Balancing the transfer transition

Make the most of your community college while preparing while preparing for the next two years

Balancing the transfer transition

The interesting and complicated part about transferring from community college is that you are already prepared for the search process. After all, finding and deciding on a four-year school is much like the original college search you went through two years ago. You had to consider size, location, programs, student body and even atmosphere. So you’re an old pro at that part. But this is where it gets complicated. 

You have to do all of that while still being fully engaged in your current school. Sure you have to plan ahead. But if you are too busy living in tomorrow, you will forget to embrace today. Many community college students don’t participate on campus, join groups or even make friends during their first two years. Your days on a community college campus may be numbered, but they are a crucial part of your next step. So make the most of those years.

Patrick Kotary, a transfer student at The College of Saint Rose (, admits that being the new guy on campus can be a bit overwhelming. Getting acclimated with the new campus and its community is tough, and getting involved seems even more daunting. 

“It was sort of a challenge at the beginning to push myself to get involved on campus,” says Kotary, who majored in business administration with a concentration in entrepreneurship. “But there are so many opportunities to become a leader on campus. You really just have to put yourself out there and look into those things and go for it.”

We’ve got a few tips, from successful transfer students like Kotary and admission experts, to help make the most of your community college years, while still preparing you for transferring from community college for the next two! You’re not in high school anymore. College admission representatives judge transfer students differently than high school students. The biggest issues for transfer students are college grades. The further you get along in the college-level curriculum, the less they care about high school grades, says Todd Johnson, an independent educational consultant based in Minneapolis. 

“The real focus needs to be on getting the best grades you possibly can because that will give you the most options on transfer,” Johnson says.

The counselors are your friends. Talk to your counselor, transfer coordinator or registrar. Tell them what your plans are. For instance, if they know you are expecting to transfer to a certain school, they can help get you on the right path early and ensure you are taking the right courses. Kotary strongly suggests taking a visit to the registrar’s office to dig into your transfer equivalency. These visits helped him stay on track and even graduate early! Don’t waste time trying to figure it out on your own. 


Lean on the experts

Financial aid is still a must. It’s no secret that transfer students seem to get less financial aid than freshman. That’s why you need to ask a lot of questions about aid early on, says Johnson. For instance, does the school you’re considering as a transfer student offer merit-based awards for transfer students, need-based aid and what percent of need do you require? “It’s all fine and good to apply to school, but if you really can’t afford to go, it doesn’t help you,” Johnsons says. Kotary adds that although a lot of the transfer scholarships are advertised as two-year awards, be sure to talk this over with the school? Sometimes the school will work with you to ensure you can afford more than two years if necessary. 


Do your own homework

Remember those college fairs you attended in high school to help you decide on a school. Well, those don’t really exist at the college level. Sure there are a few, but most of the research will be gathered on your own. If there is a particular program you are interested in, make sure you investigate if it’s available. Don’t make assumptions about what colleges do or don’t offer. Also, talk to current students at the school. What do they like? What do they like least? How big is the department? Get to know the faculty and pay particular attention to the academic department you’re interested in. 


Schedule appointments with faculty

Are they accessible? Johnson says: If they don’t have time to meet with you now, how will it be when you are there? Just like you were warned before you made your first college decision, don’t make a transfer decision without visiting the college or university. Schools have personalities. You have to visit them, walk down the halls and get a feel for the campus.

What’s your timeline? Make sure the time you spend at your community college counts. What’s the graduation rate like at your transfer school? Is it four years or is it six? Johnson says you have to consider the time and money you’re investing when transferring from community college. 

“How many years are you going to pay for?” So think twice about going to a four-year school that won’t accept all or most of your credits. You don’t want to start worrying about the lost opportunity costs, which is the price of not being out in the workforce earning money and building your career. 

Transferring can be a bit of work, but it’s not impossible and it could be the right next step for you. Take Kotary for example. He’s set to graduate in December from his transfer school, earlier than expected and with more financial aid than his first school offered. So although he admits the transfer process seemed intimidating at first, he’s thrilled he made the move. 

“Don’t be afraid of the process. It’s a lot easier than a lot of people think it is,” he says. 


Transfer timeline


Here's what to do to prepare for a smooth transition:

The sooner you start preparing for your transfer, the better. During your first year in college, start working toward your transfer process. Here’s a suggested step-by-step, although processes may vary from school to school. That’s why it’s so important to talk to your counselors and transfer coordinators early and often. They can help develop a personalized plan for success!


First semester

Start thinking about the transfer as soon as possible and gather as much information as possible. Not sure on a major? That’s OK. You can apply to the college and decide on a major later. But if you are confident in your major, apply specifically to that program.


Second semester

Look for scholarship and grant information. Keep in touch with the school to discuss awards. Email faculty and department chairs to get more information.


Third semester

Decide on a school and/or program. Apply and include a resume and recommendations. You want to stand out from the other applicants. Visit your transfer office for advice. 


Fourth semester

Submit your FAFSA (as soon after Jan. 1 as possible) and apply for any other need-based financial aid. Make sure your application is filed and all deposits are paid. Don’t forget to visit the campus and talk to other students, staff and faculty. Get ready for your big move!


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