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Basics of Transferring from a Community College

Make the transfer process from a community college seamlessly.

Kathryn Knight Randolph

January 12, 2021

Thinking about transferring colleges? Start the process here.
Basics of Transferring from a Community College
Applying to college for the first time is complicated enough, but the process of transferring from a two-year to a four-year college can be dizzying. With little consistency in transfer policies from school to school, there’s a lot to keep track of when changing colleges. Use the tips below to make a smooth transition.

Know When to Transfer

Prepare for your transfer early. The earlier you think about transferring, the better. Deadlines for admission and financial aid are usually in the early spring for fall transfers and in the late fall for spring transfers.

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If your plan is to spend two years or roughly four semesters at a community college before transferring, use the timeline below as a rule of thumb to keep you on track.
  1. First Semester: Meet with your transfer advisor, research four-year colleges that interest you, and become familiar with their transfer policies. Consider your academic and career goals.
  2. Second Semester: Visit the campuses of four-year schools. Talk to the transfer coordinator in the admissions office during your visit.
  3. Third Semester: Learn what financial aid opportunities are available, begin collecting applications, ask for letters of recommendation, request transcripts, and keep track of deadlines. Also, complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
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  5. Fourth Semester: Submit your transfer application.

Articulation Programs

Community colleges are aware of their role as a stepping stone for students. To assist students in the transfer process, many public community colleges and public four-year schools have articulation agreements. Articulation agreements between two- and four-year schools ensure that an associate’s degree will satisfy all freshmen and sophomore year general education requirements at the four-year college. For example, if you earn an associate’s degree at Community College A, which has an articulation agreement with University B, your credits are guaranteed to transfer as long as you earned passing grades.

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Articulation agreements often have geographic restrictions; know the policies of the four-year school you will be applying to. The Education Commission of the States provides more information on specific state’s articulation policies.

Make Sure Your Credits Transfer

If your community college does not have an articulation agreement, research what credits will transfer. Details about a college’s transfer program are available in its catalog or on its Web site. “You really have to take the initiative if you go to community colleges to find out what will transfer and what won’t because otherwise you’re wasting your time and money,” says Richard O’Brien, who transferred from Danville Area Community College to the University of Illinois. Factors that influence whether credits will transfer include:
  1. College and/or state transfer policies: Colleges determine which credits they will accept, with some schools influenced by state-wide articulation programs.
  2. Appropriateness of the course: Institutions tend to accept credits from programs and courses that are similar to those they offer.
  3. Grade received in course: Applicants must meet minimum grade requirements for their credits to be considered for transfer.
  4. Proper accreditation and educational quality of the institution/course: You can check if an institution is accredited on the Department of Education’s Web site and the Council of Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).
  5. Time limits: Policies differ from school to school, but many schools have time limits on transfer credits. If the credits you hope to transfer were earned more than a year ago, consult the credit transfer policies at the four-year school.
If an institution will not accept your credits, you may appeal the decision. To appeal, ask the admissions office at the four-year school for a copy of their appeals procedure. Appeals are granted at the discretion of the admissions office. Students are more likely to succeed in their appeal if new academic or personal information that was not present in the original application and shows the student to be stronger than earlier evidenced comes to light.

Get Help from Your Advisor

Transfer policies can change from year to year and may have small-print details that are easily overlooked. Advisors and transfer coordinators at community colleges are up to date with what it takes to successfully transfer and are there to help. Use this resource to help navigate the transfer process, but don’t wait for your advisor to come to you. “One of the things that we let students know is that they need to ask questions. They may have to be more assertive with their advisors,” says Patrice Lyons, assistant director of articulation and transfer at Anne Arundel Community College. Meeting with a transfer advisor as early as the first semester of your freshman year will make your transfer game plan easier to achieve.

Know How Transferring Will Affect Academic Standing

Community colleges usually offer two-year associate’s degrees. After earning an associate’s degree, you can typically enter a four-year institution with junior standing and then achieve a bachelor’s degree. Some community college programs don’t award an associate’s degree, but you can still enter a four-year school as a junior. Check with your advisor and the office of admissions at the four-year school to learn the details. How prepared you are for upper-division university study is up to you. “Overall I was right on par with other juniors, but again that comes from being proactive and making sure that I was going to be in that situation,” O’Brien says.

You’re in Charge

Ultimately, to make the most of the transfer process, you need to be in charge. Plan early and don’t be bashful about asking for help. Transferring can cut down on college costs, but only if you take control and know the details. Make a plan early in your college career – or even your senior year of high school – and stick to it. Advocate for yourself, and seek out the individuals at your community college as well as the school you plan to attend to make sure you’re on top of all the necessary details and following the recommended timeline. At the same time, continue your search for scholarships. Chances are, you are choosing this route in order to save money when paying for college. Scholarships can go a long way toward alleviating the burden; check your scholarship matches frequently for new awards and apply to a few each week! Ready to get started? Check out our Step-by-Step Guide to Transferring Colleges.

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