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9 Tips to a Successful Transfer from a Community College

Transfer students walk across a college campus

Starting your college journey at a community college has many benefits. You can save money on tuition, live at home, and enjoy smaller class sizes and greater flexibility. All these benefits will go a long way towards supporting your aspirations, which are usually to obtain a degree after transferring to a four-year college.  

However, many community college students who want to get a bachelor’s degree never do. Recent data from a multi-year study revealed that only 16% of community college students transferred to a four-year institution and completed their baccalaureate degree. Lower-income students were significantly less likely than their higher-income peers to transfer and obtain degrees.  

One primary reason so many students fail to achieve their goal of transferring and graduating is that the path to obtaining a bachelor’s degree is littered with potholes. However, we’ve talked to the experts and pulled together tips to help make the journey less confusing.  

Whether you want to transfer from a community college to a university or simply switch community colleges, here are ten things you can do to make your transition to a new school easier.  

How to Successfully Transfer from a Community College  

1. Study for Placement Tests 

Community colleges routinely require entering students to take placement tests in math and English. Studies show, however, that these tests can unfairly consign students to remedial courses that do not offer credit.  

According to Davis Jenkins, a senior research scholar at the Community College Research Center at Columbia University, 30% of the time, test takers are under-placed in English and math courses. The good news is that you can study for placement tests to avoid getting stuck in remedial classes that offer no credit.  

Many colleges offer placement test study aids. So, check with your testing center or your counselor to see if you can access a list of recommended materials. One helpful and free test-prep resource is the Khan Academy. 

2. If You Test into Remedial Courses, Appeal the Placement  

Consider appealing that verdict if you find yourself assigned to unnecessary remedial courses. Students who show enough gumption to appeal are more likely to succeed in skipping remedial classes. Don’t believe us? Well, here’s another thing to consider. Studies consistently indicate that your high school grade point average is more accurate than placement test results for predicting success

Of course, if you have been placed in a remedial course and know you need to go back and build a foundation, then don’t hesitate to take the class. It’s much smarter to take the class and go on to thrive throughout your college journey instead of skipping it and struggling later.  

3. Don’t Front-Load General Education Credits 

Although it’s easy to think you should sample a wide variety of courses at the community college level, this will often lead to earning excess credits that aren’t carried over when you transfer. Community colleges make this course sampling easy by offering a cafeteria model of choices, which is helpful for students who aren’t sure what they want to major in.  

But senior research scholar, David Jenkins, says it most bluntly when he explains, “When students wander around in the general eds, they are going nowhere.” So, it’s best to avoid the temptation of taking fun or exciting classes that aren’t required or helpful for your major.  

4. Don’t Delay Selecting a Major 

As we alluded to above, you need to know your end goal to help you take the shortest path to reach it. "Community college students who successfully transfer are more likely to pick a major early," said Natalie Jansorn, VP of scholarship programs at the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation. This is especially important for majors in the sciences, engineering, and nursing since they have many prerequisites. 

Not sure about a major? Seek help at the career center, where you can take career tests and find internships and work-study opportunities. Jansorn says you’ll be better off if you pick a major early, even if you decide to switch to another one later. 

5. Develop a Plan for Your Eventual Transfer 

Unfortunately, it’s common for students to lose credits during a transfer. So, if your goal is to transfer, starting community college with a plan is essential.  

Speak to your advisor to see the academic path for the majors you’re interested in. You can also talk to the transfer advisors at four-year institutions and professors at your intended department. Then identify the potential classes that will help you progress toward your goal.  

6. Network with Advisors 

Meeting with transfer advisors at the community college and talking with professors in your intended academic field will be helpful. You can learn something from everyone you meet. And remember, these people want to support you and see you succeed, so don’t hesitate to reach out to them. That’s why they’re there.  

7. Take a Student Success Course 

Community colleges routinely offer a student success or study essentials course that covers critical information about studying and time management. Studies show that students who take these optional courses are more likely to stay in school and transfer to four-year universities. 

A study from the Center for Community College Student Engagement concluded that students who complete a success course are more likely to earn better grades, have higher overall grade point averages, and obtain degrees.  

8. Check out Potential Universities 

Be sure to understand your costs at a four-year institution before transferring. Some universities offer net price calculators for transfer students. Many colleges and universities also provide scholarships and financial aid to transfer students. Therefore, we recommend scheduling a talk with a financial aid administrator to ensure you take advantage of all your potential aid options. 

You can also take our college match quiz to find colleges you can transfer to by clicking on this link

9. Hang in There 

It can be tough to navigate the process successfully, but students who persevere through a transfer do just as well as those who started at four-year schools. Plus, you get all the benefits we mentioned above. But to succeed, you need to be your own advocate. 

Transfer Successfully with Cappex

We’re often asked questions like how to transfer from a community college to a university or even what classes to take in community college to ensure a smooth transfer. So, you're not alone if you still have questions like these. Click the button below to check out our Cappex College Transfer Center for resources like videos, articles, and a helpful list of FAQs.  

Click this link to create a Cappex account where you can search and save schools, see transfer acceptance rates, access scholarships, and even apply for our $1,000 easy money scholarship.  





This article was originally written with the help of Lynn O’Shaughnessy, a best-selling author, speaker, and journalist. Her book, The College Solution: A Guide for Everyone Looking for the Right School at the Right Price, is available on 


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