Meet Your Transfer Goals at Community College
By Guest Contributor Dr. Nancy Sanchez
Dr. Nancy Sanchez serves as Chief Opportunity Officer for Phi Theta Kappa. Before joining the headquarters staff at PTK, Dr. Sanchez worked as the Executive Director of Kaplan Educational Foundation (KEF), and she is the author of Your Guide to College Transfer. She is a regular contributor to Forbes and higher education publications and a frequent media spokesperson on issues related to degree attainment and community college. Dr. Sanchez is a leading voice in higher education and has previously spoken at the United Nations and Aspen Institute as well as numerous national education conferences.
There are many factors that make community college a logical start to a postsecondary education. Affordability and geographic proximity lead many to start their college journey at the door of their local community college. But for many of these students, community college is not their final academic destination. In fact, more than 90% of first-time community college students aspire to a bachelor’s degree, though only 33% transfer to a four-year institution within six years. There is an enormous amount of potential that falls through the gap between community college and four-year schools.
Transferring schools requires planning and preparation. In fact, the transfer process may start while the student is contemplating enrolling at the community college. Community colleges attract dedicated students with a strong sense of purpose. Deliberate and well-executed transfer admissions plans run parallel to securing the most financial aid and reducing the cost of transfer. This may also provide the opportunity for community college students to access colleges that were seen as financially, academically, or socially unattainable prior to attending community college.
Securing financial aid for community college transferring to a four-year institution starts the minute the student enrolls at community college. This is especially true when a student is seeking scholarships or institutional aid based on merit or demonstrated financial need.
Over 62% of full-time, and 72% of part-time community college students work while pursuing their education. Even for students who receive federal or state aid, the cost of attending make it difficult to pursue academic goals. Even the most dedicated and highly talented student may confront financial needs that interfere with meeting academic requirements or goals.
In fact, more than 90% of first-time community college students aspire to a bachelor’s degree, though only 33% transfer to a four-year institution within six years.
According to the American Association of Community Colleges, the average annual tuition and fees is $3,800, while the average annual cost for four-year public in-state colleges is $10,740. For private institutions, the average annual cost is $38,185. Four-year colleges, including private colleges, accept approximately 60 to 70 credits towards a bachelor’s degree. Therefore, enrolling in a community college can reduce costs for a bachelor’s degree. These “sticker prices” or the cost prior to applied financial aid, can seem insurmountable and stop even the most accomplished community college student from applying. The good news is that with an associate degree, a competitive GPA, and a demonstrated commitment to extracurriculars, a student can access top colleges, and do so while qualifying for significant reduced educational costs made possible by four-year institutional aid in the form of merit aid or scholarships, and a school’s commitment to meeting 100% of financial aid need.
For community college students, an educational journey that includes earning the best grades possible and taking courses that demonstrate a wide array of skills and mastery can open the doors to qualify for scholarships that can make it possible to have additional funds to cover expenses but may also make it possible to even reduce work hours, or at least provide some financial breathing room. Most importantly, it can position them to be competitive and earn scholarships that may also open the door to transferring to a college that may seem financially out of reach.
Seeking financial support in the form of scholarships while attending community college may depend on multiple factors. “Merit,” or demonstrated talents, skills, academic performance, and/or “need,” which considers the student’s household income. Some scholarships may also consider citizenship or residency status, and a wide array of requirements that usually align with the funding source and mission. These funds can be accessed through the financial aid office in some schools, but some are administered by the college’s foundation.
The first step a student should take upon enrolling in a community college is to learn about financial assistance available. Community college students should also consider the financial benefits of honor societies, such as Phi Theta Kappa, which has scholarships for qualified members and non-members. As part of the admissions assessments and financial aid, colleges look closely at how a student engages with their community and the community college. Building a strong leadership profile can make you stand out. This opens the door for scholarships and merit-based financial aid. It will influence a school’s commitment to securing aid for that student. The depth of a student’s contribution will positively impact the likelihood they will be provided scholarship funding.
The financial aid application provides a picture of the student’s financial aid situation to the schools they apply to and helps those schools determine how they can help the student afford to attend. For these reasons, it is one of the most important parts of the entire transfer admissions process. It is essential to approach the process by understanding how a college education can be afforded. How much the student, or their parents (if the student is dependent), are able and willing to contribute financially to the cost of education is one piece of the puzzle, but the real key to affording college is submitting an accurate and thorough financial aid application. Rather than worrying about the total cost of any given school, which can be intimidating at first, the focus should remain on how much each school can afford to give the students.
The depth of a student’s contribution will positively impact the likelihood they will be provided scholarship funding.
The main goal of applying for financial aid is to help the school assess how much aid a student will need, how much the federal or state financial aid can provide, how much the student and the parents are responsible for, and finally, how much aid the schools should provide to make the school affordable and accessible.
A four-year private college can show annual educational costs of $78,000. That school may also have a commitment to fulfill 100% of demonstrated need. “Demonstrated” is the key word here. This means that the Expected Family Contribution (EFC), does not meet the cost of attendance. Demonstrated need differs by school because it is based on household composition and income. Institutional aid, (financial aid granted by the institution) is usually the most generous, comprehensive, and renewable type of aid. Schools with generous endowments and a commitment to fulfilling 100% of need for students can be the most affordable choices. While the sticker price is stated at $78,000, it may end up being as low as $0 based on the college’s commitment to meet the student’s needs. This makes it possible for the student to enroll despite their inability to contribute to their tuition.
Ask the following questions for each college:
- Does this school have a commitment to meet 100% need for students, including transfer students?
- Does this school limit the amount of loans students have to take on? Or do they consider loans at all in their financial aid award?
- Does the school provide students with a considerable financial packet that includes loans? Will they be open to taking on debt? If so, how much are they comfortable taking on?
- Will this school accept the credits already taken at community college, allowing students to avoid taking courses again?
- Does this school have special programs for community college students? Do the programs provide reduced tuition or guaranteed credit transfer? Can the programs reduce the number of semesters, and therefore reduce the overall cost of education?
- Does this school have special programs to address the individual living and financial needs that make attending the school possible? Do such programs as housing for families or services for veterans?
Finally, for many students the application cost is the first hurdle. It may discourage a student from applying and considering a variety of colleges. If the admissions fee is a burden, never hesitate to ask. I have never had a school decline a fee waiver. Also, they don’t usually require more proof than the request itself. Asking for a fee waiver is not difficult. The Common App is the most widely used transfer application for private colleges and a significant number of public colleges. It provides applicants a set of questions that qualify the student to waive admissions fees. For community colleges, transcript fees can be a challenge, especially if the transcripts are sent to multiple institutions. Community colleges may consider programs their school offers for no cost official transcripts. Because the Common App enables the applicant to apply to multiple schools at once, it may also reduce transcript costs.