How to maximize your transfer credits

Do your research, maintain good grades, and plan early.

With higher education costs rising, many accounting or business students are opting to enroll in community colleges and then transfer to four-year colleges or universities to complete their bachelor's degrees.

But moving from one school to another isn’t quite that simple. Every institution has its own guidelines, and some community college credits may not transfer to a four-year school, or fulfill the requirements you need to earn a bachelor’s degree down the road.

If you don’t get the right information you need early on in the process, you may spend time and money on classes that won’t transfer, and it could take you longer to graduate, said Jody Seutter, associate dean for advising, retention, and partnerships at Bucks County Community College in Newtown, Pa. Here are some tips for making sure that your credits will transfer:

Plan early. If at all possible, don’t wait until your sophomore year to figure out a plan. Determine your community college major and your desired transfer school early on.

Many two-year schools have articulation agreements with four-year institutions in their region or state. These agreements outline what courses the four-year schools expect you to take in order to transfer, but prerequisites differ by school, so it’s crucial to learn what each college requires.

Holyoke Community College in Holyoke, Mass, offers both accounting and business administration majors, said Mark Broadbent, coordinator of transfer affairs and articulation. But the school advises would-be CPAs to major in business administration, since the credits from that program transfer almost seamlessly to nearby University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Broadbent suggested that students take general education courses, such as English, economics, or math during their first two semesters or quarters of community college. But after that, he advised, they should declare a major and pinpoint where they want to go following completion of the two-year program. “Think of transfer as the first step in the process, not the last,” he said.

Ask for help. Most community colleges now employ transfer counselors or coordinators, or have faculty who can help you with the transfer process. Bucks County Community College, for instance, requires new students to speak with advisors and attend an orientation, and urges students to meet with their advisors regularly. Other schools may not be as proactive, so be sure to ask for help and take advantage of your college’s resources.

"Often students who don’t seek help from a transfer advisor end up getting in hot water," Seutter said. He recommended having periodic meetings with an advisor to stay on track with both your degree and transfer requirements, which may or may not be the same.

Keep your grades up. Most four-year higher education institutions welcome transfer students, but only those who maintain adequate to good grades. The University of Washington’s Foster School of Business, for example, looks at three components before accepting transfer students: overall GPA, average GPA of four core classes, and a writing test, said Joseph Smith, CPA, accounting professor at North Seattle Community College. Four-year schools tend to require at least a 2.5 GPA, and sometimes higher of transfer students, noted Broadbent.

In addition, good grades can sometimes lead to scholarships for students transferring to a four-year school. Talk with your advisors at the community college, who are often tapped in to which four-year institutions offer scholarships for transfer students.

Tap online resources. Visit the transfer page on your school’s website for more information on the transfer process, and see whether the four-year school and accounting program you’re planning on transferring to have information available online as well. Your state may also offer a helpful site (like this one in Pennsylvania) for students transferring to a four-year school.

Do you research. Take that extra step to contact the admissions department of the four-year institution you hope to attend. It is essential to do this, Seutter said, especially if the community college does not have an articulation agreement with that institution. Four-year schools have different prerequisite requirements, so double-check what is required.

It's also a good idea, added Broadbent, to visit the campus of the four-year school you hope to attend, and talk with the transfer representative there. "Make the connection," he said.

By Cheryl Meyer

Cheryl Meyer is a California-based freelance writer. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Courtney Vien, senior editor of newsletters at the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants.

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