Leaving Community College for a Four-Year School: All You Need to Know

If you want to further your education, community college is an option that is both challenging and rewarding. Community colleges have fewer admissions requirements, and their credit hours are affordable. Many students begin their studies at these schools but intend to transfer from community college to four-year colleges to complete their bachelor’s degrees after a year or two. If you’re one of these students, here are just a few of the benefits to anticipate.

Students studying in the library before leaving community college.

ESB Professional / Shutterstock.com

  • Admission: Two-year institutions are open admission, which is often misconstrued. Some people think that schools with open admissions policies hold their students to low standards. Because of this, community colleges may have poor reputations in some circles. These assumptions are false, however. Open admission simply means that all students who want to learn but have limited options are welcome. Students who face challenges, have family responsibilities, have financial restrictions, or are undecided on a career path can enroll stress-free without squandering their savings accounts. They don’t usually have to pay to take standardized tests because ACT and SAT scores aren’t required for admission. Plus, open admission doesn’t mean that there are no standards once a student gets to school. Classes are rigorous, and the students who pass community college classes are the ones who work hard and really want to be there.
  • Cost: On average, the tuition at a nonprofit four-year institution ranges between $7,793 and $24,929 annually. That doesn’t even include the cost of room and board. On the other hand, community college costs approximately $3,430 per year. This figure doesn’t take room and board into account either, but many community college students live with family or friends to avoid that cost. All in all, the time you dedicate to a two-year school can save you upwards of $8,726.
  • College trial period: If you aren’t sure if college is the right path for you, you can try out a community college, your lowest-cost option. Alternatively, if you aren’t sure what to major in, community college classes can help you decide where your strengths are. If you later realize that college isn’t right for you, you may still be able to receive an associate’s degree or certificate. Community college is only a two-year commitment, which is half the time required by a university. You may feel that two years is manageable. Meanwhile, at a university, if you don’t complete the four-year degree requirements, dropping out is often the only option; these schools don’t offer two-year degrees or certificates.

Timeline and Checklist

If you have decided you want to transfer from a community college to a four-year institution, it’s time to start preparing. The following timeline is specific to high school students who are making plans to transfer well in advance. These students want to start their postsecondary studies at a community college and later transfer to a four-year university. Regardless of your situation, we encourage you to adapt this timeline to your needs.

  • Senior year of high school and first semester of college:
    • Investigate potential four-year schools and major programs.
    • Check to see whether or not each four-year school you are considering has an articulation agreement with a nearby community college. Articulation agreements are contracts between two-year and four-year institutions. Because they outline which credits will transfer to the new school, they make the transfer process easier.
    • Take your career goals and financial situation into account while assessing the possibilities.
      Students may consider leaving community college after a semester or year of study

      Dean Drobot / Shutterstock.com

  • Second semester of community college:
    • Visit the universities you’re interested in.
    • Schedule appointments to meet with admissions officers and transfer advisors at both schools.
    • Stay in touch with your community college counselor.
    • Continue your research.
    • Ask questions:
      • Are there requirements or deadlines for a transfer application?
      • Is there a specific program that appeals to you? If so, are there requirements for said program?
      • Do you want to study abroad or participate in a club, work-study, or internship? Will this school allow transfer students to do so?
  • Third semester of community college:
    • Investigate financial aid, merit-based scholarships, and need-based grants specific to transfer students.
    • Ask teachers at your community college to write letters of recommendation for you. Write thank-you notes after their letters have been submitted.
    • Request your transcripts be sent.
  • Last semester of community college:
    • Submit your transfer application to your four-year school by the posted deadline.
    • Submit your application for federal financial aid by the posted deadline.
    • After notification of acceptance, decipher your financial aid letter.
    • Negotiate financial aid, if necessary.
    • Submit your deposit by the posted deadline to save your spot.
    • Secure on-campus or off-campus housing.  
  • First semester at your four-year college:
    • Attend orientation.
    • Join clubs and sports teams and/or find a part-time job that will allow you to get involved at your new college. Participating in activities is one of the easiest ways to adjust. It’s also a great way to make new friends.
    • Enjoy the new experience!


  • General education courses will help you move forward faster at your next institution because these credits are often easily transferred. To ensure that these credits are transferable, speak with the transfer advisor at your current and potential college.
  • Keep a digital and physical copy of the syllabus from every class you’ve taken at community college. This will help you to keep track of the number of credits you’ve earned that are transferable.
  • Work to become a competitive transfer applicant. Earn high grades, befriend your professors, participate in extracurricular activities, and find a part-time job or internship related to your field of interest.
  • Investigate the colleges that welcome transfer students. They will have more opportunities available to advance your education before and after the transition.
    Two students looking at a textbook in the library

    Dean Drobot / Shutterstock.com

  • If you have signed an articulation agreement, be sure that you understand and follow its requirements.
  • Search for scholarships specific to transfers. They exist. Find them and apply!
  • Live on campus your first semester at your new college so that you can make friends more easily.
  • Don’t miss the transfer orientation. You can learn a lot and meet important people that will help you on your way.
  • Stay focused.
  • Begin planning your transition as soon as possible.

Learn more about community college and transferring on Student Caffé.

About Katelyn Brush

Katelyn likes learning, good health, traveling, and pizza on Fridays. Her mixed education, composed of SUNY the College at Brockport, a semester at a community college, and one abroad at the University of Oxford, helped her earn a bachelor’s degree in English. College also gave her a few lessons in Taekwondo and sleeping in a hostel dorm with total strangers. She’s a yoga teacher, author and illustrator of the children’s book, “Signing Together: A Guide to American Sign Language for Everyone.” As a Student Caffé writer, she hopes to help you through the highs and lows of college with a laugh ... or 20.

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