How (and Why) to Transfer from Community College to University


If you’re reading this, you’re probably seriously considering getting a college degree because of how it can benefit you in the long run. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, people with a Bachelor’s Degree or higher have 3% lower unemployment rates and 40% higher median weekly earnings than people with a high school diploma. The job market is also getting more competitive: According to the US Census Bureau the percentage of Americans over 25 years old with a bachelor’s degree or higher rose from 29.9% to 36.0%.

But because of academic, financial, familial, or other reasons, maybe you don’t feel ready to go to a four-year university just yet. In these instances, it might be a good idea to study 2 years at community college then transfer to a four-year school later. In this article, we’re going to examine all the ins and outs of transferring from community college to university, including: 

  • The benefits of transferring from community college to university
  • When you should transfer community college credits to university 
  • How to go about transferring from community college to university
  • How to decide which university would be best for your needs

There’s a lot to cover, so let’s get started!




Why Should You Transfer From Community College to a University? Top 3 Reasons

There is no one-size-fits-all strategy for everyone. For some students, going straight to a four-year college might not be the best decision for their future success. And the truth is that you can still earn a bachelor’s degree and have a great career if you start your education at a community college

Generally speaking, there are three major reasons you might want to start at a community college and transfer into a four-year university: lower costs, more flexibility, and the opportunity to adjust to the college lifestyle. We’ll talk more about these reasons below. 


Reason 1: Cost

Let’s be honest: college can be expensive. The significant difference in cost between a community college and a four-year university is a big reason why transferring from community college to university is a good idea. 

According to National Center for Education Statistics, the average total tuition, fees, and room and board rates charged for undergraduate students at four-year universities is more than double what students pay at two-year community colleges. In 2017-18, the latest year for which statistics are provided, the average cost for a four-year institution was $27,357, but the average cost for a two-year institution was only $10,704. 

Those numbers include room and board at a four-year college, which isn’t something most community colleges offer. But even without room and board, taking classes at a community college is still more affordable. Looking only at tuition costs in 2017-2018, the average cost per credit hour at any four-year public institution is $396 ($1,188 for a three credit-hour course) whereas a community college will only set you back an average of $142 per credit hour ($426 per course)! That’s a huge difference! 

So if you’re worried about the high cost of a four-year university, starting your coursework at a community college could be a great way to save you some money on your education, even if you’re planning on earning a bachelor’s degree. 

That’s because many four-year universities will give you core credit for the classes you take at community college. In other words, your future university may not make you retake the core classes you’ve already taken once you enroll in your bachelor’s degree program. How many courses a university accepts as transfer credit from a community college varies from institution to institution. But most four-year schools accept at least some classes, which can help save you money in the long run! 


Reason 2: Flexibility

Not everyone can just pack up and move away to dedicate four years of their lives full-time to their education. Whether it’s because of finances, a family situation, or academic issues, you might have to first study 2 years at community college then transfer to university. 

And that’s okay! Regardless of your situation, community colleges usually have more flexible class scheduling than four-year universities. That way you can fit your coursework around your schedule and give yourself a better chance for success. 

One way community colleges do this is through offering plenty of online classes. In an online course, you’ll do all of your learning remotely. You’ll interact with your professor, work with fellow students, attend lectures, and submit assignments through an online portal. And even better: many of these online classes are asynchronous, meaning you can complete them on your own time! This is a great option for students who need school to fit around their schedules (rather than visa versa).  

Community colleges also offer in-person classes early in the morning and in the evening to accommodate students’ work schedules. That way you don’t have to worry about how you’ll make it to class and keep your job. Community colleges are conscious that they serve an older student population, which is why schools offer more diverse class times to fit students’ busy schedules. 


Reason 3: Feeling Like You Belong

If you struggled academically in high school, or if you’re worried that you’re not prepared enough for college, you might feel like you “don’t belong” at a four-year institution.

And you’re not alone in feeling that way! That feeling is one of the biggest obstacles to success in post-secondary education. According to an article in The Washington Post:

Still other research has shown that beliefs — in particular, beliefs about belonging at college — can be as important as planning and study skills. Feeling out of place is usually triggered by a setback freshman year: the student fails a test, for example, or feels he doesn’t have any close friends. Any student would be discouraged, but a student who is the first in his family to attend college, or is a member of minority stereotyped as “not academic” may construe the experience as evidence he’s not college material.

That’s right, simply feeling like you’re college material can be as important as studying. Taking classes at a community college can help you build up your academic confidence before you transfer to a four-year university. You’ll be among a group of people who are working hard to improve their skills, and you’ll be learning under instructors who understand that you have working lives outside of class. 

Think of the “2 years at community college then transfer to university” plan as practicing before the performance. Your time at community college will prepare you to be successful later on! 



Going to a four-year university can offer you some additional opportunities that a community college can't. 


So Why Go to a Four-Year University at All?

Most of this article has focused on the benefits of attending a two-year community college, and there are many! So why should you transfer from community college to university at all? 

Well, there are several reasons you should think about transferring. While taking a few classes at your local community college will give you valuable student experience and save you money, a community college certificate or associate’s degree may not lead to better career opportunities depending on your long-term goals.

An Associates Degree or professional certificate can definitely jumpstart your career in certain fields. For instance: automotive mechanics, dental hygienists, and information technology specialists are all careers for which an Associates Degree will often suffice. 

But there are also many careers that require job candidates to have a bachelor’s degree, too. Be sure you look at dream jobs in your field to see what educational qualifications they require. If you’re dreaming of going into a field that requires lots of training--like secondary school education, engineering, architecture, or family therapy--then you’re probably going to need to get a bachelor’s degree from a four-year school. 

Also keep in mind that a bachelor’s degree is becoming a more common job requirement, especially for high-paying jobs. And even if your field doesn’t require a bachelor’s, 36% of Americans have a bachelor’s degree. That means there’s a good chance you’ll be competing with these degree holders in the marketplace. Having a bachelor’s degree can open up more--and higher paying--career opportunities for you. 



Transferring to a university might seem intimidating or impossible. We've broken it down into three straightforward steps to make it easier for you. 


How to Transfer From Community College to University: 3 Step Process

There are a few steps you’ll need to take if you want to transfer from community college to a university, especially if you’re planning on transferring credits from community college to university. We’re going to go over the three step process below. 

But one quick caveat before we start: the transfer process at each university is different. So while you’ll follow these general steps, you’ll need to do your research to make sure you meet the transfer requirements at your school. 


Step 1: Meet With Transfer Advisor

Most community colleges have a transfer advising office with advisors who can help you with transferring from community college to university. Meet with them early on in the process and reach out to them frequently with questions you might have. These advisors are super qualified and can help you make sure that you’re meeting the transfer requirements for your target school.


Step 2: Research Your Target School

Before you start the transfer process, you need to know which university you’re trying to transfer into. Because the transfer requirements vary from school to school, knowing what criteria you need to meet ahead of time will improve your chances of successfully transferring in. 

The good news is that universities post transfer requirements on their admissions websites. Searching for these criteria and using them as a map as you plan out your community college coursework will be a huge help for you in the long run. 

And if you’re still not sure which university you want to go to, that’s okay! Researching transfer requirements at all of your potential colleges will help you narrow down the field. For example, say you’re thinking about applying to two universities, one of which is in state and the other which is out of state. You may learn that the transfer criteria for the in-state school is much easier to meet...which could sway your decision! 


Step 3: Assemble Your Documents and Apply

Once you’ve picked your university and met with your transfer counselor, it’s time to start your college application. You’ll still have to apply for admission like all new students, though the university might have a separate, slightly different “transfer student” application for you to fill out. (Be sure to check whether this is the case at your school!) 

You’ll probably have to submit additional documents like an admissions essay, a copy of your transcript, and letters of recommendation as part of your transfer student admission packet. Do your research and find out exactly what you need, especially since some of these things--like official transcripts--aren’t something you can get ahold of at the last minute. And if you’re still confused, contact an admissions counselor for more information. They’re here to help you. 



Deciding when to transfer to a four-year university depends on two things: your field of study, and your ultimate goals. 


When Should You Transfer From Community College to University?

How long should you attend a community college prior to transferring community college credits to university? And should you go ahead and earn an Associates Degree, or should you transfer earlier?

The truth is it depends upon your goals and your situation. If you’re entering a field that prioritizes field experience over theoretical knowledge, such as nursing or information technology, you might spend 2 years at community college then transfer to university. This is also a good strategy if you’re positive that your university will accept all of your community college transfer credits. In that instance, you may be able to save a lot of money by knocking out two years of classes at a community college. 

However, if you don’t think you’ll be able to transfer many credits, then it might make sense to only take the classes that will transfer at a community college...then move on. The same is true if your future degree program will require you to have taken the bulk of your classes at the university you’re graduating from. If that’s the case, then you don’t want to waste your time taking community college courses that won’t help you earn your bachelor’s degree. 




3 Tips For How To Transfer From Community College To University 

 This might all sound like a lot, but it’s totally possible to successfully transfer from community college to university! Here are three tips to help make the transfer process as painless as possible. 


Tip 1: Start Early

Know when the best time to get started on any goal is? Today. Don’t put off the community college transfer process. Trust us--it’s never too early to get started. 

Here’s what we mean. If your admissions essay isn’t due until February, that doesn’t mean you don’t have to worry about it until a week before it’s due. In fact, we recommend you start working on your admissions essays months in advance! Give yourself plenty of time to put together the best college application possible.  


Tip 2: Be Professional

As you go through this process, you’ll be in communication with a number of administrators, staff members, professors, and fellow students...both at your community college and at your future university. It’s best to always write to everyone in as courteous and respectful a tone as possible so that you make a positive impression. 

Remember to maintain proper email etiquette at all times with everyone you contact. Research the person you are communicating with so that you know which honorific is appropriate. Regardless of how the person on the other end behaves, always keep a neutral, friendly tone in all communications.


Tip 3: Know Your Deadlines

You know what professors love? Writing letters of recommendation for hard-working students whose progress they’ve enjoyed observing. You know what professors hate? Writing letters of recommendation for students who forgot until Friday night at 11PM that the submission deadline was Monday at noon. 

It’s very important that you keep up with all your deadlines, especially those that require something from other people. That includes letters of recommendation, but it might also include getting and sending official transcripts, test scores, or financial aid information. Every semester, make a list of every important deadline that you’re expecting, and put it on your calendar. Work toward your goals constantly, rather than falling behind and trying to catch up later.



Choosing where to go to college can be tough. Our tips can help make your decision a little easier.


4 Tips for Deciding Which 4-year Colleges to Apply to

Choosing a community college is relatively easy. You’ll likely choose one nearby that offers the courses you need in a way that fits your schedule. In many cases, you’ll only have one option. 

However, choosing a four-year university is a far more complicated process. Transfer students can apply for admission at almost any you’ll have lots of choices! Here are four quick tips that can help you choose which university to transfer to.


Tip 1: Know Your Goals

First things first: spend some time thinking about what you want your future to look like. What career do you want to enter, and is it super competitive? Will you need to graduate from a top university to get the job you want? 

These are just a few questions to consider before you start the community college transfer process. You’ll need to know what you want to major in--and how you want that major to impact your future career--before you decide which universities to apply to. Not every university offers the same opportunities, so you’ll need to spend some time putting together a college list that will set you on the path to success. 


Tip 2: Make a Financial Plan

Maybe your target university is one town over, so you’re hoping to work in order to pay your way through school. Or maybe you’re hoping to rely on financial aid to defray the costs of college. The point is that you need to put together a plan for how you’ll afford whichever university you plan to attend. 

A good place to start is by checking out our expert guide to paying for college. It will give you a general sense of how expensive college is, and what avenues you have to help you offset the costs. From there, make sure to check with your future university’s office of financial aid. There may be additional funding available for transfer students, including scholarships or work study opportunities!


Tip 3: Research Your Major and Department

At a four-year university, you’ll spend a lot of time immersed in one specific department, especially if you finish your core course requirements at community college. That means you’ll want to be extra sure that the department you’re hoping to join is a good fit for you. 

There are a few ways to figure this information out. Get in touch with your department and your university’s advisors so you know what the culture is like. Some universities have a laid-back, informal culture, and some have a rigorous professional culture. If you think you may need a little extra help transitioning into the department from community college, you might also ask about what types of tutoring or other student support services are available. 

Doing a little research before you start applying will help ensure that you end up at a university that will provide you with what you need to succeed. 


Tip 4: Plan for the Future 

Transferring from a community college to a four-year university is a stepping stone, not an endgame! The ultimate goal of a bachelor’s degree is to help you get a job you love, so you’ll want to make sure that your university is prepared to help you transfer out of school and into the workforce! 

Check into your department’s placement numbers to see how many of their students get good jobs after graduation. It’s also a good idea to see what a university’s career services center offers in terms of job placement assistance. 




What’s Next? 

Are you ready to apply for community college? We’ve broken the process down into nine easy steps to help you get off on the right foot. 

If you’re not sure you want to go to community college but like the idea of earning college credit for cheap, you may be interested in a dual enrollment program. These programs allow high school students to take classes at a community college for credit. This article will teach you everything you need to know about taking community college classes in high school. 

If you’re thinking about going to community college first because your high school grades aren’t great, you may still have time to raise your GPA and open up more opportunities for yourself. Our experts can teach you how to raise your GPA fast! 



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About the Author
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Ashley Robinson

Ashley Sufflé Robinson has a Ph.D. in 19th Century English Literature. As a content writer for PrepScholar, Ashley is passionate about giving college-bound students the in-depth information they need to get into the school of their dreams.

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