How to transfer from a community college to a four-year university (and use your credits!) – complete with a suggested transfer student timeline

College is the time to learn about who you are and what you want to do. Many students attending community college plan to transfer to a four-year anniversary after completing their associate’s degree. This setup is an easy way to save on your tuition bill! But how do you jump-start your transfer process and use your credits?

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Here’s how to transfer, step by step. If you’d prefer your information broken down as a timeline (what tasks to do each semester), jump to our timeline here.

Step 1: Plan ahead with your classes and applications

We have to make a lot of decisions in this new “world” of college. What major we want to study, what college or university is best for us, who we want to hang out with, and so on. Your major is one of the first aspects you’ll need to decide. Many community colleges recommend you front-load general classes. Depending on your major, this can range from geometry to biology, sociology to communication. Think “intro” classes. The downside with gen-ed classes is those credits might not be accepted at a four-year university. 

Unsure of what major is best for you? Check out your school’s career center!

Many community colleges (and four-year universities) offer college career center services for free! You can make an appointment, practice interviews, and take an assessment to better understand what college major is right for you. This is the perfect opportunity to understand what you’re interested in when you’re caught between studying Psychology and Communications.

It’d be more beneficial for you to choose a major and earn semester credits in those specific courses early in the game. That way, more of your credits have a chance to be accepted later down the line. 

Students transfer to four-year university

Step 2: Talk to your advisor

But let’s back up one more step: discuss your schedule with your advisor. Your advisor will be a tremendous resource throughout the entire transfer process. You can clarify which credits will qualify to transfer, understand whether you’ll receive an associate’s degree, find out what four-year universities accept transfer students, and discuss financial aid options you have. This will save you a lot of work and heartbreak later on when you’re trying to transfer.

Students discussing college options

Your advisor might give you an estimated timeline of where you should be with your credits to have just 2 more years at a 4-year university, to graduate with a BA.

Step 3: Review your options

Some community colleges have partnered with four-year universities through “articulation agreements.”

For example, DirectConnect to UCF is a popular Florida transfer program. Select students studying a Valencia College track may be offered guaranteed admission to the University of Central Florida. Students must graduate with their Associate of Arts or their Associates of Science. 

How is this possible? The community college and four-year university have an articulation agreement, or partnership, with each other. These programs promote a smoother transition for students, while promoting higher education. Keep in mind: colleges with an articulation agreement may hold certain transfer policies, so remember to find out those policies early (see: talk to your advisor), and then stay on top of your transfer track. Take the initiative with your future.

Student applying to transfer from community college to four-year university

Colleges determine what credits they’ll accept

You worked hard and woke up every day to earn your credits at your community college. Now that you want to transfer, you’ll need to research colleges that accept transfers, plus the college credits they accept. Some universities are influenced by state-wide articulation programs to accept or deny college credits. Speak with your community college advisor and double-check — no, triple-check — what credits the four-year universities accept. 

Student applying to transfer from community college to four-year university

Step 4: Follow up, follow up, follow up!

Always speak with your advisor to see if there are updates on transfer applications, information, and credit transfers. Be proactive! Your advisors are busy multitasking, and in the end, you’re the one person you can count on. Make sure you’re on par with other juniors at a four-year university to ensure you have the best experience ahead of you. Plan early, understand all the details, and be assertive. Ask questions and clarify all the information.

Student celebrating college transfer

Step 5: Don’t forget about financial aid

As a transfer student, you’re eligible for financial aid, just like any freshman would be. Try some Net Price Calculators to estimate how much the rest of your four-year university will cost, and budget for what you’ll need in scholarships and tuition. Then, apply for financial aid and get matched for scholarships through state funding and the Going Merry scholarship search. We also have a new list of College Scholarships (institutional scholarships and grants offered directly by universities), most of which are applicable for transfer students too. Finally, remember that there are some scholarships or grants specifically for transfer students

You have the resources on how to transfer to a four-year university, but what about the timing? We’re breaking down your community college transfer timeline so you can feel confident about your college career journey!

Check out this helpful college transfer timeline, broken down per year and per semester:

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Community College Year One, Fall Semester

Recommended number of credits: 1-29 quarter credits; 1 – 19 semester credits

Get familiar with your community college campus.

Attending college is exciting, but it might be a little overwhelming at first. You’ll have access to so many free resources for both your studies and your personal development. We recommend taking some time to get comfortable with where your classes are, finding out where your career resources are on campus, and how to schedule appointments with a counselor.

Discuss your questions (the who, what, when, where…) with your admissions counselor. Most counselors are very accessible for questions, so contact them with the method that works best for you via email, phone, or in person.

Focus on your college studies

Your first semester is the intro to your college experience, your studies, and your career! Stay focused on your school performance to make sure you start off on the right foot. Set yourself up so you can later brag in your essays about how awesome your grades are and how great your classes were, when you’re applying to a four-year university.

Explore options for your major, career, and four-year university.

Once you’ve learned about the career resources available to you on campus, we recommend focusing on the next steps in your college career. Think about your major, what you’re interested in studying, and what you want to do after graduating college. 

Also consider how you’ll get there: do you have a few universities in mind that you’ve always wanted to attend? Or is there a university with a great Business Finance program that you’re interested in transferring to?

There are a few ways you can go about exploring your options. You can schedule an appointment with your community college career center, do some research online, interview industry experts, or meet with your admissions counselor.  

We recommend finding a healthy balance of all of these options to ferret out the best information for your community college transfer timeline.

Schedule a meeting with a counselor to hold you accountable with your college transfer timeline

Your counselor and the college career center can help you figure out your next steps in your college major and in your career. Talk through what you’re interested in studying so your counselor can recommend universities to apply to. There’s not one community college transfer timeline plan that fits everyone’s goals, so you’ll get a customized action plan when you talk to your counselor.

Check out a transfer fair

Meet with representatives from colleges and universities that could be your next school to transfer to. Stop by college booths, collect brochures, and chat with different colleges to understand what programs, majors and courses they offer. Work on developing professional relationships at a transfer fair – one of those schools might just be where you earn your future bachelor’s degree!

Students discuss college transfer timeline to four-year university

Community College Year One, Spring Semester

Recommended number of credits: 30 – 45 quarter credits; 20 – 30 semester credits

Work on finishing general AA or AS requirements

Community colleges have different requirements to complete your general associate in arts or science degree. Make sure you’re on track with your semester credit hours and that you’ve signed up for the classes required for your major. You should be finished taking any general education classes this semester— so you can dive deeper in your specific subject next semester.

Narrow down your top college transfer picks

You’ve done the research on potential colleges to transfer to, so now it’s time to make a shortlist of 5-10 colleges to apply to. Some points to consider are:

  • Location – do you want to attend a school close to home, or can the school be anywhere in relation to your hometown?
  • Size – Do you want to go to a large university or a small, private college? 
  • Housing – Will you live on campus or off campus? What are the options there? 
  • Cost of attendance – How much is tuition? What kind of financial aid are you likely to get? If you have more questions about pricing, contact each university’s admissions office. (You can also check out some schools’ generous aid programs on Going Merry’s college scholarships pages.) 

Schedule college campus tours

Now that you have your initial list of ideal transfer colleges, it’s time to tour the campuses! Check online for campus tour times, usually offering group tours, or call the school directly to setup an appointment. Seeing the campus in person and talking with current students or representatives will help solidify your decision to attend (or not attend) those colleges. You’ll get an idea of what the campus environment is like, how close or far the walks (or drives) are to classes, and if this will work for your future.

College campus tour

Stay on top of deadlines and requirements

Once you’ve more or less finalized your university application list, consider making a calendar. This can be on your phone, on paper, on a dry-erase board, using our handy college list template – whatever works best for you! There are so many deadlines to remember when you’re transferring and applying to colleges. 

Keep an eye on these deadlines:

  • College applications
  • Financial aid applications
  • Housing
  • Any other deadlines!

You might also want to take note of individual universities’ application requirements, such as essays or standardized tests. 

Request letters of recommendation

Contact your current professors, any colleagues that may have inspired you, and ask for your letters of recommendation. These letters are crucial to your college application, as they boost your professional portfolio and validate your hard work throughout community college. Ask for these letters early so your recommenders can take their time with their responses, and you’ll have their letters in time for the next semester, when you should start sending in college applications. Remember to also give recommenders a brag sheet, so they know what to say about you! Here’s a template.

Learn about financial aid and start applying

Applying for financial aid early (notice a theme here?) helps you get a head-start on lowering your college tuition bill. This will help you understand how much financial aid you’ll need, and how much you may be eligible to receive.

Don’t forget about Going Merry’s awesome resources too! Here’s a list of recommended articles to check out regarding financial aid:

Start brainstorming (and writing) college essays for scholarships and general applications

College is more than just classes – it’s about building relationships, personal development, finding moments that inspire you. Channel all of these factors into your college essays, which can be submitted with your college and scholarship applications. During your first year of community college, take some time to sit down and think about what your defining moment is, and where you want to be in the future – personally and professionally.

Check in with your community college counselor

Confirm that you’re on track with your timeline. Your counselor can help hold you accountable, as well as help you talk through questions and pain points in preparing for your transfer.

College students talking in class

Community College Year Two, Fall Semester

Recommended number of credits: 46 – 60 quarter credits; 31 – 40 semester credits 

Start applying to 4-year universities

Keep in mind, most colleges operate with online applications and might have eliminated most paper applications. In any case, sending in an online application expedites the process, so we recommend doing it that way. 

We recommend that you submit your transfer application at the beginning of your last semester of community college. But at the very least, make sure you submit before the deadline! 

Review campus housing

Think about whether you want to live on campus in the dorms, nearby in a college-owned apartment, or off campus altogether. Once you decide on where you might want to live, review campus housing costs and applications.

Students walking around campus

Continue applying for financial aid, and follow up on existing applications

Scholarships and financial aid are available year-round. However, you can begin applying for the FAFSA on October 1, a year before you plan to transfer and attend a four-year university. Apply as early as possible. If you’ve already applied for scholarships and other financial aid, check the status of those applications to see if you need to submit additional information or if you’ve been awarded anything to use toward tuition next year.

(Psst – while government grants and institutional scholarships are super important, don’t forget about independent scholarships too! Sign up for Going Merry to find ones you’re eligible for.)

Create a personal portfolio with your college experience

An online portfolio is a great place to showcase your academic achievements, GPA, clubs and organizations, volunteer experience, courses you’ve taken in high school and community college related to your major or interests, as well as who you are outside of the classroom.

Look into an affordable or free option for an online portfolio, such as Adobe Portfolio, Behance, Dribbble, Wix, Squarespace, or WordPress. You can purchase your own domain (such as yourname.com), or opt for a free default domain, such as yourname.wordpress.com (if you go with WordPress).

Retrieve community college transcripts and academic test results (such as the SAT or ACT scores)

Request a copy of your college transcript and review it to make sure you have all the information needed to transfer. Confirm that your information is correct – everything from name to address, test scores, major and GPA. Your current school will most likely send your transcript directly to the four-year universities you’re applying to, which makes this step even more important!

Check in with your community college counselor

By now, you’ve developed a pretty good working relationship with your college counselor. You might have even received some friendly reminders from them about applications. Check in to ensure you’re all set with your college transfer timeline. Update your counselor with your major, universities you’ve applied to, financial aid, and other information as needed.

Happy graduating student with college transfer timeline

Community College Year Two, Spring Semester

Recommended number of credits: 61 – 90 quarter credits; 41 – 60 semester credits

Review college admissions decisions, including acceptance letters

By now, you’ll have received your college admissions decision letters determining which college(s) you can accept an offer from. This is where it gets fun. If you’ve been accepted to more than one college, compare schools side-by-side, from tuition to housing to major programs to school size. Choose the college that you’ll benefit from the most and that will make you the happiest. Let this university know you’re accepting their offer or admissions. Then reply to the other acceptance letter(s) to politely decline their offers. Make sure you send a thank you note when contacting the colleges – you never know when you’ll come in contact with them again!

Update financial aid information

Once you’ve accepted your offer to attend a four-year university, add your prospective colleges on your FAFSA. Submit confirmation of scholarships awarded and financial aid to the four-year university’s financial aid office for verification.

Schedule a meeting with an admissions counselor at the university you’re planning to attend

Here’s to your future! Now that you’re all set to transfer to a four-year university, you’ll need to meet with a counselor from that university. You might be able to schedule a phone call or video call, depending on the university, to review next steps and general “here’s what you need to know” details.

Check in with your community college counselor on your college transfer timeline

They’ve been there for you every step of the way! Run any last-minute questions or concerns by your community college counselor to wrap up. Make sure you have everything you need to move forward in transferring to your four-year university, and you’re on your way to success!

Go for it! Transfer.

Recommended number of credits: 90+ quarter credits; 60+ semester credits

You have all of the resources – you’ve kept an open line of communication with your counselor, and now it’s time to take the leap! You’ve got a bright future ahead of you, transferring from a community college to a four-year university, and we couldn’t be more excited for you. Enjoy the ride! Remember you can reach out to us if you still have questions, or contact your new admissions counselor for further guidance in your journey.

Students pose for graduation photos

We’re here for you all the way. Sign up for Going Merry today for free to apply for scholarships. We’re your one-stop shop for scholarship searches and applications.

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