Making the jump from community college to a university, part 1 – strategically selecting classes

27 Feb

Planning ahead is one of the biggest keys to successfully making the move from a community college to a four-year school. The best way you can do that is to strategically take courses at the community level, depending on your major, what transfers, what doesn’t, and what your goals are at the four-year school.

Heading into a four-year school after 2 years at community, you should have a good idea about your major. While you’re still at community, plan exactly what courses you want to transfer over to a four-year school. Your first step should be to find out what your target school(s) will accept as transfer credits and what they won’t accept. If you’re transferring in-state, this should be easy – many states and state schools have credit transfer agreements with in-state community colleges. If you’re transferring out-of-state, no big deal; just check with your target school as far in advance as possible.

I was able to tweak my transfer credits to my advantage transferring in-state in New Jersey. New Jersey has a great website, http://www.njtransfer.org, which allows students to see whether credits are transferable on a course-by-course basis. In New Jersey, all the 4-year schools accept a maximum of 64 transfer credits from community colleges. If you get an Associate’s degree, you are able to transfer 64 credits over, no matter how they fit in with the four-year school’s required curriculum. Individual courses also transfer over, but you’re not guaranteed the full 64 credits.

Here’s how I approached my transfer. I knew I would be majoring in accounting. I looked at the curriculum for my Rutgers and realized there were some big differences between the Associate’s degree track at community and the Bachelor’s at Rutgers:

Community                                                                                                    Rutgers

Business Law I and II required                                        Business Law I only
Business Precal and Calc required                                  Business Calculus only
Stat I only; Stat II not offered                                          Statistics I and II required
Public Speaking course required                                    “World Masterpieces” course required
Phys. Ed course required                                                   Not so much
Lab science required                                                            Science course required
Intro to Management required                                        Business Essentials required
In addition, there are a bunch of electives required at Rutgers, such as one course each in history, social sciences, fine arts, and foreign language, plus 3 electives in arts/sciences and 2 business electives.

My goal was to finish my B.S. in Accounting in 4 years while working full-time. This meant that I had to find classes that were held at night and online, get prerequisites out of the way early, and not waste time on courses that wouldn’t transfer.

What I did:

  • I took Business Law I and II; I was able to use the same book for both classes, saving a few bucks, and Business Law II transferred over as a business elective.
  • Business Precalculus was a prerequisite for Business Calculus, so I couldn’t get around taking it. Fortunately, it transferred over as one of the 3 extra arts/sciences electives. I ended up taking both at community.
  • Statistics was a tough one. I really needed to get that out of the way at the community level so I could start taking some major requirement courses right away. Luckily, I was able to find a transferable Statistics II Course at another nearby community college. Big score.
  • My community college had a World Masterpieces equivalent course that transferred to Rutgers. I took that instead of Public Speaking. It really made sense to me to take it at community because it wasn’t related to my major and I expected that the Rutgers version of the course would be much more time-consuming, and I prefer to allot most of my time to major courses.
  • Obviously, I skipped the Phys. Ed requirement.
  • I really don’t like lab science classes – they’re hard to fit into my schedule and usually require more than one night a week between the classroom and the lab. Rutgers’ requirement is a little easier to fulfill; I could take non-lab sciences as well. I checked their upcoming and past schedules and found some online life science classes, so I decided to wait until I got to Rutgers to take that.
  • Business Essentials was going to be difficult for me to fulfill, because Rutgers only offers that course during the day. No community college in the area offered a single class that was the equivalent of Business Essentials, but it could be fulfilled with the equivalent of Intro to Business and Intro to Management, which would mean I’d have to take 6 credits but would only be able to transfer 3. I bit the bullet and took both Intro to Business and Intro to Management at community to fulfill that requirement. Because of this, I transferred 3 fewer credits to Rutgers, but getting a tough-to-schedule prerequisite out of the way early was worth the price.
  • I also knocked out some other electives that I suspected would be more time-consuming at the university level, like History, Art Appreciation, and Ethics.

This ended up being really important to me reaching my goal of graduating in 4 years. I was able to:

  • Finish all of my major prerequisites at the community level. This was a huge deal – if I just went the associate’s degree route, I would have had to wait an extra semester to start taking the business core courses at Rutgers.
  • Devote more time to my major courses at Rutgers, instead of having a ton of work on my plate from arts and sciences classes. The result: a major GPA of 4.0. That’s a huge win – just by getting non-major stuff out of the way at community, I was able to devote the time it took to become a star in my major, which resulted in every accounting firm that saw my resume giving me some face time.
  • Take some courses I thought were interesting my last few semesters. By being ahead of the game, I had a little space to fill in each of my last few semesters, so I was able to take some management and economics courses that I otherwise might not have had room for in my schedule. The extra flexibility also allowed me to do some research in these courses that really impressed my professors, which earned me a few great references.
  • Get some extra credits I need for CPA licensure. 120 credits is the standard for a bachelor’s, but to become a CPA, you need 150. For that reason, accounting firms only hire undergrads they expect to have 150 credits at graduation.

In short, not only can planning your degree path early make your life easier when you transfer to a four-year school, but it can have a snowballing effect that allows you to elevate yourself to star status.

Part 2 will cover how to handle the transition to a heavier workload, more challenging work, and some tactics for beating the learning curve on these things.

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