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Making the Transfer from Community College to a Four-Year School


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by Lara Ameen, Berkeley, CA

If you’re a community college student and are thinking about transferring to a four-year college or university, this article is for you. A couple of common reasons people make the transfer include:

  • They want to keep learning. A four-year school is the next step in higher education if you want to keep on studying after getting your Associate’s degree.
  • They want to get jobs that require a Bachelor’s degree. Not all jobs require a Bachelor’s degree, but generally jobs that require one pay higher salaries.

I’m going to give some advice about how to make the transfer to a four-year school go smoothly. My advice is based on my own experience: I started college at UC Berkeley, but after my freshman year, I decided to go to a community college instead. As I was finishing my Associate’s degree, I decided to reapply to UC Berkeley and other universities. In the end, both community college and my four-year university have been great experiences for me and they can be for you too.

1. Meet with a Transfer Academic Counselor Regularly

Upon entering community college, it’s essential to make sure you complete your community college general education requirements and any prerequisites you need to go to a four-year university. It’s a good idea to have a written education plan. A transfer counselor can help you with this plan, support you in scheduling your courses each semester, and should be able to assist you with disability-related accommodations. If you have difficulty in any particular course, your counselor may also advise you to seek one-on-one tutoring.

I was very fortunate to have a wonderful academic transfer counselor who helped me on both academic and personal levels to make sure my educational needs were met and I could transfer to a four-year university. We spent time discussing my classes, interests, extracurricular activities and impending changes that were to be expected when I moved out of my house in Orange County, California and to the university of my choice.

2. Keep Up With Your Community College Schoolwork

If you want to transfer to a four-year university, the most important thing is to keep up with your community college academics. After you have created an education plan with your transfer counselor and begun your classes for the semester, try to get the best grades you possibly can. You may find some of the community college courses more difficult than the ones you took in high school. If you find yourself struggling with a particular course, find a tutor who specializes in the subject and is willing to help you. Your community college may have tutoring services available or you may be able to find a tutor independently by looking online or at postings at the job boards around your college campus. You may have to speak with many tutors before finding one that fits your needs. Enrolling in fewer courses or units each semester may also be easier in order to better accommodate the needs of your disability and increase your academic performance.

3. Enjoy Elective Classes and Extracurricular Activities

One of the things you will be thinking about with your transfer counselor is what sort of major you may be interested in when you go to a four-year university. This will help you figure out what university you want to go to and also can help strengthen your application, because you can fulfill requirements for that major.

Electives may also provide you with new skills and interests set that you may not have acquired had you just taken general education requirement classes. Who knows? You might like an elective class so much that it ends up becoming your college major!

I took elective classes like Choir and Adaptive Physical Education (APE). I enrolled in these classes for personal growth and health reasons. I also had the opportunity to take my very first Creative Writing class. Before I went to community college, I had never had the chance to study creative writing.

Like high school, it’s important to be active in extracurricular activities, whether they are a part of your community college or outside of the school setting. They add another more personal aspect to your eventual four-year university application and you may also continue to pursue those extracurricular interests when you transfer.

I was a member of my community college’s Psychology Club and later became a member of Psi Beta, the Psychology Honor Society for community college students. All of the experiences I had were a lot of fun and I enjoyed participating in such events like a field trip to the San Diego Zoo and a taping of the Dr. Phil show in Los Angeles.

4. Apply to Four-Year Universities

Once you decide which universities are good matches for you, you can begin preparing your applications for them. Watch out for the due dates, because they are usually different from the freshman application due dates. You will usually have to pay an application fee, but those fees may be waived if you cannot afford them. Turn in your applications on time and fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) when you are done applying.

Consider multiple aspects when choosing what schools to apply to as a transfer student. Think about the school’s location, student population, whether it offers your chosen major, the services and housing options for students with disabilities, and extracurricular activities. The college experience is supposed to be a memorable time in your life, so do all your necessary research and make it that way!

5. Choose Your Major

When you transfer from community college to a four-year school, you have to declare a major. Some people don’t always keep the major they declare on their transfer applications – it’s okay to change your major later. Still, it’s important to think about this carefully because you will have to make sure you can fulfill all of the requirements for your major after you transfer.

When thinking about a major, don’t just pick a major because it seems “useful.” Pick something that you truly want to study because you want to enjoy what you are studying for the next couple of years. If you have multiple interests, you might consider doing a double major or declaring a major and a minor.

When I was a community college student, I thought I was going to major in Creative Writing, English, or Psychology. Unfortunately, Creative Writing wasn’t an option for the schools I applied to and Calculus was a requirement for Psychology, but I didn’t want to take Calculus. So, I applied to my preferred four-year universities as an English major. In the end, I decided to go back to UC Berkeley, where I had first started, and eventually, I changed my major to Film Studies with a minor in Disability Studies.

6. The Transition to Your Four-Year School

Community college may be difficult and it can be hard to adjust and fit in, but once you transfer to a four-year university, your experience will be even more different. Depending on your major and university of choice, you may be moving out of your house for the first time or even going to a different state or country. However, there will also be more opportunities to join clubs, find social activities, and make new friends.

On a personal level, I’ve found a new sense of independence in my life as a student at UC Berkeley. As a person with a physical disability, it is not always an easy feat and I still have to depend on others to help me with some personal care and academic tasks. Being a seven-hour drive away from home has led me to do a lot of self-reflection and has meant that I’ve had to develop the tools I need to be successful by asking questions and being persistent. It was a nerve-wracking at first, but that’s part of what makes the four-year university experience worth it.

Create a list of short-term and long-term goals you’d like to achieve at your university and set out to achieve them. I believe it is possible for a young person with any kind of disability to go away to college and live an independent life!

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