Many American students – and 90,000 international students – attend a community college for the first two years of university studies in the USA. With nearly 1,200 community colleges in the country, there are many benefits of this model in comparison to studying all four years at a university. Community colleges offer significantly lower tuition, smaller classes and strong student support. And oftentimes, they serve as pathways to prestigious four-year universities.
One of the great strengths of American higher education is the ease with which students can transfer from one college or university to another. For students who plan to earn a bachelor’s degree the transition from community college to a university for the final two years can be quite easy. Students will attend a community college to complete lower division general education requirements and then transfer to a university. There, they can take upper division courses and thereby complete a bachelor’s degree. Such an approach is commonly known as “2 + 2,” though it may take more than four years to complete all of the courses required for a bachelor’s degree.
In fact, many university advisors recommend that students attend community college “college transfer” programs first, and then transfer to universities for the final two years. For example, students studying at Santa Monica College, a community college, have transferred to UCLA upon receiving their two-year transfer degree.
2 YEAR COMMUNITY COLLEGE + 2 YEARS AT A UNIVERSITY = 4 YEARS (BACHELOR’S DEGREE)
Making Transfers Easy
Many colleges and universities have special arrangements known as “articulation agreements” or Transfer Admission Guarantee (TAG) partnerships with other institutions. Articulation agreements help ensure that the classes taken at a community college transfer easily to partner institutions with little or no loss of credit and time. For example, the 10 Maricopa Community Colleges in the metropolitan area of Phoenix, Arizona, work very closely with the University of Arizona, Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University to make sure that Maricopa’s courses will transfer.
University Transfer Admission Guarantee partnerships guarantee a community college student’s admission upon completing specific requirements set by the university. These requirements may include a specific grade point average, coursework, and TOEFL score. Some majors are included from TAG agreements. For example, Business Administration is excluded from TAG agreements to the University of California, Irvine.
Most commonly articulation and TAG agreements will be between community colleges and four-year colleges and universities within the same state, but not always. For example, all the 115 California community colleges have articulation agreements with the California State University (CSU) system and the University of California (UC) system. For example, if student successfully completes the general education requirements for California State University or the University of California at Santa Monica College, he or she can transfer to one of the universities and complete the last two years for the bachelor’s degree.
These partnerships provide students an opportunity to save money on community college tuition and still transfer and graduate from a top-ranked university.
Whether students choose to study the arts or science depends on what they plan for their “major” field of study. During the first two years, students are studying a wide variety of humanities, social sciences, and natural science courses along with some foundation course to prepare their major.
Don’t allow some of the challenges of transferring to deter you. If you plan ahead, a transfer can be an excellent way to accomplish your education goals and enrich your experience with American higher education. Just as shifting gears in a car is a way to get more speed and power, transferring from one college or university to another can propel you greater accomplishments.
INTERNATIONAL TRANSFER FAIRS
Many community colleges host “transfer fairs” so their students can learn about opportunities to earn a terminal degree at a four-year university. At these fairs, usually held in a school auditorium on campus, students have a great opportunity to talk to admissions representatives from prestigious universities around the country.
For example, an international community college student studying in Seattle may transfer out of Washington State to places like California or New York. Representatives from other U.S. universities come to international transfer fairs to recruit outstanding international students into years three and four at their universities.
Sometimes several other community colleges in a region join as well so the fairs can draw even more universities to a multi-day event.
WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?
Community colleges are different than four-year universities. Here’s how:
ADMISSION IS EASIER. TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) scores and academic requirements are usually lower for admission to U.S. community colleges than to four-year institutions. Many community colleges also offer ESL (English as a Second Language) programs or developmental math for students whose scores are too low to begin academic studies immediately.
COSTS ARE LOWER. Tuition at community colleges can be as much as 20 percent to 80 percent less than at four-year American universities and colleges. This is a tremendous cost saving for the first two years of the bachelor’s degree.
STUDENTS ENROLLMENT in classes, or at the institution in general, is often smeller than at four-year schools. Teachers and advisors are able to provide more one-on-one attention to students. Many U.S. and international students say that attending smaller schools for the first two years helped them make a good transition into larger four-year schools for the final two years.
CLASSROOM ENVIRONMENTS ARE MORE SUPPOTIVE. In the U.S. educational system, students often complete for good grades. International students who do not speak English fluently are at a disadvantage. Often, they do better and feel more comfortable in smaller classes where there is less competition. In addition, community colleges typically offer free tutoring to support students’ success.
ADJUSTING IS EASIER. Two years at a community college can help an international student improve English language skills and grow accustomed to the U.S. educational system and culture.