Admissions

Four FAQs About Transferring From Community College to A Four-Year School

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If you’re a community college student -- or you’re thinking of entering a two-year college after graduation this year -- your future plans may include transferring to a four-year school. A new report from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation reveals that more than 35,000 community college students enroll at selective colleges and universities each year, and states that these students have "equal to higher graduation rates as students who enrolled directly from high school or those who transferred from other four-year institutions."

College Confidential sat down with Elease S. Layman of Layman College Consulting, who provided some essential advice that you should take to heart if a transfer from community college is on your radar screen.


College Confidential: Should students finish their associate's degrees before transferring, or is it better to transfer after one year of community college?

Elease Layman: There are multiple considerations for this question, including the following:

1. Admissions Consideration: One of the advantages of applying as a transfer student is that the applicant will be evaluated more by how he fared in college than by how he fared in high school. The further the student is from his high school career, the more this is true.

The traditional admissions process is designed around predicting how well a student will succeed in college, based on a high school record. Students who struggled in high school, especially in the earlier years, or who have lower SAT or ACT scores, can use a year or two at community college to show academic maturity, with a "clean slate" starting from the first day of classes.

Transfer student applicants can directly show how well they are succeeding in college. If a high school record is a particularly poor reflection of a student's academic maturity, the student might benefit from completing two full years (earning an associate’s degree) prior to transferring, because his high school record will be much less emphasized in the admissions evaluation.

2. Financial Consideration: If the reason for attending community college is economic and a student is trying to complete a four-year degree in the most fiscally responsible way possible, completing an associate’s degree is a good idea, minimizing the total bill for a four-year degree.

3. Social Consideration: From a social perspective, transferring after just one year of college may be more beneficial than waiting until after two years, as a 1:3 split will give the student more time to form social and professional networks at the four-year college.

In ALL of these considerations, the student on the planned transfer path MUST get accurate advising about taking transferable courses! Completing an associate’s degree but only having 70 percent of the credits transfer will not be nearly as a big of a money saver or time saver as having 100 percent of the credits transfer. Planning throughout this process is essential!

CC: Should students be prepared to start a four-year college as a junior?

EL: It’s certainly possible -- as noted above, with accurate planning and advising, students can maximize the number of credits that will transfer. Students can check with their potential "destination" colleges to get either official or unofficial information about which courses will and won't transfer before registering for those courses. The University of Virginia offers an online database where students can see how their potential external courses will or won't transfer, as does the University of Maryland. I'm sure many other colleges do, too! And for the smaller, private colleges, students can certainly call the admissions office to get helpful guidance. Students who strategically plan their community college coursework can certainly complete a four-year degree in four years. Students who are less planning-oriented or who decide to complete a four-year degree later might run into more issues with transfer credits actually transferring.

CC: What are the advantages of going to community college before attending a four-year school)?

EL: The biggest advantage is financial. Students can save several thousand dollars a year in room and board by living at home. Plus, community college classes are typically much lower priced than classes at four-year public and private colleges.

The latest data from the College Board indicates that a year at a local two-year college costs $12,320; a four-year in-state public college costs $21,370; a four-year out-of-state public college costs $37,430; and a four-year private college costs $48,510. So we're talking about a savings of $9,050 to $36,190. These numbers, of course, are not out-of-pocket costs, but sticker prices. Still, it's useful data for illustration!

The other big advantage is for students who simply need more time to mature academically, emotionally or socially. Students who struggled through high school but started to "get it" during junior or senior year might want to take that first year of college locally to show colleges how well they can succeed in higher education (see my info above about admissions considerations for traditional vs. transfer students). Moreover, some students need to show themselves that they can "do" college. Removing the additional transition of living away from home and allowing the student to focus more on the academic adjustment can be quite empowering for some students.

One of the first questions I ask students I work with is, "Why do you want to go to college?" If the student knows, "I want to be an architect," or "I've always been fascinated by mechanical engineering" or "I know I want to be a nurse," then great, let's get him started on the traditional path. Students who aren't sure beyond, "It's just what you do after high school," might want to consider taking a year at a community college to gain some clarity about their future before investing tens of thousands of dollars on a bachelor's degree.

CC: There is a perception that community college students can only transfer to local state schools. Is this accurate, or have you seen students transfer into more "elite" colleges?

EL: Students can certainly transfer into a variety of institutions. Highly-regarded public schools often receive transfer students. The University of Virginia, for example, has an articulation agreement that guarantees admission for transfer students from the Virginia Community College System, provided a variety of requirements are met.

Transfer student populations at private colleges do tend to be much smaller relative to those at public colleges, but transferring to such schools is not unheard of. Princeton made news this past year admitting its first cohort of transfer students since 1990; meanwhile, Cornell frequently takes a couple hundred transfer students each year and even has an encouraging marketing/informational brochure for prospective transfer students.

As the number of "traditional" college applicants is projected to decrease over the next several years based on demographic studies, both public and private colleges are increasingly interested in transfer students.