How to use your Local Community College to Transfer to a more Traditional University

Are you a high school senior who is weighing your options for higher education? Have you realistically looked at your academic record and you know you don't have the grades to get into your ideal traditional school? Are you feeling overwhelmed and stressed out about your future?

If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, then you are in a very common situation that many high school seniors across the country are facing. The good news is that you do have a bright future. If you can't get into a traditional college or university right now, then it may be time to consider making the journey from community college to university as a transfer student. A community college transfer can complete all of the prerequisites for his or her major at a community college -- saving money in the long run -- and then move on to a traditional university when it is time to pursue the meat and potatoes of a major.

If you are ready to explore your options for college, then read on to learn everything future community college students need to know to weigh their higher education options and prepare for transferring to a traditional university or college in the future.

What's the first step in the process?

Now that you've decided that community college may be an option for you for at least the first two years of school, it's time to start planning for your transfer. The more you plan ahead, the better prepared you'll be and the less time and money you'll spend in the transfer process.

Do your research on transfer policies at the traditional university you are considering. Know what community colleges they will accept credits from and how much actual credit you will get when you transfer. Some traditional colleges will give you only partial credit for some classes you take at a community college. By and large, however, most general education classes -- such as freshman English and intro math and science classes -- will transfer easily.

Don't take a class you know will not transfer. This is something that you can determine ahead of time with just a little research.

Also, seek the guidance of mentors and experts who work in this field -- such as your high school guidance counselor or an admissions officer in the traditional college you are interested in attending.

In your research process, you'll also want to find out what grades are acceptable for transfer. Now, if you're planning on improving your grades to get into a traditional college, then you'll need to work hard to get the highest grade possible.

But if you struggle in a particular class, then at least know what the lowest grade the traditional College will accept for transfer credit. It's also wise to ask if the traditional college you are interested in is seeking students with a minimum GPA or an average GPA. Many colleges will publicly post statistics of the most recent accepted class, and those data points will be good information for you and set expectations for what you need to achieve in your community college classes.

What are the benefits of going to a community college and then transferring to a traditional university?

There are many benefits of attending a community college during your first year and then transferring to a traditional university. As mentioned above, many of the classes you take in your first two years are general education classes that can be completed just about anywhere there is an accredited community college. These classes are designed to get all students at a similar basic level and give them an equal-as-possible foundation for going deeper and exploring a niche of study -- otherwise known as a major.

The major classes are what set a traditional college apart, and you'll want to transfer by your sophomore year to make sure you can pursue your more targeted field of study at the traditional college of your choice. What many students don't realize is that when you transfer to a traditional college from a community college, no one but you will know that you were a transfer student. That's because your diploma will bear the name of the traditional college from where you graduated if you complete your study at the traditional college.

In addition to helping you get through general education classes, a community college is much less expensive than a traditional college. Technically, if you transfer 60 hours of credit -- usually equivalent to two years of university study -- you will be a junior by the time you reach a traditional university, and you'll pay for two years only at the traditional college's cost of your education.

In the end, you'll graduate college with less debt than you would if you had attended the traditional college for four years -- and you won't have missed out on the quality of classes all that much. Again, however, this is dependent on whether you are attending a good, accredited community college.

How do I prepare for selecting a major at a traditional university if I'm still at a community college?

The first two years of your higher education study is filled with general education classes -- and that is designed to give you a foundation and to bring students together on the same foundation. However, those two years of study also are a critical time for exploring topics and areas of academia that appeal to you.

Often students don't know what they want to do with their lives. Or, they may have an idea, but they find out they don't want to be a doctor and continue on a pre-med track. That's the beauty of those first two years of college. So take your general education classes during those first two years at a community college -- but also take a few electives that just appeal to you and interest you.

Take a neuroscience or Italian class. Take a creative writing or animal science class. Think outside of the box with your studies and open your mind to new possibilities. You may find that exploration at community college sets you on a new career track and helps you pursue a different major when you transfer to a traditional college.​

How do I weigh my future career and salary with the investment I'm making in college classes?

It's wise to think about the financial implications of pursuing one major over the other. But it's also important to think about what energizes you and sparks creativity, passion and vision in you. In the end, those latter outcomes are going to make you happier in life and help you stick with a career.

The key to weighing financial investment in a particular field of study and whether it is worth it to you is to consider if you can make money back to pay off your tuition by taking a particular job.

Visit the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics to explore your ideal career and to research the job outlook for that career in the next year and beyond. The website provides detailed salary predictions and indicates which career fields will be in more demand in the future.

This never replaces finding your true passion, but it does give you some practical and logical foundations for weighing what feels right for you. There isn't necessarily a right answer. It's more about what you decide to do with you. But making an informed decision won't happen without dreaming big and facing realistic limits.​

Does my ideal traditional university have a partnership with an area community college?

It's always good to do a little research to find out if your ideal traditional university has a relationship with a nearby community college. This makes transferring credits extremely easy because both schools are held to similar academic standards, and there is a consistency among courses. This is the case for Ohio State University and Columbus State Community College, for example. You can learn more about the Preferred Pathway Program here

Another example comes from Ferris State University in Michigan, which has partnerships with several state-wide community colleges so that there is an easy transfer of credits when the student is ready to transfer to Ferris State and meets the requirements. In this example, students also have the option of never leaving their community college while still earning a degree from Ferris State University.

The University of Central Florida has an agreement with several Florida community colleges that allows students who complete two years of study at the community college to earn an associate's degree. From there, the student can choose to carry on to earn a bachelor's at Central Florida.

The University of Louisiana Lafayette, which has agreements with local community colleges, sees the opportunity to make the transition from community college to a university in the state system as a pipeline for adding excellent students to the state's university system -- and incentivizes that by providing scholarship opportunities for transfer students.​