Is transferring into a 4-year university from a community college an easier way to gain admission into a prestigious institution? Statistically, no! There are a lot of myths floating around about transfer students. Let's talk about some pros and cons and bust some myths.
While I was not a transfer student, I did concurrently attend community college during all four years of high school. When I started my first year of college, I was proud to already have four AA degrees and senior status under my belt… but then I learned that transfer students face some unique obstacles.
There are a lot of myths floating around about transfer students. Students admitted to 4-year schools as freshmen often have the misconception that transferring is some sort of shortcut or loophole. That's just false. Transfer students are no less prepared, no less hardworking, and no less legit than their freshman-entry classmates.
False: it’s easier to get into undergrad as a transfer student
In reality, transfer applicants face challenges many freshman-entry applicants don’t. Some community college students have to balance school with a full-time job, parenting, caregiving, or any number of other responsibilities that require juggling. Some lack support structures (financial, social, etc.) to apply for freshman entry to universities right away and benefit from a gradual transition.
Plus, transfer admissions are more competitive than undergraduate admissions for most schools. A few schools have guaranteed transfer programs (such as Transfer Admission Guarantee programs offered by six UC schools), but beyond those anomalies, the probability of acceptance is slim. How slim? In 2019, Princeton had a 7% acceptance rate for freshman-entry applicants. For transfer students, they accepted just thirteen...yup...out of nearly 1,500 transfer applications – so we're talking less than 1%.
the benefits of transferring from a community college
Given that transfer admissions are so much more competitive, why even take the community college route? Here are the perks.
- You can save a lot of money
Tuition, books, rent—these expenses are often much higher at four-year schools. You might not have to take this factor into consideration if you can afford to pay full tuition, or if you qualify for a great financial aid package, but if you’re taking out student loans, you can save yourself a few grand by going to a community college to fulfill your general education requirements (GERs) first.
- You can give yourself a little more time to adjust to a new phase of life
Freshman year at a 4-year institution demands moving out, learning time management, holding yourself completely accountable without parents there to enforce boundaries, and acclimating to a more rigorous academic environment. You’ll have to do it eventually, but sometimes it makes more sense for your financial and mental health not to do so gradually. Attending community college can provide a transitional step.
- You can learn in a more intimate academic environment
Community college classes usually have lower student-to-instructor ratios. This means your professor is more likely to actually know who you are and will be more accessible to ask questions if you’re falling behind. In contrast, intro level classes at 4 year institutions are usually a requirement for the major or a GER, so they’re jam packed with 300+ anonymous faces in a huge lecture hall. Teaching assistants and seminar leaders are of course available to take questions and host office hours, but you may not get much one-on-one time with professors in these foundational level courses.
Tips for current community college students
Plan your academic courses in advance. Community college students are sometimes forced to delay applying for transfer because of poor course planning. This can be the result of:
- Not taking required or prerequisite classes during semesters first offered
- Enrolling in non-transferable courses
Avoid these mistakes by meeting with an academic advisor or campus registrar to learn which classes your school offers that will transfer for your major, and when those classes are offered.
Continue extracurricular activities at your community college and in your community
As a transfer applicant, you don’t want all of the extracurricular activities on your application to be from when you were a high school student. If you want to gain admission to a top-tier school, you’ll want to think big and build upon the activities you started in high school. Evolve them... like Pokemon. Get involved with academic competitions, political campaigns, look for summer internships, or apply to research positions for labs at nearby universities. Ask if labs need a research assistant. If you need to work during school, aim for a job related to your intended major. Unless your interests have shifted wildly, build upon the leadership foundations you began in high school.
Get to know your professors (and other mentors)
You’ll need them for recommendation letters, and they may have great professional networks and career advice! Professors are often well-connected to industry professionals who apply their academic expertise in the field. Go to office hours whenever you can – they’re a great time to ask questions about course material and to get pointers on exciting research opportunities and academic collaboration towards scholarships and post-grad career advice.
Start your research on 4-year schools at least one year before transferring.
- Contact the school’s Transfer Center to confirm transfer requirements.
- Check on application deadlines, which vary widely between schools.
- Familiarize yourself with the upper division requirements for your intended major.
- Will you be able to complete them in a timely manner (and maintain your GPA)?
- Visit campuses before applying.
- E-mail professors ahead of time and ask if you can sit in on one of their lectures.
- Does the campus feel like a fit to you? See our School Visit Checklist post.
- Find out what campus housing is like. Does the school guarantee housing for transfers?
- Do you have to live on campus? If not, what’s the average cost of rent in the area?
- When is a good time to start looking for an apartment in the area
- How do students find good deals? Is there a message board for roommate matching?
Consider working with an Empowerly counselor to help you keep track of all things transfer.
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