Expert Tips for the Transition From Community College to University

It was spring 2004: my final semester of community college.

I was graduating with a bright future ahead, preparing to transfer to a prestigious four-year university. I went to my favorite professor — one who had helped me get into my four-year liberal arts school by suggesting I apply to their non-traditional scholars program and provided a recommendation which, no doubt, sealed the deal. With a graded paper in hand, I arrived at his office to discuss what had been, up to this point, a rare occurrence. I handed him my final paper and asked, “I am curious, why did I get a B?” He looked straight at me, handed the paper back, flashed a wry smile and in the flattest tone he could conjure, said, “Get used to it.”

This is one of the many ways I am thankful for the phenomenal professors I encountered at my community college, and one of the first wake-up calls I had to the fact that, with this transition, life was about to change. Of course there were rumors, pieces of advice, and expectations regarding the transition to a four-year, but at the end of the day, it boiled down to experiencing this transition firsthand. As such, I’d like to offer advice to those community college students considering, planning, or already transitioning to a four-year school.

My first and most resounding piece of advice above and beyond all else is: Do it!

Don’t let anything hold you back, ever, from obtaining a bachelor’s degree, no matter your age or circumstance. With that honest encouragement in mind, it is worthwhile to enter this transition wisely. Although each student will have variants in her circumstances which alter the color and detail of the transition, as a fellow community college transfer, I am confident that some, if not most, of my advice will resonate and prove useful.

One of the major factors a community college student considers when applying and eventually accepting an offer to a four-year is paying for college. I will admit it was mine. But the truth is, thinking I couldn’t afford a school with high tuition is the biggest misconception I had. Many private and public four-year colleges have endowments that provide generous grants to students with financial need. Additionally, consider the fact that a large portion of community college students are somewhat older than traditional students upon matriculation to a four-year, often closer to the age of 24. From the financial perspective, this is the magical age at which students are considered independent. Therefore, if you are 24 years old — typically by December 31 of the given aid year — the FAFSA doesn’t consider parental income when calculating financial aid packages. Furthermore, in all likelihood you have already saved a significant amount by attending a community college. If you are a high performing student, I strongly encourage you to look into the availability of scholarships. You would be surprised at how much is out there.

You may hear a lot of student loan horror stories, and student debt is rightfully a hot topic right now. However, options do exist to minimize the total financial weight of a bachelor’s degree while obtaining it from your first choice or dream school. Bear in mind that often four-year schools increase your financial obligation each year. The aid package you enter with may or may not be your aid package the following year.

My advice: Fill out the FAFSA and any other required financial aid forms early each year, and utilize your financial aid office to help guide you.

Continue reading Janelle’s guide to transitioning from a community college to a four-year school with her expert advice about adjusting to campus life after community college.