If you want to get an undergraduate degree, there are three common ways you can use a community college education to achieve your goal.
The first is to pursue a specific program that leads to an associate degree. Students can spend two to three years fulfilling required courses and concentrating in an academic or professional area of study. Once they earn their associate degree, there are many professions that they can enter, such as nursing or dental hygiene.
Alternatively, students can take their first two years of undergraduate coursework at a community college and transfer to a four-year school for the final two years of classes. Typically, these students fulfill basic requirements at the community college and move into more advanced coursework related to their major after transferring. Once they successfully finish all the necessary classes, projects, and exams, these students will graduate with a bachelor degree.
One other common pathway through community college is to spend two years pursuing a specific course of study that results in a two-year degree, and transfer to a four-year institution with this associate degree. The advantage of this option is that, if anything delays completion of the bachelor’s program, these students still have an undergraduate degree from a community college.
Many community colleges have transfer agreements, also known as articulation agreements or “2+2 systems," with public universities (and a few private, nonprofit colleges) in their state. These agreements guarantee a spot in one of the participating four-year colleges to students who successfully complete the required courses and meet a specified GPA. Transfer agreements are an effective way for students who want to complete their undergraduate education to make the transition to a four-year school. The community college and the four-year school have agreed on the requirements necessary to make this move, so students know what’s expected at each step. Check with your college to learn more about these programs and how to take advantage of them.
Ask advisors, professors, and other students which courses are necessary to progress on your path. If you’re planning to move into a career after earning your associate degree, be sure you know what you need to graduate, when each course is offered, and whether there will be any obstacles to enrolling in it when you need to.
If you plan to transfer to a four-year college, meet with your community college counselor to plan the classes and schedule that you need to stay on track. Check with the transfer college to confirm that they will accept your community college courses for credit. Transfer agreements make this easier, but it’s always a good idea to confirm.
Keep track of the classes and time frame you need to follow to get to your goal. Map out what’s required and when it’s offered, then chart your enrollment and completion of these requirements. Finally, include a section for the courses that you still need to take. It doesn’t matter whether you organize this information on a computer or in a notebook, just that you check it regularly. The most important point is that you lay out your plan and stay on top of it.
Complete your financial aid applications as early as possible. Some aid programs administered by colleges are distributed on a first-come, first-served basis, so applying early ensures that you’ll be considered for these sources if you’re eligible.
Nearly all college students have hiccups in the progress towards their goals. If you run into a problem, whether it’s a lower grade than you wanted or not knowing which documents you need in order to apply for financial aid, by all means ask for help. Community colleges have fewer resources than private universities, so you may have to be persistent.
There are many people who work at two-year colleges who want you to succeed. If you don’t find them where you expect to, keep asking around. Check with professors you respect, your friends, or someone in a random office who has been helpful. Often it’s just a matter of finding a person who can point you in the right direction.