Starting off at a two-year school is becoming more common for high school graduates. Spending some time at a local community college to get some general education requirements out of the way can be a huge money saver, and can buy you more time to sort out career goals. Or perhaps you started out at School A, full of optimism, and realized the place wasn’t for you. Becoming a transfer student is an option for both scenarios, but it can be a tricky process. Here are some tips for making the transition smoother.
Myth No. 1: Transfer students are entirely on their own when it comes to career planning and sorting out their goals.
Onondaga Community College (OCC) is a staple in the Syracuse community and a popular bridge between high school and four-year educational institutions. Many even know it as “Grade 13,” mocking its relativity to a high school experience. “Right at the point where a student is admitted and meets with their first-year adviser they talk about what their goals are and what their plan is,” says Kristine Duffy, vice president of Enrollment Management and Student Development at OCC. It’s best to play early to ensure the most seamless transition when it’s time to transfer.
OCC has set up agreement contracts with a number of colleges, including Syracuse University. In those, the colleges outline different program paths students can take at OCC that will be able to transfer over without any issues. For the most part, students will stick to general requirements that will be easily transferred.
For students who are unsure about what they want to major in, the first two years can be crucial in exploring several options before finding their niche. For those students, Duffy says there are several ways they provide assistance throughout their time deciding. One of the ways OCC helps with this is in an academic exploration program, where students can test out several majors and meet frequently with an adviser to discuss strengths and sort out interests. Duffy also advises students to take on internships in different fields to explore career paths on their own time, but not waste credits that may not be transferable later on.
Michael Lembo, an incoming transfer student at SU, was unsure about his career goals after high school, so it made sense that he start off at a two-year school. “It was hard for me to justify taking out private loans to attend any of the private schools I had been accepted to, when I wasn’t even sure what my major was going to be. Attending a two-year first gave me the opportunity to explore a plethora of academic fields, without having to simultaneously deal with any financial burdens,” says Lembo.
Lembo’s story is interesting because he has transferred not only once but twice, first from Monroe Community College in Rochester to OCC, and now from OCC to SU. Duffy refers to this indecision as “swirling,” in which a student is unsure of exactly where they want to go to school and that what they are planning to major in will transfer to several different schools before finally settling down. This can be a nightmare for advisers who are working to reduce the risk of falling behind. OCC has thought this through as well, setting up frequent college fairs where students can talk with different schools and decide early on if they plan on transferring, and if so, where.
Myth No. 2: Students will only be able to take general requirements at their two-year institution, or else credits will not to transfer over to their new school
One of the top concerns for transfer students is that they will lose credits for the classes they’ve taken as they transition to their new school. Unfortunately, each time a student transfers they are at risk of losing. For a student who is unsure of where they are planning to transfer to, or not entirely sure of what they want to major in, there is a much higher risk but it can be avoided if you plan accordingly.
Luckily for Lembo, both OCC and MCC offered “2 2” programs, allowing students to complete the first two years of their degree at a community college, and transfer directly to a four-year school without having to reapply or worry about losing credits in the transfer process. Lembo also met with his advisers at both institutions each semester to be sure he was still on the right track.
“After my first year of college, I knew that I wanted to pursue a bachelor’s degree in accounting. Once I decided this, it was much easier to start looking at four-year schools, because now I was choosing schools based specifically on the quality of their accounting program, whereas in high school, I applied to schools without knowing which program I would end up in,” says Lembo.
Myth No. 3: Transfer students are not offered financial aid or any scholarship opportunities.
Lembo encourages students to start off at a two-year school as a great way to save money, especially if you’re unsure about what you want to do. But many students fear that they will actually be missing out on the scholarships and financial aid offered to those choosing a four-year school. While every college student hears horror stories about transfer students having to pay full price when they finally get to a four-year school, rest assured those stories are mere rumor.
Le Moyne College, a private school on Syracuse’s Far East Side, continues to offer financial aid and scholarship opportunities to students that transfer in. “On the scholarship side, across the board at four-year institutions—especially private institutions—there is a lot more merit scholarship available for freshmen because the reality is you’re going to invest the larger amount in students that plan on being there for four years, and also the assumption that students starting off at a two-year school will be saving a bunch of money,” says Sharon Halpin, associate director of financial aid at Le Moyne.
“But here we do offer merit scholarship to transfer students. For high achieving students that are transferring in, they still have the opportunity to potentially get $10,000 a year in merit money.” Students with a GPA of 2.75 and higher can qualify to receive from $4,000 to $10,000 each semester. Students transferring to SU are eligible to receive merit scholarships up to $6,000.
The Le Moyne staff is quite familiar with the OCC campus, attending transfer fairs each semester to discuss options with students and give them a glimpse of what it is to be a part of the college. Cathleen Anderson is the director of Transfer Admissions at the Jesuit college. “They transfer initially, but once they’re here, they are a dolphin, Le Moyne student, for life,” she says.
D.J. Young transferred a few years ago from OCC to SUNY Oswego, deciding after high school that it would be in his best interest to start off at a two-year school, both because he was not prepared for the high cost of many four-year schools as well as the pressure of deciding on a major. OCC was close to home for Young, and not far from his comfort zone. He was able to follow a plan, majoring in Electronic Media Communications, where all of his credits were transferable to Oswego.
Myth No. 4: Transfer students will have a hard time fitting in and breaking into friend circles.
Myth No. 5: There will be no housing available to transfer students, or they will be stuck in a dorm with younger students.
Young had commuted to OCC from his Cicero home, and he knew he was in for a world of change when he moved into a dorm. For many students like Young, there is always the fear of having a difficult time breaking into pre-formed friend circles or, worse, getting stuck in a freshman dorm.
“Finding housing wasn’t a difficult process, but I did find that most, if not all, transfer students were being sent to the same housing buildings for their first year at Oswego State,” he says. “Everyone that I met in my building was a transfer student.”
Young has always identified himself as more of an introvert, but even in the gregarious atmosphere at Oswego he was able to settle in and find other students who shared some of his interests. Young also said Oswego offered no real special treatment for transfer students, aside from housing them together, which he preferred.
“People like to make jokes about OCC, saying it’s just 13th and 14th grade,” Young says, “but why does that automatically have to be a negative connotation? At the end of the day, college isn’t for everyone, and you shouldn’t have to feel guilty for not being ready to make a serious investment to an education straight out of college.”
Overall, to get the most out of being a transfer student, the best
advice is to plan ahead while taking the time to sort out your career
goals. Stopping in to talk to an adviser once in a while can’t hurt,
especially if you’re unsure about what you plan to do. It’s important to
take advantage of the resources offered and not treat community college
as just the next level after high school, but instead as the next step
toward your future.