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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! You don’t want to spend all that time applying for your efforts to go to waste because you didn’t know what universities look for in applicants.

Luckily, though, 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. On the bright side, this 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. However, that’s a little vague. 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, and find out how your credits will transfer to your prospective schools earlier than later on in the process.

Knowing all these things in advance will allow you to figure out how much time you will need to gather and submit all your application components, so that you don’t miss your deadlines or have to rush to turn your applications in on time. 

Also, 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.

Now, we have a few proactive tips that you should follow throughout your community college journey. These will not only make transferring easier, but also ease your transition into your new school – let’s go over them!

2. Don’t only take general education courses

This tip may appear confusing at first – many community college students 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 pick one early on. This is especially true if you want to pursue something in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) or nursing. Those fields typically 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 picking 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 – around 75% of students change their major at least once before graduation.

Related: How to pick a major

4. Keep your GPA high!

Perhaps you heard that it is easier to transfer to a new university than apply right out of high school. Don’t let this fool you – your GPA is still important!

Whether you’re taking GE courses or those for your major, it’s important to keep your GPA high. “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.

Normally, universities will require transfer applicants to send in transcripts of their college grades. This usually includes anywhere you took courses – even summer courses. Further, if you are applying for transfer and have completed less than a certain number of credits (normally applies to those applying to transfer as freshman), you may also have to submit transcripts of your high school grades.

5. Research potential universities

It’s time to start searching for colleges! First, however, you should do some research and know what you want in a college. 

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, and the 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.

Using your lists of what you want (and don’t want) from a college, 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.

Also read: How to choose a college

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 also 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.

After asking your questions, make sure to incorporate everything you learn into your transfer plan. This allows you to submit all your application components on time and successfully transfer! However, keep in mind that questions may arise at any time during the transfer application 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. 

Thus, 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.

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.

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!

See also: This year’s FAFSA Guide

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! 

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!

Frequently asked questions about transferring from community college

Is it hard to transfer from a 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.

Can I transfer from a community college to an out-of-state university?

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).