Maybe you’re in the middle of your first year at your local community college, or maybe you’re starting your second. Either way, the time has finally come to start looking into the next phase of your education: the four-year college or university.
Just like the song says, you don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.
The reality is, as great as community colleges are, you’ll need to move on to get your bachelor’s degree.
Once you’ve made that decision, however, then the trick is sorting out the nuts and bolts: transferring credits, making sure financial aid transfers and just overall making sure you’re prepared for such a different academic environment.
However, there are just a few simple steps students can take to make sure they stay on top of all of that and more.
One way to stay on top of things from your very start at a community college is to begin with the end in mind. Form a transfer plan based upon the university or college you want to end up with, according to Ohio Wesleyan University Director of Admission Alisha Couch.
“If you know you eventually want to transfer to a four-year institution, meet with that college or university right away to map out a plan,” she said. “That way you will know which classes to take while at the community college and feel comfortable knowing in advance that your classes will transfer to the four-year school.”
In addition, Couch reiterated the importance of having an overall academic plan.
“Don’t wait until you are nearing completion of your associate’s degree to choose a four-year college or university as you may end up taking classes that won’t transfer or having to repeat classes,” she said.
Korinne Pocock also had a daunting task ahead of her upon leaving the Community College of Rhode Island. She transferred to the Rhode Island School of Design for a specialized art program.
However, she said the credit transfer process was quite easy for her from CCRI to RISD, though she still had to be persistent and constantly check in with the admissions office.
“Get what credits they will accept in writing. Get everything in writing because you don’t want to take the same classes twice and be in school for an extra year to get your degree,” she said. “Personally, I had 30 of 36 credits accepted.”
That’s the same sentiment Charles Spencer, the Director of Transfer Admissions at Cabrini College, expressed.
“New transfer students should always request a transfer credit evaluation before they commit to a four-year college or university,” he said. “If the transfer counselor cannot guarantee or estimate a graduation timeframe then the student should request to speak or email the department chair for the academic major they wish to pursue.”
Another important aspect is making sure that you don’t feel rushed when transferring, so it’s best to form relationships with prospective colleges and universities as soon as you know you want to eventually transfer, according to Cazenovia College’s Associate Director of Transfer Admissions Kristen Bowers.
“Maintaining key contacts at both colleges, such as transfer counselors, academic advisers and admissions staff throughout the process has numerous advantages,” she said. “These include earlier academic, financial and relocation planning; earlier contact with professors, students and staff and sufficient time to visit campuses and become familiar with their attributes.”
“Feeling rushed to explore and choose a college option creates unnecessary stress, and starting the conversations early can alleviate a great deal of that,” Bowers said.
In addition, Syracuse University’s College of Engineering and Science’s Assistant Dean for Student Recruitment Kathleen Joyce said aside from reaching out to staff, it’s also helpful to talk to other students who have already transferred.
“It’s good to talk to former students/graduates of the two-year program who have moved onto four-year programs in your area of interest,” she said. “Many are usually very happy to share lessons learned along the way and provide advice in terms of staying on track with the transfer process.”
And once you’ve transferred, it’s key to take advantage of the increased offerings available at four-year institutions, according to Michigan Technical University Director of the Center for Diversity and Inclusion Kellie Raffaelli.
She said these include connecting early on with on-campus resource centers and using them often, as well as getting involved with student and campus organizations, and being pro-active when seeking tutoring help.
Along those lines, students should be prepared for a temporary jump in stress upon transferring to the new academic environment. Pocock said one of her largest challenges was getting used to the faster pace of a university.
“Community college is more of a calm environment; things could get done with ease and deadlines are longer than they needed to be,” she said. “RISD has much shorter deadlines, and I assume that’s the same at most four-year colleges and universities. It forces you to hone your time management skills.”
Also in spite of the large emphasis on the academic and technical sides of transferring, it’s important to remember the social benefits too.
Adriana Avila used to attend Central New Mexico Community College (CNM), and after a year there, transferred to the University of New Mexico. She said moving to a 4-year college was “one of the best moves” of her academic career.
“When I was at CNM it was hard to make friends because of the age gap. Also, people were very focused on their education, and not so much on friendships and connections. There wasn’t a balance,” she said. “I finally found that community feeling and that balance when I transferred to a university.”
While every transfer case is different – because every student and their education credentials and goals are different – these tips will serve as good starting points to helping your transfer experience go a little easier and more smoothly.