Dear Dr. LaScala:
My family can't afford to send me straight to a 4 year college. My dream is to attend a community college and transfer to UC San Diego. I'm adopted and have loving parents. My goal is to earn a degree in social work and work as an adoption caseworker. What are my chances of filling all the requirements, and maybe trying to hold down a part-time job and still transfer in 2 years? And the California public education cuts have made the road seem rockier than ever. I know getting the right advice at the right time is very important.
Danielle in Danville
Unfortunately, your predicament is not unique. A slice of historical context will help shed light on the difficult situation many students face. In 1960 the California state legislature ratified the Master Plan for Higher Education; the community college system and its accompanying transfer option to a 4 year state university was born. As designed in 1960, the system rested heavily on a healthy transfer function between the California Community Colleges (CCCs) (112 state-wide accredited 2-year colleges) and California's public four-year institutions. The basic design has not changed over the intervening five decades, nor has the role of the CCCs. These colleges remain critical to a healthy transfer path to California's public four-year institutions (made up of the 9 University of California campuses, called the UCs and 23 California State Universities, the CSUs.) However, what have changed dramatically are the demographics of the state and fiscal realities. Students who plan to attend a community college and transfer to either a UC campus or a CSU must bravely confront a new world.
I can offer the following recommendations about how to beat the odds and use the transfer path successfully.
1. Don't Make Community College An Afterthought: You are wise to think about your transfer strategies early. The community college option should not be a late addition to your college admissions plan. Transfer to a 4-year school is a process that is ideally planned well in advance -- ideally with a written game plan for the entire 2 years. Now more than ever it takes MORE planning to be a successful transfer student.
2. Go Beyond Your High School's Requirements for Graduation: Earning a grade of 'C' or preferably 'B' or better in UC/CSU required coursework in high school increases your chances of passing the required assessment exams that place you in college English and math coursework in a community college environment. That means you may well be able to skip over remedial classes that have no transfer credits. So don't slack off in high school!
3. Identify Your Transfer Path in High School: At the end of your junior year or early in your senior year begin to research both the CCCs as well as the 4-year public or private universities you are interested in attending to complete your degree. Visit the campuses and make appointments with the counseling departments. Then really zero in on the schools that make it to your final list.
4. Discover Articulation Agreements: Most CCCs have what are called articulation agreements in place, often with both private and public 4-year schools. These matriculation agreements specify the required general education courses as well as prerequisites for your intended major. Select classes with your articulation plan clearly in mind. But BEWARE! Many universities, especially state schools, change their transfer requirements on occasion. Staying up-to-date on the changes is your responsibility. And now with the state's budgetary challenges, the transfer path can become a moving target. Your best bet is to identify a counselor you can work with at your primary CCC early. Then stay in touch by meeting regularly.
5. Be prepared to enroll in classes at more than one CCC: Although it may be inconvenient, you may have to consider taking required, transferrable coursework at more than one CCC in order to get the classes you need to move forward along the transfer path.
6. Take A College Success Class: Learning how to balance academics with the other obligations in your life is critical. Taking a college student success course during the summer before you start classes will focus your attention on the development of an academic plan with associated milestones. These classes are becoming more popular, although they are called by different names. If your CCC does not offer one, find one at a different school and enroll. New evidence indicates that students who take such a course have more success.
7. Your Grade Point Average (GPA) Is the Best Predictor of Success: Just as in high school, your GPA (in classes that have transfer credits) is the single most important factor in the transfer admissions decision. Study hard and get tutoring help early. Don't wait to fail or drop a class. That only delays your transfer plans.
8. Don't Let Life Get in The Way: Students who can attend CCC full-time are more likely to earn a degree. Try to build the rest of your life around your academic priorities.
Visit www.assist.org for detailed information to guide your transfer path. The CCC counselors and this website are indispensable tools as you navigate the process.
Elizabeth LaScala, Ph.D. is an independent college admissions advisor located in Lafayette, California. Her goal is to help students and their families understand the college admissions process, research college and career options, create a college list and prepare a strong, organized and cohesive application. Dr. LaScala is a member of NACAC, WACAC, and HECA and earned a certification in College Admissions and Career Planning from University of California at Berkeley. Visit www.doingcollege.com or call (925) 891-4491 or write firstname.lastname@example.org.