Transitioning from a community college to a four-year school

As many as four out of five community college students in the United States want to transfer to a four-year institution so they can obtain a bachelor’s degree, according to a report released Thursday by the College Board.

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.

If you want to start out at a community college (or are already enrolled in one) and then transfer to a four-year school, make sure you have a course equivalency plan. If you try to make the switch without mapping out your steps, then your transition will be harder. Here are the steps you should take to transition from a community college to a four-year school.

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.

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.

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.

Second Semester: Visit the campuses of four-year schools. Talk to the transfer coordinator in the admissions office during your visit.

Third Semester: Learn what financial aid opportunities are available, begin collecting applications, ask for letters of recommendation, request transcripts, and keep track of deadlines.

Fourth Semester: Submit your transfer and financial aid application.

Make a list. Come up with a list of objectives to help you determine the right path for you. Think about where you see yourself in five or ten years. Here are some questions to consider:

  • What career would you like to pursue?
  • What academic preparation is required to enter this career field?
  • Which four-year institution has a good academic program for your field of interest?
  • What are some of the characteristics you are looking for in a four-year school?

Choose a transfer school. The earlier you can select a four-year institution to attend, the better off you will be. Universities and colleges differ widely in the courses they accept for transfer. By choosing a transfer school as early as possible, you will save a lot of time and effort because you will know in advance which courses will transfer to your selected school. When choosing a transfer school, check to see which schools have articulation agreements. Articulation agreements provide specific transfer policies that make it easier to transfer from one school to another. Be sure to visit schools to help you pick a four-year school.

Meet with transfer advisors. Because not all universities and colleges accept the same courses for transfer, it is critical that you work with a transfer advisor at your community college as well as one at the school to which you want to transfer. These advisors will help you map out courses to meet graduation requirements at your community college and transfer requirements for your chosen four-year institution.

Focus on academics and extracurricular activities. Most community colleges operate under an "open admissions" policy, which means that anyone with a high school diploma or GED may attend, regardless of prior academic performance and extracurricular involvement. However, to be accepted into your four-year school of choice, you need to stay focused on academics, achievements, and extracurricular activities. Keep your grades up and become involved in your community. Your transfer school wants well-rounded students.

Research financial aid options. Four-year institutions are more expensive than community colleges, so be sure to look into your financial aid options. You should complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to apply for state, federal, and institutional aid. Even if you don't think you'll qualify for need-based financial aid, you should still complete the FAFSA to be eligible for low-interest student loans. The FAFSA can be completed online at as soon as possible after January 1st of the year for which you are requesting aid.

For more specific information on transferring to a four-year school, contact your community college transfer advisor.

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