I’ll let you in on a little secret – although my career and business are dedicated to counseling students on 4-year college admissions, I started MY college education at a community college. And it was the best choice I ever made.
Had I chosen to go straight to a 4-year college, I suspect it would have been a bad choice. At the time, I had zero guidance – my parents knew nothing about colleges and my large high school didn’t offer any college counseling that I recall. And I certainly didn’t have the good fortune to be working with an IEC! Who knows where I might have ended up?
But as it did turn out, my lack of clarity about college turned out to be a good thing. I spent two years at my local community college, and then transferred to UC Berkeley, where I proudly walked the stage two years later. By taking this path, I was able to clarify my goals, mature a bit more and gain admission to a college that would have been out of my reach as a high school senior. And perhaps best of all, I saved my parents a ton of money and never had to take out a dime in student loans.
Even in light of some very real challenges with community colleges, I remain a staunch supporter. It’s true that many students who attend community college take longer to graduate, or never graduate at all. But that does not have to be you. If you want to start at a community college and graduate on schedule, you can.
The secret, like with many things in life, is PLANNING AHEAD. Community colleges in most states have Articulations Agreements with many 4-year colleges; these are lists of courses a student must have taken in order to transfer in with junior status. For example, in California, the IGETC (Intersegmental General Education Transfer Curriculum) is a general education program that students can follow to meet the lower division requirements for UC or CSU colleges. Each community college publishes a list of which courses a student can take to meet the UC/CSU lower division requirements.
Follow IGETC, and you can be assured you’ll qualify for junior standing at any UC or CSU. While it doesn’t guarantee admission to your school of choice, you may be surprised to know that transfer admissions rates at most UCs are higher than those for first-time freshmen. So if UC Berkeley or UCLA reject you the first time around, this could be your ticket in, as it was for me.
In order to be a successful transfer student, find the Articulation Agreements between your community college and target 4-year school FIRST, plan your classes accordingly, and stick to the plan. Meet with the transfer counselor at your community college, every semester if possible, to ensure you are still on track. Be on top of the registration process to ensure you get the classes you need. Learn which classes at your community college tend to fill up fast, and be strategic about when you take those, or find alternatives. Plan to take a full load each semester, if possible, and also take summer classes.
And most importantly, approach community college with the same seriousness you would a 4-year college. Don’t think of it as “time to figure things out,” while you take whatever courses catch your eye. Think of it as your first two years of college, and your stepping stone towards whatever your educational or career goal may be.