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    How to Transfer From a Community College

    By Lisa Freedland

    Lisa Freedland is a Scholarships360 writer with personal experience in psychological research and content writing. She has written content for an online fact-checking organization and has conducted research at the University of Southern California as well as the University of California, Irvine. Lisa graduated from the University of Southern California in Fall 2021 with a degree in Psychology.

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    Reviewed by Bill Jack

    Bill Jack has over a decade of experience in college admissions and financial aid. Since 2008, he has worked at Colby College, Wesleyan University, University of Maine at Farmington, and Bates College.

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    Edited by Maria Geiger

    Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

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    Updated: November 30th, 2023
    How to Transfer From a Community College

    Attending a community college before transferring to a four-year university can be a great option for students. It allows them to save money and even increase their chances of admission at four-year universities (as long as their grades are higher than in high school!). However, the transfer from a community college seems a bit daunting to students at first. To help ease the process, we’ve compiled a list of tips on transferring.

    Keep on reading to find out about common transfer admission requirements, our tips on transferring from a community college, and what you should do after you accept an admission offer!

    Common admission requirements for transfer students

    Before you go about transferring schools, it’s important to know what colleges are looking for! Luckily, transferring to a new college is not too different from applying to one straight out of high school – the application components are largely the same, which means you’re likely already familiar with the process!

    Normally, to transfer colleges, you’ll need:

    • High school transcripts (typically only if you’ve accumulated under a certain number of credits at your current college)
    • Current and past college transcripts
    • Letters of recommendation (depends on school)
    • School-specific application essays
    • A resume or activities list (alternatively, these can typically be entered directly on your college application)
    • SAT or ACT scores (depends on school, as more and more schools are becoming test-optional)

    While this will do it for most colleges, transfer requirements also vary by school. So, depending on where you’re applying there may be more (or less!) application components to submit than the ones listed above. Make sure to check the websites of the colleges you’re applying to for more details, and submit all the necessary components listed on your application site (e.g. the Common App transfer application).

    Now that we’ve gone over some common reasons for transferring and the standards colleges use to assess transfer applicants, let’s get to what you’ve been waiting for – our best tips on how to transfer from a community college!

    How can I successfully transfer from a community college?

    Although there are certainly similarities between applying to college out of high school and transferring to a new university, the process is still quite complicated, and long. To help make your transition as smooth and pleasant as possible, here are our tips on how to successfully transfer from a community college to a four-year university:

    1. Plan ahead

    To make sure that transferring goes smoothly, we highly recommend that you plan ahead. More specifically, we suggest that you:

    • Find out the application deadlines for the schools you’re applying to
    • Figure out what you need to submit
    • Find out how your credits will transfer to your prospective schools 

    It’s a good idea to know these things in advance to help you figure out how much time you will need to gather and submit all your application components.

    Knowing how your credits will transfer to your prospective schools will help you determine whether you want to apply or not. For example, if you find that little to none of your credits transfer to a school and that you’ll have to essentially start over if you go there, you may no longer want to transfer to that school – understandably so.

    2. Don’t only take general education courses

    This tip may appear confusing at first – many community college students that are unsure about their majors seem to be encouraged to load up on general education courses as it is believed that these will be “required anyway” at some later point. This, however, often leads to accumulating excess credits – some of which won’t be applicable to your major once you transfer.

    Of course, we’re not saying that you shouldn’t take any GE courses, just to not take too many. If you sense that there is a field you may be interested in pursuing (or even a group of fields – like humanities or STEM), we recommend that you take some of those courses. This will allow you to see whether you’re truly interested in the subject. If you are, it allows you to skip some core courses at your new college (because you already took them!).

    3. Decide on a major 

    On the topic of majors, it can be very beneficial to choosing one early on. This is especially true if you want to pursue something in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) or nursing, which have a lot of prerequisites.

    In your first semester at community college, try to take courses related to a topic(s) you may be interested in. This way, you can determine whether you want to pursue it as a major. If you do this and still aren’t quite sure about a major, we recommend heading over to the career center. Here, you’ll be able to ask for career advice from advisors and even take a career test. A career test may guide you to an interesting field you didn’t even know existed before.

    Not only will choosing a major early be beneficial in your transfer process, but in college as a whole, even if you decide to switch majors later. If you do decide to switch majors later on, don’t be embarrassed! It’s more common than you think – a third of students change their majors at least once before graduation.

    4. Keep your GPA high!

    When you transfer to a new college, your GPA will usually start over. However, this doesn’t mean that your GPA isn’t important when transferring. A college will want to see your transcripts which includes any course you’ve taken previously and the grades you have received. Your GPA says a lot about you. So, the higher you can keep it, the better! 

    “High” is subjective, so we recommend keeping your GPA in the range of accepted applicants for your prospective schools (or higher, if you can!). To find this information, you can normally look up “*Insert university name* transfer admission profile.” The average GPA (as well as a range of other stats) about your prospective college’s accepted transfer students will appear.

    Also see: Can you transfer into an ivy league school?

    5. Research potential universities

    It’s time to start searching for colleges! We recommend making a list of what you want and what you don’t want from your new college. Some things that you could include on your list are: 

    • Ideal location type (big city or small town)
    • Whether they have your major or not 
    • Type of social environment at school

    If you sense that cost will play a big part in your college choice, how generous the schools are with financial aid should also be a factor (and you can typically find this information online!). We might also recommend looking into in-state public schools or private schools that are generous with financial aid, as these are typically cheaper or will provide sufficient financial aid.

    We recommend using a college search engine to find a few schools that match your desired criteria. This College Board College Search Engine is particularly helpful, allowing students to customize filters and easily narrow down school choices to those that offer everything they want.

    6. Find out your school’s transfer credit policy

    Arguably, one of the most important steps in transferring is finding out how your credits transfer. If you’re applying to in-state schools, there may already be established transfer agreements detailing what courses will transfer between your community college and prospective four-year school. Alternatively, if you’re applying to out-of-state schools, you can send in your transcript to your prospective schools, who will use these to determine which credits can transfer.

    Also, for those of you applying to in-state, public universities, it’s worth it to see if there are any transfer “pathways” between your current and prospective school. Sometimes, these “pathways” or “alliance programs” guarantee transfer to students who achieve a certain GPA. Others make the process easier or increase your chances of admission, so they’re definitely worth a look if you find any. For example, many California community colleges have such agreements with the University of California campuses (here’s an example!).

    7. Meet with advisors

    Advisors know how the transfer process works and have likely helped other students through transferring before. We highly recommend meeting with one to talk about your plans. They can also inform you of any transfer agreements that exist between your current and prospective school and suggest courses that will transfer.

    Besides meeting with the advisor at your community college, as you start the transfer process itself, it may be beneficial to talk with an advisor at your prospective school(s). They’ll be able to answer any questions you have about the school. The meeting may offer insight into what it’s really like to attend your prospective school.

    8. Ask specific questions

    Sometimes, gathering general information about your prospective schools simply isn’t enough. Perhaps you have a few more questions (especially ones that are only specific to you!). If this is the case, there’s no harm in reaching out to your prospective schools and asking questions.

    Depending on what topic your questions are about, we recommend contacting the specific office or staff at your prospective school who specialize in that. For example, if you have a question about financial aid, you should specifically contact the financial aid office (if possible!). Otherwise, you may just be directed to the financial aid office by the first person you asked, which may take longer and delay the process. There is no shame in asking whenever questions arise (even if it seems too late to ask, it’s not!).

    9. Check out your financial aid options

    Financial aid plays a huge role in all parts of college, from your first undergraduate school, to your next, to your graduate school, and even beyond. 

    Complete the FAFSA

    We highly recommend talking with financial aid advisors or administrators for those schools you hope to transfer to. Specifically, you should complete the FAFSA and any additional forms your schools request, as these will help them determine how much financial aid they can offer. Additionally, some schools provide “net price calculators” online for prospective students.  These calculators give students an idea of how much aid will be offered.

    Appeal for additional financial aid

    If you receive your financial aid offer and feel that it is not sufficient, consider appealing for more financial aid. A financial aid appeal will allow you to present more information to the financial aid office. That will offer a better picture of your finances and hopefully offer more aid. Remember that college is a huge investment, and that you’re allowed to negotiate.

    Apply for scholarships

    If your aid is still not quite enough, consider scholarships! Your prospective school likely has some specifically for their students, so we recommend checking online or asking a financial aid advisor. Alternatively, if you’re interested in scholarships, we have a great selection at Scholarships360! Check out: scholarships by major, by state, by background, and more!

    10. Apply!

    Finally – time to apply! With everything (your application components) compiled, you should be ready to submit your applications! If you still need a little time to get everything ready, that’s fine. Just make sure to keep track of your application deadlines. Just like when you applied to college the first time, each school has different transfer deadlines as well. 

    Some schools only accept transfer applications in the spring, while others have both fall (for mid-year transfers) and spring deadlines. Just make sure to get your applications in on time, and good luck! Throughout the process, make sure you apply for all the scholarships you qualify for!

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    What do I do after I accept my offer?

    After you’ve accepted your offer, it’s time to complete some final steps! These typically include:

    • Turning in deposits
    • Applying for financial aid (if you haven’t yet)
    • Submitting a housing application/Finding housing
    • Scheduling an orientation date
    • Scheduling a meeting with an advisor to discuss classes and credits
    • Registering for classes on time!

    Last but not least, remember to enjoy your new college! We hope you have a great time, learn a lot, and make amazing friends.

    Happy transferring!

    Key Takeaways

    Key Takeaways

    • There are a lot of components that you will need to complete in order to transfer schools, which means you should stay organized and on top of due dates
    • Keep in mind that a high GPA and strong grades are an important part of your transfer application
    • Don’t forget to fill out the FAFSA, as it will likely be an important part of how you fund your college education
    • Transfering to a university from a community college might feel intimidating, but we assure you that it is possible and will be worth your while, so don’t get discouraged and keep persisting through the process
    Key Takeaways

    Frequently asked questions about transferring from community college

    Great question! Just like when you applied to colleges for the first time, transferring to another university from a community college should only be hard if you don’t plan ahead or put in the effort to do so. However, if you do plan ahead and put in the work, it should be simple – especially with our tips provided above! If you want more clear steps on transferring universities, we recommend checking out this step-by-step guide on transferring colleges.

    Yes, you can! It is entirely possible to transfer to an out-of-state university from a community college. However, there will likely not be a formal credit transfer agreement between the school you’re at and the one you’re applying to. To figure out how your credits will transfer, we recommend talking to the registrar at the university you want to transfer to, as they can help you figure out what credits will transfer. Most likely, your core major course credits will transfer. Elective credits will be less likely to (unless the courses are very similar to those at your prospective school).

    Transferring to an ivy league school from a community college is not common, but it is possible. In fact, it is something that is growing in popularity. If going to an ivy league school is something on your radar, check out our article about it to find out more.  

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