There are no two ways around it; college is expensive. According to the College Board , the average annual cost of a four-year private university for the 2019-2020 school year is $36,880.
And that’s just the cost of tuition and fees. (Oof, it hurts.)
Comparatively, the average sticker price of a public, four-year, in-state college shakes out to about $10,440 per year. A public, two-year, in-district college, on the other hand, costs $3,730.
(It should be noted that the sticker price isn’t always what a student pays, due to financial aid.)
One clever way to help minimize the ever-growing expense of college is for students to spend two years in community college and then transfer to a university, where they finish up their four-year degree.
Depending on the schools, this move could save a student thousands of dollars—and they still end up with a diploma from their university of choice.
Transferring from community college to university requires research, diligence, and a good schedule-keeping system. But for many students, the extra work can most definitely be worth it.
Here, we go through some steps for how to transfer from a community college to a four-year university, including a discussion on how to finance your new, more expensive four-year college or university.
Transferring from Community College to University
Providing universal instructions on how to transfer to a four year college is tricky, because each school will have different requirements and deadlines for prospective transfer students.
That said, here are some basic guidelines that may help; supplement this information with your own research from both the community college and the universities to which you’re interested in transferring.
1. Consider Your Options
Typically, the earlier you begin to research options for transferring to a four year college, the better. Not only should you confirm in advance that your desired four-year university accepts transfer students, but it’s a big bonus if they’ve established a defined pathway between the two.
While it’s great to have a first-choice university, it may be smart to have backup options as well. Some states may have programs that offer guaranteed enrollment for transfer students that qualify, but most do not. Just as is the case with traditional admissions, a student may not get into their first choice of school.
Additionally, having multiple options can also protect you in the event that credits don’t qualify or something else in the transfer process goes haywire.
Also, it can be hard to predict how much aid you’ll receive from each school; for example, a more expensive school may offer a larger scholarship. You could contact each school’s financial aid office to get a sense of what they may offer.
2. Strategize Your Coursework
When figuring out how to transfer from a community college, taking the right credits is key. It can be hard to pick what you’ll major in when you have yet to learn about all of your options.
But doing so may make your transfer path more fluid. If you have a major direction in mind, see if your desired universities’ have specific requirements to get into that program, including requisite courses.
Whether or not you’ve decided on an area of study, you may be able to enroll in your prospective university’s general education requirements. For example, there are likely general education requirements in the humanities even if you’re planning to be an engineering major.
Often called an “articulation agreement,” universities will guarantee that certain credits taken at a community college will qualify at their institution. Examine the articulation agreements between the schools that you are considering so you know exactly what courses to sign up for.
3. Meet with Counselors
There are counselors at both community colleges and universities who can help make sure the transfer process runs as smooth as possible. Never be afraid to ask questions; this is what counselors are for! Take advantage of the advice and wisdom of a person who has seen the process through many times.
You may want to meet with your community college counselor as soon as you enroll. Explain to them your goals for transferring to a four year college and see what resources they can provide to you.
Make sure to ask not only about the logistical process of transferring, but about options for student aid, especially aid you don’t have to pay back, like scholarships.
If possible, see if you can visit the universities you’d like to attend and meet with a transfer counselor while there. Sometimes, it’s just easiest to talk with someone.
Even if you’re not able to meet with a counselor in-person before you transfer to a university, schools may provide the option to email with a counselor or speak on the phone. Give the admissions office a call and set up a time to chat.
4. Stay on Top of Deadlines
Transferring from community college to university requires diligence on deadlines, so you may want to get a planner or get comfortable with your online calendar. Set reminders for yourself to start working on applications and essays, and to collect important documents and letters or recommendation, well before their due dates.
It is common for students to apply to a university during their second year in community college. If this sounds like you, then the summer before your second year begins is likely a good time to get prepared by collecting applications, writing down dates, and making a plan for completing your applications in addition to your coursework.
5. Do Your Best in Class
In addition to preparing your transfer applications, it’s important to do well in your classes; almost all schools have a minimum required GPA for transfer students. Others may use an applicant’s GPA, along with other variables, to determine whether a student will receive an acceptance and student aid.
While you’re in community college, it may be worth considering whether you should complete an associate degree. An associate degree could be another weapon in your arsenal of accomplishments.
6. Apply to Schools
As mentioned above, many community college students apply to transfer to a university during their second year of coursework. Even if you’ve been enrolled for longer than two years, begin thinking about applications at the beginning of the school year before the year you’d like to transfer.
Every university or university system will have their own due dates for applications and all of the paperwork that is required throughout the process—letters of recommendation, transcripts, and so on.
If ever you have a question about a particular university’s deadlines, the information should be on their website. If you can’t find the information there, contact a counselor at the prospective university.
7. Prepare for College
After applying and turning in all of the requisite paperwork, the application process becomes a waiting game to see where you’re accepted. Typically, you should hear back by the spring before your desired transfer year. (These timeframes will be different if you’re transferring mid-school year.)
Did you know that transfer students are more likely to graduate from university than students who were admitted as freshmen? The National Center for Education Statistics did their first-ever study of transfer students in 2017 and found that 66% of transfer students go on to graduate from four-year public universities, compared to 59% of full-time students who started out at those same schools.
While transfer students have the statistics on their side, it doesn’t mean that university won’t be tough work. To help set yourself up for success, getting organized the summer before transferring over can be a big help.
Solidify living arrangements, if you haven’t already. Accumulate what you’ll need to live out on your own, especially if it’s your first time doing so. Don’t wait until the last minute, stressing yourself out before classes begin.
8. Know Your Financing Options
For most students, university is going to be more expensive than community college. Therefore, you are going to need a plan for how you are going to pay for it.
If you are taking out student loans for community college, it is unlikely that this aid will follow you to your new school. Most federal student aid won’t automatically transfer , but always check with the financial aid office at your new university and your aid provider to be sure your new university participates in federal student aid programs.
That said, student loans from community college do not simply “go away.” After completing credits at a community college, you could let your loan providers know that you will be transferring. That’s because as soon as you are no longer enrolled in that school, your loans could go into their grace period or repayment. You can learn more about what to do to avoid this from the U.S. Department of Education right here .
All transfer students should continue to fill out the Free Application for Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) . Luckily, transfer students may have already done this to receive federal aid for community college, and simply need to re-submit with their prospective universities’ information.
If nothing about your or your family’s financial situation has changed, your expected family contribution (EFC) will also likely stay the same. You may see an offer for federal aid that is very similar to the one you were offered for community college, though this won’t always be the case.
For admission at the beginning of the following school year, students can submit their as early as October 1st as October 1st. Most states and schools have deadlines for filing the FAFSA in the winter or early spring.
Don’t wait until the day before the deadline to turn yours in, though; there’s aid that’s doled out on a first-come, first-served basis. The FAFSA helps schools determine who qualifies for federal aid, like federal student loans and grants, but many states and schools also use the FAFSA to determine who qualifies for scholarship money.
According to the Federal Student Aid office, it’s hard to predict just how much aid a transfer student can expect to receive. “There are a variety of factors that will affect the amount and types of aid you’re eligible for at your new school.
“The cost of the school, the aid programs the school offers, and even the time of year you transfer—among other factors—may affect the amount of aid you receive.”
Don’t feel like you have to figure this all out on your own. Remaining in contact with your school’s financial aid office throughout the entire process is likely a smart step. They can help you navigate the somewhat difficult waters of financing two different college experiences.
If you find that you need more help financing your education outside of federal aid, you could also check out private student loans. While we believe you should always exhaust the federal aid options available to you first, SoFi offers no-fee low-rate private student loans that can help make paying for school a bit less stressful.
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