Lots of people decide to start college at a community college. The location is convenient, tuition and fees are modest, and most may not yet know what they want to major in. If you're in this position, community college is a great choice AND it can be a successful springboard to a four-year-college or a university.
You can earn up to half the credits for a bachelor's degree at a community college. You just have to make sure that credit for the courses you take there can be transferred to the four-year schools you are considering.
Articulation Agreements Are Your Friends
The good news it that many states have articulation agreements—policies that allow credits earned at community colleges to be transferred smoothly to other institutions within the state.
In North Carolina, if you attend a state community college, have the required GPA and earn an AA (Associate of Arts) or AS (Associate of Science) two-year degree, you will be admitted to one of the 16 UNC institutions at the status of a junior.
The AA and AS are general college-prep degrees. The courses the community college requires for them generally transfer as UGETC courses (Universal General Education Transfer Courses) and are automatically accepted as long as you earn a grade of C or above.
Checking Individual Scores
Even if you don't earn an associate's degree or you earn an AAS (Associate of Applied Science), many of your courses will transfer, but each will have to be checked individually against the Comprehensive Articulation Agreement Transfer Course List, which lists all the available community college courses in the state and their transfer designation.
Below is a sample of courses in the field of art from the North Carolina Articulation Agreement.
The list in the above graphic tells us the following:
- Courses like ART 111, ART 114, and ART 115 are part of the AA/AS curriculum and transfer as UGETC courses. They are applied toward freshman/sophomore lower division General Education requirements at all UNC institutions.
- ART 116, ART 117 could both be applied to General Education requirements.
- ART 118, ART 121, and ART 122 would probably be taken by students hoping to major in art or used as an elective.
Keep in mind that each major will have different requirements.
Be Mindful Of Your Major
At some point as you go through community college, you must decide what you want to major in and make sure you've taken the right courses to meet the requirements. According to Dr. Stephen Handel, Executive Director of Community College Initiatives at The College Board, the sooner, the better:
Preparing for transfer begins on the first day that the student begins at the community college. In fact, it begins in high school. What high school students forget is that community college is college. . . . So they might say, "well, I don't know what I want to major in." That's fine. Then start taking some General Education courses.
Even if a student has a tentative plan when they begin at a community college, their chances of actually making progress and then making the transition to the four-year institutions are much greater. The real problem I see with many students in community colleges is they wander. They take a course here. They take a course there. They go part-time. And they don't really focus on any goal. And I think it's most critical that, even at the beginning and even if it's tentative, that they focus on a goal at the very beginning. (View the full video on The College Board's website.)
Take A Look At Transfer Requirements
Once you start community college, the best strategy is to start looking at the four-year colleges you are considering and find out their transfer requirements. Google each institution's name and "transfer students." Here are UNCG's transfer requirements.
Some colleges use the "centralized degree audit and articulation service" Transferology, which takes your information and tells you which colleges will give you credit for your courses.
Resources To Help You Plan
The key to transferring credit is to know what major you're going to use them for and to start planning early. Here are some resources to help you do just that:
- North Carolina Articulation Agreement
- UNCG Comprehensive Articulation Agreement Curriculum Plans (includes requirements for specific majors)
- Wikipedia: Transfer credit