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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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For busy students: Maximizing your time

4 Feb

Eventually, just about every working student feels overwhelmed with their schedule, especially if they take work full-time and take classes full-time. Here’s a simple way to take control of your schedule and get your house in order for the semester.

Typically, every professor will have a pretty well-structured schedule of assignments, exams, projects, and when they’re due right in the syllabus. Start out with that information and put into excel format. Mine looks like this:

 

Schedule

 

 

Because my schedule this semester is really straightforward – I go right from work to class on Monday and Wednesday and my other 2 classes are online – I didn’t enter class lectures into the schedule. But if you’re spending more time in lecture or just need more structure, by all means enter it in there.

Every once in a while, you’ll have a professor who just doesn’t schedule stuff early. No worries – just work with what you have and put it on the schedule as soon as you find out the due date or exam date.

Now for the fun part – actually doing something with this. You have two good options: chunk off smallish amounts of time (2 hours or less) to chip away at your work or chunk off larger blocks of time (more than 2 hours) and hammer out a ton of work. This really depends on you, your working style, and your lifestyle. If you have a house and a family and other obligations and activities other than school and work, then you might be better off in small chunks, taking a 5-10 minute break each hour to refresh yourself. Likewise, if you’re taking a bunch of classes and are spending 12 or more hours in lecture each week, then smaller chunks might work better for you. If your schedule is more open and you don’t have much else that requires your attention besides school and work, then using larger blocks of time is an option for you.

I’ve used both methods, and I generally prefer to use large chunks of time when possible. For example, this semester, my one lecture course is on Monday and Wednesday, and I’m out of class by 6. One online class has assignments due every Monday and the other has assignments due on Fridays and Sundays. I’ll typically block off a few hours on Wednesday or Thursday night and again on Sunday night to take care of assignments. I leave a couple hours on either Monday or Tuesday night free as a safety valve for any extra reading or work I might need to do for the upcoming week.

Each method has its advantages. Using large chunks, you get to take advantage of working with momentum. You also have the advantage of lower “transaction costs.” What’s a transaction cost? Let’s say you do most of your shopping online. Your favorite store charges $10 for shipping, no matter how much you buy. That $10 is your transaction cost. You can lower your transaction costs by buying more items at a time instead of just buying a few and then going back for more a few days later. Your transaction costs for studying might be the time you spend getting yourself settled in to study mode or working mode or whatever you want to call it, or the time it takes you to get to the library or to your local Starbucks. When you use big chunks instead of small chunks, you’re spending less time getting settled in/traveling to a quiet place. The fewer sessions you use to study, the lower your transaction costs.

Using small chunks is great for maintaining your sanity and for systematically completing projects that can be broken into smaller pieces. If you have a really heavy or fragmented schedule, small chunks will fit perfectly into your schedule. The downside of this is that you don’t really get the chance to use momentum to your advantage, so you may need to develop habits for when you’re doing deep research or creative work so you’re able to pick up where you left off. As an example, if I’m doing research on a specific subject and need to call it quits, I find it helpful to write down exactly what my thought pattern was for selecting keywords to search or journals to browse. It doesn’t exactly replicate momentum, but it works in a pinch.

The most important thing here is that when your schedule is heavy, you do something. Don’t feel bound by what anyone tells you – if you need to block off your sessions into half-hours or 8 hours at a time, do it. And if you have no idea which one will work best, just choose one and try it out for a week or two – giving your schedule any structure is better than no structure, and you will eventually figure out which one works best for you through trial and error and tweaking.