Transfer Hacks Dos and Don’ts

Mastering the Complex Process of Transferring from a Community College to a Four-Year College

March 5, 2018


LONG ISLAND CITY, NY — LaGuardia Community College graduates transfer to four-year colleges twice as often as compared to the national average for community college students.

What’s behind this success? A big part is LaGuardia’s Office of Transfer Services, which guides students through the (at times, complex) process of transferring to a four-year college.

The office is overseen by Bart Grachan, EdD, LaGuardia’s Associate Dean for Progress and Completion.

Bart Grachan

A former football player and coach, Bart likens the work of LaGuardia’s transfer counselors to being on the offensive line – helping students drive the transfer process, rather than being passive participants.

“Starting college is often a huge adjustment period. Especially here at LaGuardia – we see many students whose parents who never went to college or who went in another country; many are first-generation students and ESL learners,” said Bart Grachan. “And then there’s the fact that in the US, practically every institution of higher education does things differently—there’s far less coordination than people assume. Our goal is to give our students a leg-up so they’re on par with other applicants.”

Click here to watch a short video of Bart Grachan talking to LaGuardia students about the transfer process.

Following is a 10-point quiz about how to hack the college transfer and selection process, by Bart Grachan, EdD


1. What’s the first thing I should consider when picking a college?
• It’s not what major you want to pursue, or what four-year college you’ve dreamed of attending since you were nine years old. The most important thing to consider is what do you want to do, and what is actually required to achieve that? You need to start there and reverse engineer the process—examine ways to get there: which colleges offer your target program/s, budget/cost, location, etc.
• A lot of majors can get you to a lot of places. Starting there is like picking a mode of transportation by the seat that it offers. If the plane doesn’t go to your destination, the comfort of the window seat is irrelevant. What transportation gets to my destination; of those choices, what can I afford and what am I comfortable with; of those choices, what’s my preferred seat? Just like no one asks which seat you chose on your flight, after that first job, no one asks what your major was, either.

2. How should I select which colleges to apply to?
• Do the homework. There are no shortcuts. “My cousin went there” is not homework. Visiting a friend isn’t research. Picking a college based on subway stop is not a thoughtful decision. Go on a real visit, and do real research—sit-in on classes, tour the campus, know their programs and opportunities.
• Many factors to consider—Do you like the location? Do you connect with the people? can you afford it? Does it have a solid program in your area of interest? Do your credits transfer? Can you afford it? Yes, affordability is mentioned twice. It’s not a good fit if going there will leave you with debt—this debt will shape your life choices (impact which job you take, where you live, when you can afford to start a family, etc.). So important to make sure you have options.
• The only magical school is Hogwarts. The name of the institution may be impressive to some, but the vast majority of successful people didn’t go to one of 8 or 10 schools in the country. If it doesn’t have the program you want, if you’re not comfortable there, and if you can’t afford it (not just pay for it), then it isn’t the right school for you.
• Borrowing can be an investment; loans can run your life. Expensive schools can be affordable; low-cost schools can have high back end costs. Make no assumptions about cost until you know what your aid is, what you need to borrow, and what transfer credits will be used towards your degree – those are aid, too.

3. Will my college major determine my future career options?
• Unless you’re majoring in a vocation such as nursing, your exact major doesn’t usually matter, long term. Are there advantages to knowing what you want to do at the age of 18 and never changing, ever? Sure. That doesn’t mean that you can’t change your mind or your priorities as you grow and develop—that’s what school is for. That said…
• There’s no need to change majors 14 times. If you want to become a lawyer, your major can be literally anything—as long as you get good grades, do well on the LSAT, and write a solid personal statement. If you plan to pursue an advanced degree in a specialized field such as medicine, taking the necessary pre-requisites is more important than your major.
• The main goal should be to learn skills that are transferrable to a multitude of careers—such as critical thinking and writing/communication—and to graduate! Completion is by far the most important part.

4. Does GPA matter?
• Of course. If you have a low GPA it doesn’t matter what school it’s from—if you have a 2.0 GPA from an Ivy League school, it’s still a low GPA, which could impact whether you can qualify for certain jobs or graduate programs, and more.
• That doesn’t mean that you can’t recover from a bad start. I certainly did. It just means, don’t take it for granted, don’t assume that you can save it in your last term. There’s no magic number, either – a 4.0 doesn’t guarantee anything. Do as well as you can, every time.

5. When should I consider private colleges?
• Always apply to a range of schools—both public and private—so you can make a business decision about which is best for you. A private college may surprise you by offering a lower overall cost through financial aid than a public four-year. Just don’t assume that will happen—always have a range of great choices.
• Students too often make assumptions about whether they can afford a college based on how attractive the campus is, and other superficial factors. Many private colleges have well-funded grant programs, and offer competitive financial aid packages.
• The above said, don’t rule out public colleges and universities—many states have excellent public systems.

6. Are there advantages of going to a community college?
• Community colleges are outstanding places to find your footing academically, if that wasn’t something you had done before. They are also excellent places to explore your academic choices, at a lower cost. We have students who discover their academic strengths here, we have students who are already great students who want to save money, and we have students who could choose lots of places, but choose us because it’s close to home, or because we were the right fit for them.
• If you’re interested in something that requires specific training, like Nursing, Vet Tech, or Paralegal, community colleges are the way to go.
• Community colleges often have numerous transfer agreements (known as articulation agreements) with four-year colleges—particularly if the community college is part of a larger university system, such as The City University of New York (CUNY). Often these transfer agreements make it easier for community college grads to transfer (or matriculate) to a senior college than if they were applying from outside the system.
o E.g., LaGuardia Community College, which is part of CUNY, has transfer agreements with many CUNY four-year colleges—this is a huge benefit because statistically, some of these schools are among the most selective in the country, but sometimes they get looked down upon because they’re in our backyard.
o Note: Transfer agreements are typically program specific, e.g., LaGuardia Community College students who graduate with an Associate in Arts in Writing and Literature can transfer to Queens College or John Jay College of Criminal Justice (both part of CUNY) as English majors, entering as juniors.

7. For community college students: Do I need to graduate before transferring to a four-year college?
• Graduating with an associate’s degree triggers transfer agreements, discussed above; no degree, no agreement. That means that all credits may not transfer if you don’t graduate from your two-year college before pursuing a four-year college
• It gives you a degree in hand – there’s no downside to that.
• It means you’ve completed the same general education as your classmates when you arrive on the four-year campus. You’re in the same place, and ready to go.

8. When should I start planning to transfer?
• In the first semester—critical time to begin planning transfer is during the first 30 credits, not the last 30 credits. If the goal is a four-year degree, the planning should never stop from high school through completion.
• If you don’t get a transfer plan in place as early as possible, you risk an unpleasant surprise later on if credits don’t transfer, or find out that you need to take certain pre-requisites before you can apply for transfer, etc.
• Visit your school’s transfer office during your first semester. Staff there can help you make a plan to match your needs and goals with target schools. And transfer counselors know which schools are open to transfer students, and of specific programs for which you may qualify. Some schools take a lot of transfers; some take a few; one Ivy hasn’t taken transfer students in nearly three decades. It varies a lot. And there are programs you might miss on your own. NYU has the Community College Transfer Opportunity Program, and Smith College has a special transfer program for women who are 24 or older, a veteran, or who have a dependent other than a spouse, just as examples.

9. How can I make credits I’ve already earned work in my favor?
• Think of transfer credits as financial aid. Here transfer credits could either be advanced placement (AP) or college credits. These credits can help off-set the cost of a bachelor’s degree (a savvy choice, especially if you’ve earned them in high school or at a lower-cost two-year college).
• Never ask “How many of my credits will transfer?” Instead ask, “How many of my credits will be used towards this degree?” Transferring electives that won’t count towards the degree won’t help. Make sure they’re telling you how many will get you to the finish line. Note: this only works if you have an intended major in mind—after two or more years to figure out what you want to major in, many colleges won’t admit undecided transfer students. Know what you want as early as possible, and move forward.
• Remember that having all your credits transfer and be usable are not the same thing—credits often need to be in target major area to be transferable.

10. What if the school I’m transferring to doesn’t want to take all of my credits?
• Keep your syllabuses as proof of the coursework you completed—they can be used as evidence for transfer credit.
• Don’t be shy about going back to your two-year school and see if they can help.
• Ask if the school will balance the loss of credits with an equal amount of financial aid.
• If other options are on the table (and it’s always better to have more options than less), consider enrolling at a different college that will accept more of your credits.
• ADVOCATE for yourself and ask for help.


Bart Grachan is associate dean for progress & completion, LaGuardia Community College, part of The City University of New York (CUNY). Bart earned his bachelor’s from Fordham University and his EdD in Higher Education Administration at NYU (by the way, yes, that’s a photo of Bart Grachan on NYU’s webpage about its EdD in Higher Education Administration!)


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