Acceptance packet from PSU. Photo from author’s archives.

In my senior year of high school, I was all ready to graduate and go to an institution of higher learning. I had looked at a bunch of schools’ sites and read about them in hefty books of school rankings, gone to fairs, met with recruiters, even toured a few places. I had already taken my SATs and gotten my not-too-shabby scores back (I would have done better, but math is like my kryptonite). I was ready.

Or so I thought. Getting scholarships and applying to schools is scary without support from a school counselor, and the spectre of Impostor Syndrome caught up with me. I graduated from high school and — without applying to a single one of the schools I’d looked at — went quietly into community college, where I flailed around discontentedly, eventually failing a few classes and dropping out to work.

Two years later, I wanted to go back to school, but I had no idea how. I awkwardly browsed the pamphlets at the admissions and testing office of Portland Community College and decided that I was going to transfer to Portland State University. I had considered the school back in high school, but was worried I wouldn’t have good enough grades to get in. Back then, I let that scare me away from even trying, but this time I was determined not to let my own fear of rejection stop me from trying to get in. This time, I was going for it, no matter what.

Spoiler alert: I got in.

A lot of first-generation students and students who grew up in poverty don’t have access to the structures that are built to help us succeed in higher education. We can be reluctant to reach “too high” or hope too much, and we can get pretty worried about finances. Often, we get convinced we are not smart enough for university, so we go to community colleges. CCs offer evening or night classes, online classes, small class sizes— and all cheaply priced enough that working parents and low-income families can usually afford them. They lack the prestige of a four-year university, sure, but they are also the most accessible form of higher education, and a great place to get pre-requisites done for relatively little money.

Still, it’s also true that associate’s degrees don’t have the same cachet as bachelor’s degrees. With the recent economic downturn, attaining a four-year degree has become more difficult, at the same time as it’s being seen as the key to economic success. Above minimum wage, most jobs require a bachelor’s, at the very least, so going to university is pretty much necessary. (The stories of successful college drop-outs notwithstanding; just saying, there are 7 billion people on the earth, and only one of them was Steve Jobs. It’s probably best to stay in school.)

As mentioned, CCs are great for a lot of reasons, including flexibility in scheduling, and the chance to build a fresh record of good grades to replace poor high school performance. Another reason is the opportunity to finish pre-requisites at a lower per-credit cost. Going to a CC for your pre-reqs makes money sense, but how do you navigate the process of transferring to a four-year school?

Your Road Map to Transfer Success:

(Please note that it is necessary to check your particular schools’ policies; this is just a general overview.)

Step 1: Pick a target school. You’ve got this one, right? A good first step is to know where you are transferring to.

Pamphlet from a transfer student orientation. Photo from author’s archives.

Step 2: Fill out the FAFSA with your target school’s code. In order to make sure you’ll get financial aid, if you use it, you’ll have to include your target school’s code when you apply for the next year’s financial aid.

Step 3: Meet with an advisor in the Admissions Office of your target school. Meeting with an Admissions Officer will give you a better chance of a smooth transfer. They’ll help you clarify your educational goals and give you a sense of the campus climate. They can also help you fill out forms and help you figure out which of your credits will transfer. Many schools require a minimum number of credits to be admitted as a transfer student, and some schools place a limit on how many credits you can transfer; the Admissions Officer can tell you more about policies like these.

Step 4: Meet with an advisor at your CC. Your CC advisor can make sure you have all the relevant information that your target school will ask for, and help you order your transcript.

Step 5: Order your transcript. This will definitely be required. Policies around this can be really finicky, and you’ll want to make sure your CC complies with your target university’s requirements. Generally, you will have to fill out a form to order the transcript, and this will ask for an address at your target school, where they will send an official, sealed envelope; if the envelope is opened, the target school will reject the transcript, and you’ll have to order it again.

Step 6: Submit an application to your target school. This will include an application form, your CC transcripts, and an application fee, generally non-refundable. If you don’t meet the minimum credit requirements, the university may also require a high school transcript, and your SAT/ACT scores. If you meet with advisors, they will have already helped you figure out what you would need. Make sure you have everything required before sending your application in, and be sure you submit in plenty of time before the relevant deadlines.

Step 7: Get accepted. You are a rockstar, and were super fastidious about meeting all requirements — bam! Acceptance Train coming into Transfer Platform from Community Collegeton, headed for Universityville… It is appropriate to do a little dance right now.

Step 8: Get oriented and get going. Once you’ve been accepted, check to make sure your credits transferred. Go to the Transfer Student Orientation, and meet with an advisor to pick your classes and plan your degree path.

Slam. Dunk. Go forth and own this thing. You can do it!

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