When it comes to helping transfer students in their transition, I have a personal connection (and not just because I work in admission). Several years ago, after leaving a company I’d been with for 18 years, I found myself on a community college campus for the first time. I was planning on joining the WorkFirst program, but my enrollment in an English 101 class changed my educational plan. Twenty years had passed since I graduated high school, so I was a little concerned about my transition into a college course with traditional-age students. But in the end, I graduated with an associate degree and successfully transferred to a four-year university to complete my bachelor’s degree in English.
Students enroll in community colleges for a variety of reasons. Some are interested in professional and technical degree programs. Then there are students who are interested in completing the general education and prerequisite courses required to transfer to a four-year college. If you are of the latter camp, it’s important to explore the resources available as you consider transferring to a new school.
Community colleges offer support services designed to ensure that students are successful, both academically and socially. In addition to tutoring and academic and career counseling services, some offer special programs and advising for first-generation and nontraditional students. Orientation programs connect new students with faculty and staff mentors, educate students about college resources, enhance skills required for academic success, and help students acclimate to the new college culture. Interdisciplinary and foundation courses cultivate the academic framework for advanced studies in higher education or professional formation by developing students’ intellectual skills and abilities, critical and analytical thinking, and cultural and global awareness. Every course you take is relevant to shaping and affirming your educational goals, professional ambitions, and place in the world. Don’t take these classes lightly.
Meet with an advisor
Planning your transfer to a four-year college can be daunting. The good news is that there are valuable resources to assist you with developing your transfer plan, such as academic advisors. They can help you identify programs that match your goals or classes that resonate with your academic or personal interests. They are also knowledgeable about institutional policies related to dropping or withdrawing from classes, repeating a course, and more. Advisors stay in touch with admission staff at four-year colleges; use their connections to learn more about a school’s admission and academic requirements. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Develop a relationship with your advisor and stay connected to ensure a smooth and successful transfer experience.
Colleges are interested in attracting students who are ethical leaders, academically talented, and socially responsible. How students demonstrate these traits in the application process varies based on their academic and extracurricular commitments. That’s why it’s important to take an active role in shaping your educational and extracurricular experiences at your current college.
Build community and connect with students through study groups and clubs. Meet with faculty to discuss opportunities for independent and post-baccalaureate studies. Demonstrate your leadership abilities by running for a student government position. Enroll in an honors program or society to connect with students who share your intellectual curiosity. Students who work full time or who have family commitments may not have the time to participate in clubs or other extracurricular activities on campus; however, professional and community involvement and recognitions are both valued in the admission process.
Find the right fit
It is never too early to start planning your transfer to a four-year college or university. Narrow your search by making a list of priorities (location, size, campus climate, cost, majors offered, etc.). Does the college offer programs and services that foster community amongst transfer and commuter students? Is there on-campus housing for nontraditional students and students with families?
College websites are great sources of information and valuable tools for identifying colleges that fit your educational and personal interests. Review the transfer-specific admission and academic application requirements. Familiarize yourself with the deadlines for submitting the application and FAFSA. Don’t assume that all colleges have the same deadlines or requirements for admission and entry into majors—do your research. Some universities offer equivalency course guides that show how credits completed at other colleges transfer. Reference the guides when registering for classes at your current college. When transferring from a community college, ask if the university has an articulation agreement with your school. (Articulation agreements are designed to facilitate the successful transfer of community college course work that meets a university’s degree requirements, saving students time and money.)
Then there are financial concerns. Check to see if colleges offer scholarships for transfer students and other types of institutional aid. In addition to financial aid, institutional scholarships, and grants, use the resources at your current institution to look for money to support your education. Search for community-based and corporate scholarships and funding. The deadlines for most scholarships usually occur during the regular academic year, September through May. Financial aid websites (like CollegeXpress!) are also helpful in providing links to scholarship and grant opportunities.
Connect with colleges
If a college sparks your interest, schedule an official campus visit. Request to meet with transfer admission and financial aid counselors, schedule a campus tour, attend a class if you can, and talk with an academic advisor and faculty within your intended academic program. Do your research and compile a list of questions in preparation for your visit. If you’re planning to live on campus, request a tour of the dorms and eat in the dining hall. Explore the neighborhood surrounding the campus to gain a sense of the community and off-campus opportunities. If you reside in the area, check the campus calendar for upcoming events. Find opportunities to connect with current transfer students on campus. If you are unable to visit a college, connect with admission, financial aid, and academic advisors, as well as current transfer students, via phone, e-mail, and social media.
Apply with care
Now that you’ve visited college campuses and identified your top schools, it is time to apply! Most colleges offer priority and regular application deadlines. If you are in the process of completing courses required to apply to an academic program, fill out your application but wait until your grades are posted before submitting your transcript. Just keep in mind, more competitive programs like nursing or engineering may have more concrete deadlines than general transfer applications; therefore, it is critical that you know your deadlines and submit materials on time. When in doubt, direct your questions to the admission office. Finally, if paying the application fee creates a financial hardship, contact the admission office to request a fee waiver.
Similar to a résumé when applying for jobs, a college application is your opportunity to introduce yourself to schools and distinguish yourself from other applicants. Basically, the application is you. If you don’t have access to a computer at home, look into technology resources at your current institution to prepare your application. College students are expected to use computers on a daily basis, and a handwritten application is not the best representation of college readiness. Admission counselors really do read each application, so invest the time to ensure yours is professionally written and reflects your personality, creativity, academic accomplishments, and educational and professional aspirations. Don’t forget to request official transcripts from every college you’ve attended and any other required documents. Follow up with the admission office approximately two weeks after submitting your application to confirm all documents were received.
Make the decision
Now that you’ve been accepted, you need to make a college decision. You will spend the next two to three years at the school of your choice, so consider your options carefully. Attend an orientation for admitted transfer students. Meet with an academic advisor in your major. Connect with faculty. Talk with a financial aid counselor. Reach out to current transfer students. If you can see yourself thriving in the community, it sounds like you have found the right fit. Contact the admission office to confirm your enrollment and begin preparing your transition into your new community.