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What is the transfer process like for a community college student to becoming an University student?

I am currently a student at Riverside City College, and I am planning to transfer to a University in the next few years. I wanted to know what the transfer process entails for not only out of state schools, but also California Universities as well. #school-counselor #education-counselor

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Stuart’s Answer

That's a great question. It will depend a lot on your community college and on the university (or universities) you want to attend. My job is to assist students in transferring from community college to a four-year school, and I was a transfer student myself many years ago, so be prepared. I have a lot to say on the topic.

Let's start with WHEN you transfer. The answer will be largely up to you, but here are the factors you need to consider:

1) If you transfer with few enough credits (generally under 24 to 30 credits), then you won't be considered a transfer student. You'll be considered as a high school student who happens to have some college credit. By that, I mean that the college or university you want to transfer to may want to see your high school transcripts, SAT or ACT scores, and other indicators. They'll want to see these because you won't have sufficient college coursework by which to make a decision. So bear that in mind.

2) If you want to be considered a transfer student, aim for at least 24 to 30 credits at the community college. At a full-time course load, that's about two to three semesters. (Twelve credits per semester is the minimum for full time, and 15 is pretty standard for someone who isn't also working.) Now, the key to transferring at this stage will be GPA. Your GPA doesn't carry over from high school, and if you're considered a transfer student, your transfer school will likely only be interested in seeing your community college transcript. This is an opportunity to hit "reset" and make a good first impression.

The thing to remember, at this stage, is that admission to your transfer school is competitive. Extracurricular activities, a good entrance essay, and all of that will help, but nothing beats a good, solid GPA. Trust me on this one. I speak from personal experience as both a (lackluster) undergraduate student and (much better) student services professional. Start off strong AND STAY THERE. It's infinitely easier to do what you need to do to succeed in the first place than it is to get yourself into academic trouble in community college and then try to dig out in time to transfer. Use whatever resources you need to use to get off on the right foot, then keep it up. This is an investment in your future happiness.

Really, what you're buying yourself here is choice. A strong GPA in community college means you have choices about when and where you transfer.

3) Your other option is to stay at the community college and earn an associate's degree. This is probably what most students do nowadays. (I transferred after a year and a half, without a degree, but that was 1989 and things have changed a bit since then.) There are a few advantages to doing things this way, but I'm not necessarily steering you specifically in that direction. I'll tell you why shortly, but ultimately there's no wrong decision.

Many community colleges now have agreements with local colleges and universities. They may be called things like "memoranda of understanding," "articulation agreements," or "guaranteed admission agreements." They aren't all the same thing, but the point is that you start to research what Riverside has, with whom, and what precisely those agreements say. Careful reading will be step 1, but the community college advisors should be able to help with this as well.

Ideally, there will be a guaranteed admission agreement (GAA). These are agreements between the community college and the universities/colleges that state that, if a student earns a transferable associate's degree and attains a certain GPA, they are guaranteed admission to the university/college. No guess work. No competitive application process. You graduate from community college with the right GPA and a transferable degree, and you're in. The specific GPA requirements depend on the school (and sometimes the individual program or major). Some schools are more competitive than others, so even if you're not part of the competitive process, the baseline GPA requirement will be higher.

Word of warning: DON'T aim for that baseline GPA. I have students ask me all the time "what do I need to earn this semester to get guaranteed admission?" That question is backward. Earn the highest grades you can earn. If you fall short of a 4.0, that's fine, but if you're aiming for a 2.75 and fall short of that, then all of a sudden, you're looking at either an alternate transfer school or another semester at the community college trying to repair your GPA.

Even if the target university/college doesn't have any sort of agreement with your community college, there are still some advantages to earning an associate's degree before transferring. First, there's cost. Typically, community college tuition is going to be somewhere in the neighborhood of a third the price of a public, in-state university. Out-of-state and private rates are even higher. So the more courses you do at the community college, the more tuition money you're saving. The other advantage is that, if you transfer with an associate's degree, your general education requirements will be waived at the four-year school. That means that you'll be concentrating on the major-specific courses when you transfer. It also means that, even if you didn't take precisely the history course (for example) that the university suggests, it will be fine. That history course was part of your general education requirements and, as such, is satisfied.

So remember how I said that there are some reasons NOT to earn your associate's (or not necessarily anyway)? Here are two things to think about:

1) If you're receiving Federal financial aid, you need to know that there's a limit to the number of semesters for which you can receive the Pell grant (the most common form of Federal financial aid). So the more semesters you use Pell at the community college, the fewer semesters you'll have Pell at the four-year school. Pell money will go further at the community college, because the overall expense is lower. That said, you may want more help paying for the university for the same reason.

2) Community college life is different from four-year school life. For one thing, community colleges are most often (though not always) commuter schools. They don't typically have people living on campus, so there's this significant part of the college experience that isn't happening. That has implications for things like campus activities, independent living skills, and so on. If those things are a big priority for you, then that's something else to consider. So the balancing act is between experiential and financial priorities.

Does that make sense? Does it answer your question? If not, feel free to let me know, and I'll try and answer specific questions.