

Ellen Goldberg is the director of the Transfer Center at Harold Washington College, one of the City Colleges of Chicago (CCC). A former Spanish teacher at both CCC and in the Chicago Public School system, she attended Indiana University for her bachelor’s degree in Secondary Education Spanish and went on to get two master’s degrees—in Spanish Literature and Higher Education. Ellen’s mission in life is to help students transfer to their dream schools.

Read College Reviews

Write a College Review

Ask A College Question

Compare Colleges