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For Amy C., a recent graduate of Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau, a scholarship made a two-year school the right place to start. For Seth S., a senior at Missouri Southern State University in Joplin, it was an opportunity to play college baseball.

Community colleges have become increasingly popular, and can be a great launching pad into four-year programs. In fact, according to a recent Student Health 101 survey, more than 70 percent of students are interested in pursing a bachelor’s degree after they complete their associate’s.

If you’re thinking of transferring from a two-year to a four-year school, transitioning can be a smooth, academically beneficial process if you know how it all works.

Start Early

“Start the process as early as possible,” says Bryan Wint, coordinator of transfer affairs and articulation at Massachusetts Bay Community College in Wellesley Hills. The earlier you identify your specific academic goals, the better you’ll be able to develop a plan that helps you meet them.

“We show students the general education requirements they should be filling [right away],” says Anne Brennan, executive director of transfer and articulation at City Colleges of Chicago in Illinois.

Choose Courses Carefully

Starting at a community college was a good choice for Sara J.*, a sophomore at Rappahannock Community College in Saluda, Virginia. “I’ll get all of my general education credits completed, and [it’ll be an] easier transition into a bigger college. [I’ll also be] set up to start the degree for my career,” she says.

Doing some research about transfer credits can save you time and money in the long run. “Not all of my classes transferred and most of my classes transferred as electives,” Amy says. She suggests checking with your desired four-year institution to make sure your classes will be credited in the way you want them to.

Start by talking with your school’s advisors about course equivalency. They’ll either know the requirements of four-year institutions in the area or how to find the information.

Brennan suggests, “Sometimes it’s hard to really understand if there are courses you can take, and we can help you.” Seth agrees. “My advisor at North Central Missouri College was helpful,” he says.

Examine Four-Year Schools

Wint says students should take an in-depth look at programs when choosing what four-year degree they want to pursue. For example, ask yourself:

  • What kind of courses would I be taking?
  • Who are the professors? Will they help me network in my field?
  • Are there internship opportunities?

“Look at faculty profiles,” Wint suggests. Check out instructor pages on school Web sites and do a search for their work and research history.

You’ll also want to consider what your life would be like when attending each potential school. “You have to ask yourself where the best fit is,” says Brennan. “The first question I ask students is if they’ve visited the school they’re thinking about to get a feel for what it’s like.” Here are some things to consider:

  • Do you like the campus environment?
  • What is the student population like?
  • Where would you live?
  • What extracurricular activities could you join?
  • Are recreational activities and facilities included with your tuition?
  • What is the city or town like where the campus is located?
  • How far away is the campus from home?

A Smooth Transition

Brennan and Wint both recommend completing your associate’s degree at your two-year institution before trying to transfer. By breaking down a long-term goal into achievable steps, you’re more likely to complete them—and feel a sense of accomplishment.

Also, as Brennan notes, “Students who leave without getting the degree take the chance that life might get in the way of school. If you don’t get that first degree, you [may be] better educated, but you don’t have that certification.”

To help you make as smooth a transition as possible, many programs offer transfer scholarships—but they may not be advertised. A bit of financial support can make the jump to a bachelor’s program feel less daunting, and working toward a certain level of achievement in order to meet scholarship requirements can serve as further motivation to complete your associate’s degree.

* Name changed for privacy

Take Action

  • Establish contact with transfer advisors and admissions counselors.
  • Take courses that will transfer to a four-year program.
  • Find out if your school has articulation agreements with any schools that interest you.
  • Look into transfer scholarships.

Common Lingo

Here are some terms you’ll come across as you explore the transfer process:

Accreditation:
For community colleges and four-year institutions alike, being accredited means they’ve met certain requirements and standards set by quality-assurance agencies. If your two-year school isn’t accredited, your credits may not transfer to your four-year school. Check with your academic or transfer advisor if you’re not sure whether your community college meets the accreditation standards of your desired four-year school.

Articulation/matriculation agreements:
These agreements with four-year institutions often guarantee the transfer of all or most college-level coursework and/or guarantee admission into a four-year institution.

Credits/semester, hours/quarter hours:
All these terms describe measurements of coursework loads. If your current college and desired program use different measurement systems, don’t worry. They’re sure to have dealt with it before and can work it out.

Electives vs. Requirements:
Requirements are the specific courses that must be completed in order to graduate with a specific degree. Most programs also require that students take a certain number of electives, classes of your choosing outside of your designated major or degree program.

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