Community college is often a first step for students pursuing a bachelor’s degree. These students start their journey at a two-year college to explore their options and save money. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 34 percent of undergraduate students attended community colleges in the Fall of 2017.
“I would say that at the beginning of our students’ career, at least half of them come to a community college with an idea that they will transfer. Many students haven’t formulated a very specific transfer goal within that, but many students who arrive as freshmen at a community college do so with the intention of transferring,” said Amanda Phillips, Dean of Counseling at College of the Desert.
Phillips explained that as this is the case, these students usually seek help from their community college when it comes to applying to a university and transferring credits. Credit transferability, or being able to apply your community college class credits to your university credits, is the main concern expressed by students.
“Sometimes [students] ask before they get into the class, sometimes it’s afterwards, but they want to know about the transferability of certain classes. Students really want to know what their status is going to be at the next university, and that’s really tied to whether or not the classes they took were transferable,” said Phillips.
Student status is important in the transfer process as the requirements to be admitted as a transfer student vary widely from school to school. If a student does not have enough credits to be considered a transfer student, they will be considered for freshmen admissions. This is an issue as most transfer students do not want to be held to freshman admissions standards, as this may mean they have to take or retake admissions tests or report their high school GPA instead of their current college GPA. Another element that is new to transfer students are the hard deadlines of a university.
“Community colleges have very few hard deadlines. Community colleges are open access, and so it’s really difficult to mess up to a degree in the application process at a community college process that would prevent you from going,” said Phillips. “The transfer process is the first time that students are running into these very strict deadlines, so sometimes that’s a scary thing and that’s the first time they really need that explained that, ‘if you don’t meet that deadline for your final transcript you will not go to the university.’”
Jenica Dodge was a high school senior that decided starting at a community college, American River College, was the right choice for her situation and goals, despite the pressure she felt from her peers.
“There was a little bit of pressure at first. Senior year of high school, everyone got these big schools that they’re announcing they’re going to and at first it was kind of a panic mode of, should I do this? Should I just pick some university to go to? But I didn’t know what I wanted to do career-wise,” said Dodge.
Dodge attested that she was nervous about her decision of going to community college at first, but once she started she realized it was the right choice. As a competitive cross country and track runner, Dodge was able to be on the cross country and track teams at American River College.
“I wanted to figure out what I wanted to do professionally, of course, figure out my major, and so it was nice to get generals out of the way at a much cheaper price. I’m kind of a home body so it was nice to be home for another two years and to develop athletically. High school athletics to college athletics is often a big switch for people so I’m glad that I had that middle ground to prepare me for Division I, so it was honestly a stepping stone for me,” said Dodge.
Now in her final year of college, Dodge found pros and cons to this route. She said that while this was necessary for her to figure out her academic path, she wishes she had more time at the university she ended up transferring to, Idaho State University. As for transfer credits, Dodge said that this process went fairly smooth.
“I did transfer from a California community college to an Idaho state school and so there were some credits that did not transfer [at first] but luckily I had an advisor here who was really great in helping me basically waive those after talking to her and showing her the syllabus from each class,” said Dodge.
Dodge was able to get all of her general education requirements accepted as transfer credits, as well as a few of her major course requirements.
“So the transfer was actually pretty smooth with credits I already had. The main thing was that once I got here, I thought it would only be two years, but then I realized that I needed more credits. It ended up being drawn out to three years, which I don’t mind now but at the time I was kind of irritated by it because if I had gone to an [in-state] school it would have been two years instead of three,” said Dodge.
While Dodge was able to transfer some credits to apply to her major, students are often frustrated to find out that this isn’t always the case. Students can usually transfer credits as general electives or general education requirements, but using transfer credits for major or other specific requirements isn’t always possible. If a student wants to make sure that their credits will transfer in a certain way, they will need to have a clear transfer plan to a specific university and specific program within that university, and do some research on requirements.
“If they want to play it safe, students should always consult with published articulation agreements before they take their classes. So, if a student has such a well formulated plan that they know exactly what university they’re going to go to, exactly what major they’re going to have at that university, that student can choose to only take classes with published articulation which means that’s a guarantee. They can see exactly which classes transfer, how many units they transfer as, and whether or not they meet general education or degree requirements,” said Phillips.
Of course though, many students who choose to attend community college are like Dodge and do not have a specific plan going into the college. These students may formulate this plan after taking some general education classes and find those credits that will transfer using direct articulation, or Phillips said that students may attempt to work with the university early.
“Sometimes universities will give answers about transferability even before a student has been admitted. That’s not usually the case with large public universities, but they often have published articulation,” said Phillips.
Students can also follow Dodge’s lead and talk to a counselor, advisor, or admissions staff at their transfer university. While it is not guaranteed that you will be able to transfer these credits by working with faculty, showing how the work that you did in a community college class aligns with the university class could help get your credits transferred.
Aside from transferring credits, the process of transferring includes applying to colleges. As Phillips mentioned, students will have to fill out applications and meet strict university deadlines. As an athlete, Dodge decided to only apply to universities where she was being actively recruited for the team.
“I applied for a few [universities], I definitely went through that phase that everyone does their senior year when they’re scrambling to get everything together, doing those college applications, but I only did them for schools that I knew I was being recruited by,” said Dodge.
Along with the college applications themselves, students will also want to apply for financial aid and other scholarships. Phillips explained that why prices seem daunting for transfer students, these financial aid and scholarship applications are important in bringing the price to a more manageable number.
“Students who are used to the sticker price of a community college are often really shocked by the sticker price of a university,” said Phillips. “They need to apply for the aid and apply for the scholarships. Many schools offer scholarships and there are independent organizations like the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation that really support community college transfer students.”
View scholarships available for transfer students here.
Phillips recommends having the financial aid packages for the schools a student is interested in in front of them before making a decision.
Community colleges allow many students to start working on their bachelor degree locally and at a much cheaper cost. While there are pros and cons to this route and it isn’t for everyone, if a student isn’t quite ready for a four-year university but wants to eventually earn their bachelor’s degree, community college is a great option.
“There are misconceptions with community colleges, but I think it really is a great stepping stone,” said Dodge.