If there is one statement that comes out of the mouths of first-time college students the most, it’s the phrase, “I’m just trying to get credits to transfer to a 4-year.” It’s so common that when students begin to say it, we usually end up finishing the phrase together. While the phrase makes sense, and it’s even practical, it can also be rooted in a number of misconceptions.
For starters, there is an idea that attending community colleges equates to less quality of education in comparison to 4-year institutions (1). 1,200 community colleges enroll more than ten million students each year (2). That is roughly 40 percent of the entire college student population. It’s unsafe to assume that 40 percent of the college student population would knowingly enroll in institutions of higher learning if those institutions are beneath their 4-year counterparts. As someone who started at a 2-year college, the idea of community college being less in quality compared to a 4-year institution is laughable. With that said, that comes from exposure. There are students coming into college who lack such exposure, so it’s easy to come in with the sole mindset of collecting credits to transfer. In their minds, it makes sense, and it’s understandable to see why. Getting the most out of a situation while spending the least amount of time in a situation makes sense. One of the challenges is to get students, and their families, out of that mindset, and it becomes easy to alter their thinking once they realize how much can be done at a community college before going anywhere near a 4-year.
Before the discussion can get in-depth about “just trying to get credits to transfer,” there are other matters, matters such as making sure students graduated from high school or have a high school equivalency, if they have updated immunization records, and if they have placement testing, if needed. It all goes back to episode 1 and the population of students who want to go to college and need help along the way. Conversation rules the nation; students and families should feel comfortable with whoever is helping them along the way whether it is someone in admissions, or financial aid, or advising. While there are ten million students attending community colleges each year, it doesn’t mean one size fits all; ten million students can equal ten million different scenarios since every student, in his or her own way, is unique (3).
Despite the number of students, and the number of possible scenarios, the initial steps for college entry are similar enough: apply to a school through the school’s website. In the case of community colleges, an open door admissions policy gives students an opportunity to earn an education if they want one. In other words, if you apply to college, welcome to college. Once a student is accepted, check the list of items needed from the college. Updated immunization records and placement scores are often next up. Immunization records seem to be simple enough; it’s the placement testing where things get tricky. However, that issue is addressed via placement exams given not only by the college a student intends to enroll, but at colleges in a student’s residential area as well. So for parents who can’t take off work or have a tough time making the trip to campus to take a test, students and parents can go to a local college in the area for students to take a placement test, get their test scores on the spot, and head to their new college to register for classes. Problem solved, right?
Well, yes. Kinda. There’s another elephant in the room, the one that tends to drive students, parents, and the people who are involved in this facet of higher education up the damn wall. It’s the element the one that some families absolutely dread, and it’s spelled out in two words with four syllables: financial aid.