10 Tips for Transferring to a Four-Year College

A two-year college can be a great place to start a chemistry career. Two-year colleges generally have lower tuition and have smaller class sizes compared with large state universities. Also, because faculty are hired to be educators rather than researchers, they are often more flexible and use more innovative teaching methods.

But, if your ultimate goal is to earn a bachelor’s degree, you will have to transfer to a four-year institution at some point. Here are some tips to help smooth your transition from a two-year school to a four-year school.

1. Talk to an academic advisor

Academic advisors can help you figure out an optimum path for reaching your goals. If those goals include transfer, be sure to talk to a professional transfer advisor. Such advisors will be familiar with any articulation agreements between your current two-year college (known as your “home institution”) and the school to which you plan to transfer (your “transfer institution”). An articulation agreement is a formalized arrangement which provides that the two schools will accept each other’s transferred classes and which details how they will address students’ transition challenges.

If you know at the start of your college career that you'll be transferring to a four-year institution, be sure to speak with an academic advisor or faculty member as early as possible. They can guide you in planning coursework to get you transfer-ready.

You should visit with a transfer advisor at the four-year institution at least one semester before you expect to transfer. Make sure that the advisor you are talking to is an academic advisor, not a faculty advisor. Faculty advisors can give great advice about careers, classes, and jobs; but when you want advice about transferring, see an academic advisor who is aware of the intricacies of transfer.

2. Ask lots of questions

Your transfer process will be unique to you, and you are your own best advocate. Here are some key questions to ask:

  • Are there articulation agreements between my home institution and my chosen transfer institution?
  • What documents do I  need to ensure that my credits transfer? Without an articulation agreement (or sometimes even with one) someone at the transfer institution will need to review your courses. You need to ask the transfer office at the transfer institution what information they need. For example, they may need to see syllabi for your classes and may want to know which textbook(s) you used.
  • Will my courses transfer as intended? For example, will General Chemistry I transfer as General Chemistry I, or does it transfer as a chemistry elective?
  • What are the deadlines for the application, financial aid, and other required documents?

3. Get to know your professors

Two-year college faculty are accustomed to helping students through the transfer process. They may know the faculty at your transfer institution and they can help you make contacts. They can also give you good recommendation letters because they already know you as a student.

4. Take all sequence courses at the same institution

Both chemistry faculty and transfer advisors generally recommend taking courses sequentially at the same school. For example, if you take General Chemistry I at a two-year college, make sure to take General Chemistry II there as well. Although most schools cover the same topics throughout the year, there may be differences in whether a topic is covered in part I or II of the course. Changes in textbook, teaching styles, and institutional policies can also be mitigated by taking a given sequence at the same school.

5. Know your credit requirements

A bachelor’s degree requires a set number of upper-division classes (junior and senior level). The exact amount varies by state and school, and these classes cannot be taken at a community college. Specific requirements can occasionally be waived by a department, but an upper-division elective will still be required. For example, you may be able to get credit for that great analytical chemistry class you took at the two-year college, but you will still need another upper-division class to graduate.

6. Complete your associate’s degree before you transfer

Getting your associate’s degree is helpful for a number of reasons. First, degrees often transfer more easily than individual courses. Second, an associate’s degree certifies that you have completed all of your general education requirements (be sure you have a basic understanding of the general education requirements at the school to which you are transferring). Finally, an associate’s degree provides you with a credential to fall back on should you need to put your bachelor’s work on hold for any reason.

7. Hang on to your course syllabi

You should always keep copies of your course syllabi in case you need to appeal a school’s decision regarding your previous courses. Of course, you can always go back to your previous professors and ask for the syllabus, but that just adds more things for you to do.

8. Look for financial aid

Financial aid doesn’t last forever. If you spend too much time and money taking classes at your home institution, you may use up your eligibility for financial aid while trying to finish up your degree at the more expensive four-year institution. Always keep your eyes open for new financial aid opportunities; many schools have scholarships specifically for transfer students.

9. Prepare for the actual transfer

Start the process early. Keep track of all deadlines, and meet them. Make sure that you turn in the application for admission, the processing fee(s), and all supporting credentials. These three things seem obvious, but if something is missing or late, you won’t be able to transfer.

You will need official transcripts from all colleges and universities you have attended. These must be mailed by the school you attended directly to the office of admissions at the transfer institution (which usually requires you to pay a processing fee). If you have fewer than 30 credit hours at the two-year college, you may also need a high school transcript and ACT/SAT scores.

You will also want to contact some of the professors at the school you are transferring to. If they know you are coming, they can help you with the transition.

Visit the campus. If there are any orientations or workshops for transfer students, be sure to attend them.

10. Stay engaged post-transfer

Transitions are always difficult. You are entering a completely new environment, with new faces, buildings, rhythms, and routines. Get to know as many students and professors (undergraduate and graduate) as possible. If there is an ACS student chapter (or another interesting club), join it. Students who are involved in campus activities are generally happier, do better in their classes, and graduate sooner.

There are additional benefits to engaging with students and professors at the transfer institution. For example, you never know who could become a mentor, answer your questions, or help you in other ways. You may need a student mentor to help you navigate the new campus, choose professors, find friends, and possibly find research opportunities. A good faculty mentor can help plan your career, choose a graduate school, and even plan your classes so that you can graduate on time. Of course, you will also need their help when it comes time for those letters of recommendation.

In an ideal world, the transfer process would be seamless. But the world isn’t perfect, so you should anticipate problems that might arise, and plan as much as possible to prevent them.

For more resources, visit the student transfer webpage.

Last updated 11/11/2019

About the Author

Neil Bastian, Ph.D., is a professor in the chemistry department at Salt Lake Community College in Utah. He is also a member of the ACS Undergraduate Programming Advisory Board.