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My Computer Science degree has Arnold Schwarzenegger's Autograph

Even if you attend a 2-year school first, your degree still looks the same. (Though yours may not feature Schwarzenegger’s autograph like this guy’s does.)

Interested in transferring from a community college? You came to the right place. Former community college student Diane Melville tells SALT Blog readers what courses to take, how to stand out as a transfer applicant, and some other tricks she learned along the way—like why 2 + 2 = a lot of money in your pocket. Keep reading to learn more.

Transferring from a community college to a 4-year university is old news. For many years, students have earned course credit through community college classes and applied those credits (i.e., “transfer”) to a degree at a 4-year university.

The process itself is rather simple:

  • Take general education classes at an affordable community college.
  • Apply for acceptance to a 4-year university.
  • Graduate with a bachelor’s degree.
  • Save money!

With the cost of a traditional 4-year college experience skyrocketing, more and more families have turned to the community college transfer process (also known as “2 + 2″—meaning 2 years at a community college and 2 years in a bachelor’s program).

I am a huge supporter of the transfer process. Transferring is the single best decision for many families that are stuck wondering how they are going to afford college tuition. Here are 3 simple reasons why.


This is a big one. Everyone knows that community college tuitions are incredibly low. On average, it’ll cost you $2,963 for an entire year at a community college compared to $8,244 per year if you take the traditional route. That’s a total 2-year savings of $10,562! 

For those of you who think, “Well, it’s cheap for a reason—community colleges are not as rigorous as a traditional university,” please keep reading.


When I walked across the stage at Babson College’s graduation ceremony and picked up my bachelor’s degree, it didn’t say “attended community college and earned a bachelor’s degree.” On the contrary, I received the same exact degree as the students who attended Babson from day one.

The truth is that the general education courses offered at community colleges are pretty standardized. Calculus, English 101, and Philosophy 101 are all basic courses that cover the same vanilla material regardless of where you take them. That is why transferring exists.

While it is true that every college has a different educational philosophy and caliber of courses, universities also understand that the true value of their degree rests in the strength of their junior and senior level courses. At the end of the day, no one even has to know that you started off at a community college.


Transfer acceptance rates change year to year. Each school looks at their incoming class, their dropouts, and their study-abroad students to determine how much space they have for transfer students. One year, Harvard boasted a 10% transfer acceptance rate; another year, it only accepted 4% of students.

However, it’s not the “acceptance rate” that matters, but rather the competition. As a high school student, you are competing against tens of thousands of other applicants, whereas a transfer student is at most competing against a couple hundred.

This is important to note because you are not up against the perfect SAT score, 4.0 GPA, or cancer-curing applicants. Those kids already got into a college. You are competing against a different group of applicants—and it doesn’t take quite as many fireworks to stand out from the crowd.

Have questions about the transfer process? Let us know in the comments. 

(Photo: blue_j/Flickr)

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  1. Aaron Weber September 18, 2012 / 1:07 pm

    What are the circumstances when it would not make sense to do the transfer shuffle? It saves money, yes, but there are certainly disadvantages, too. The ones I can think of include:
    1) Schools aren’t always clear about what work transfers, and different colleges that you transfer to may offer different amounts of credit for your work.
    2) You’re competing for a smaller number of slots.

    Another thing someone pointed out to me recently is that a large number of people transfer the opposite way: They start at a 4-year and then transfer to a 2-year later on to finish up a degree.

    • Diane Melville September 19, 2012 / 5:15 pm


      When I discuss transfer, i’m discussing from community college to a 4-year college. Some students drop out of 4-year colleges in favor of community college and some transfer from a 4-year school to another 4-year school.

      Regarding your other question:

      1. Yes, schools are notoriously confused about what transfers and what won’t. However, I find that when students take general, vanilla general education courses while attending community college, they have a much easier time transferring credits. It’s about sticking to the AA plan and taking courses that are building toward your major. It’s NOT about taking cool or interesting classes while in community college. The risk is too high that that “interesting” course won’t be accepted because the school doesn’t have a similar course.

      2. Yes, you are competing for a smaller amount of slots in some cases, but you are also competing against fewer students. Standing out from the 35K freshman applicants to Harvard College is a lot harder than prepping for two years to stand out among a very different, smaller crowd of 1500. In other cases, transfer has a significantly higher admission rate. Less applicants + higher admission rate definitely trumps more “spots.”

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