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10 tips for transferring from community college to university

By Laurie Davies and Brian Fairbanks
December 16, 2021 • 8 Minutes

At a glance

  • Those with a bachelor’s degree experience a 1.5% lower unemployment rate than those with an associate degree, according to BLS.
  • Most community college students want to transfer to a four-year college, but few do. This is called a “transfer gap.”
  • Transferring from a community college takes a little bit of research. Ultimately, each college and university sets its own transfer rules.
  • University of Phoenix’s 3+1 Community College Transfer Pathway allows students to transfer up to 87 credits from a participating community college.

Transferring from community college to university

Moving from a community college to a university may feel daunting, and you probably have lots of questions, such as: Will an associate degree transfer to any college? How many credits do I need to transfer? And, do I have to graduate from community college to transfer?

While the process may seem confusing at first, making the switch isn’t as hard as you might think. In fact, transferring from a community college to a university may be the perfect step toward enhancing your career.

With the right research on the process of a community college transfer to a university, you can be on your way to a bachelor’s degree — possibly saving both time and money in the process.

So, settle into a comfy chair and get ready for a 101-level overview of transferring from a community college to a university with 10 tips on how to transfer, plus answers to five commonly asked questions.

Save time and money through the University of Phoenix 3+1 Transfer Pathway!

Is transferring from a community college to earn a bachelor’s degree worth it?

Ultimately, this question of whether transferring to a four-year institution to earn your bachelor’s degree is worth it is best answered by you and, really, it’s the first one you should ask yourself. So, before you dive into how to transfer from a community college to a university, it’s important to know if and why you want to.

There are many reasons why beginning your college career at a community college and then transferring to a university can be a smart decision. Likewise, there are reasons why it makes sense to take that next step in your education and turn your associate degree into a bachelor’s. These include:

Save money

Often, students will start their college journey at a community college, where tuition is lower than at a four-year university. This is especially true when someone doesn’t yet know what degree they want to pursue. Community college can make prerequisites cheaper and is a great opportunity to gain college credit (and experience studying at the college level) and transfer those to a university to save money on a bachelor’s degree. 

Save time

Community college can offer students more time to prepare for university life while shortening the time it takes to earn a bachelor’s degree. Many skills are needed to excel at the university level, such as time management, writing, and reading and comprehension. Community college is a great opportunity to practice and improve these skills before diving into the university experience and can reduce a typical four-year degree to one or two years, depending on the number of credits transferred. 

Earn credits

Most community college students attend classes for two years before transferring. This provides an opportunity to get prerequisite classes out of the way, and gives you time to determine what program to pursue if you’re unsure. Additionally, two years is a good amount of time to build up your GPA. In turn, many universities hold transfer students in high regard because they can be better prepared to succeed in the classroom and have a proven track record of taking and succeeding in college-level courses. 

Prepare for success

While an associate degree on its own has its benefits, a wider range of options is available to those with a higher degree. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), people with a bachelor’s degree earn more than $360 more per week than those with an associate degree. Additionally, those with a bachelor’s degree also experience a 1.5% lower unemployment rate than those with an associate degree.

Tips for transferring from community college to university


1.      Begin with the end in mind. If you think about which universities might help you achieve your goals, lifestyle, budget and field of study, you can select a compatible community college. Will your university offer financial scholarships? What are your university’s admission requirements?
 

2.      Check transfer policies. Call the admission offices of the community college and the university. Ask whether the university has a transfer agreement with your community college (also called an articulation agreement).

Pro tip: University of Phoenix offers a 3+1 Transfer Pathway, which allows students who enter an eligible degree program to transfer in 87 credits. This means such students can complete a bachelor’s degree in as little as 14 months.

3.      Review the cost. Just because a university will be more expensive doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to save money. Some universities offer transfer scholarships specifically designed for students making the leap. University of Phoenix even offers a special tuition rate to students with an associate degree.

4.      Understand entrance requirements. Some universities require essays or entrance exams while others don’t. And while you’re looking at entrance criteria, brush up on academic placement tests for community college too! You might think if you place lower, classes will be easier — but remedial classes may end up offering no credit. Aim high. You may save yourself a higher-tuition headache later.

5.      Talk to real people. So much great information is available online, but there’s no substitute for having real people answer your questions. If your community college has a transfer counselor, tap their expertise! If you have a university in mind, call its enrollment or admissions department to make sure you’re on the right track.

6.      Take an academic success class. A community college can be a great place to learn the skills you’ll need to succeed at a university. Many colleges have courses that review good study habits, time-management skills and career-planning tips.

7.      Choose a field of study. This one’s tricky, especially if one of your reasons for starting out at a community college was because you hadn’t settled on a career path. Your best option? Explore different areas of interest but keep in contact with your academic advisor to take prerequisites early. If you take too many general education classes, they may not all transfer.

Pro tip: University of Phoenix offers a career-interest assessment to help prospective students fine-tune their goals.

8.      Get documents together. Official course transcripts and other types of documents, such as essays or letters of recommendation, may be required for university admission. As with other steps in the transfer process, be meticulous about collecting required documents and meeting deadlines.

9.      Apply! Those two years of community college study will go faster than you think! Check university application deadlines and apply as soon as you’re eligible.

10. Attend orientation. It can feel like a big leap to move from a community college to a university. Attending your new school’s orientation can help you meet other students, as well as learn about your school’s resources. They may offer math tutoring, counseling services or career support at no extra cost to you.

Wondering how the money part of all this works? We break down the costs between traditional and online universities.

Frequently asked questions about community college transfer

Still have questions? We’ve got answers. Read on to learn more about what to expect if you transfer from a community college to a university. Here are five FAQs:

Will an associate degree transfer to any college?

No. Ultimately, each college and university sets its own credit transfer rules.

Just because you have finished two years at a community college doesn’t place you two years into every university’s four-year bachelor’s program. So be sure to check with the university to see what type of transfer agreement it has.

How do I find out a school’s transfer credit policy?

Look for schools that have a clearly defined transfer credit policy and/or a college transfer pathway program.

This isn’t as hard as it sounds. Many schools publish this information online and have online chat features or enrollment advisors available to answer your questions by phone.

Researching the transfer credit policy/articulation agreement for your desired university can guide your course selection. This can subsequently help save time and money. (You’ll take the classes you know will transfer, in other words.) Every university will offer a slightly different approach to transferring from a community college, so do your homework up front.

Does your GPA transfer from community college to university?

While making good grades in community college (aim for a 3.0 GPA or higher) can help lead to credit transferability and possibly even scholarship eligibility, your GPA almost always resets when you begin at your new institution. So, if you’re asking: Do grades transfer from a community college to a university, the answer is almost always no.

Credits transfer, grades don’t.

That said, universities differ on the required GPA for transferring from a community college to a university. Some will accept students with a GPA of 2.0 or above, while others require a GPA of 3.5 and up. There is no one rule that governs credits and GPA. It’s best to check with the university you plan to transfer to ahead of time.

How many credits do you need to transfer from a community college to a university?

Many colleges will accept up to 60 credits from a community college, and that roughly equates to two years of schooling. Universities will then require a transfer student to complete the remaining credits toward the degree there.

In other instances, a 3+1 transfer pathway like the one outlined above enables an eligible student to transfer as many as 87 credits.

When transferring to a four-year college, it’s important to find out its policies ahead of time.

Do I have to graduate from a community college to transfer?

No. Depending on a college or university’s credit evaluation process, you can transfer with varying levels of prior, eligible college credit. After just one year of community college, you may have many credits that could transfer to a four-year college with you. Again, check your school’s transfer credit policy. Often, credits earned at an accredited institution are eligible for transfer.

If you’re in a transfer pathway program, talk to your academic advisor before making any moves.