A bachelor’s degree is a four-year degree, but most community colleges only offer two-year programs. Still, many students who hope to someday obtain a bachelor’s degree begin their studies at a community college before transferring to a four-year school. If you’re one of them, or if there is the slightest possibility that you’ll go on to pursue a bachelor’s degree in the future, it’s wise to think about transferring in advance.


Check for Articulation Agreements

Many four-year colleges partner with community colleges to help students transfer between the two. These partnerships are called articulation agreements. They intend to simplify the transfer process by matching coursework between the community college and the four-year school to make sure that credits transfer between them. Attending a community college that has an articulation agreement with your dream four-year school minimizes your need to retake certain courses. If you’d eventually like to hold a bachelor’s degree from a specific college, even if you have no plans to enroll in the immediate future, call its admissions office to ask if it has any such partnerships.

  • If the four-year school of your dreams has an articulation agreement with a certain community college: Seriously consider attending that community college. You can rest assured that the credits you earn in community college will count toward your bachelor’s degree. You may also improve your chances of admission to the four-year school. Many articulation agreements outline their admissions requirements for transfer students (e.g., all students who have a certain GPA after at least two semesters at that specific community college are accepted).
  • If the four-year school of your dreams does not have a partnership with a community college: Though possible, it is much more difficult to transfer to a school that does not hold an articulation agreement with your community college. Is it likely that you will lose credits in the transfer process and end up having to retake classes that you’ve already completed. To minimize this possibility, speak to an admissions counselor at the four-year school you are hoping to attend as soon as you begin community college. He or she can advise you on what credits are likely to transfer so you can tailor your curriculum accordingly.
  • If you do not have a specific four-year school in mind at this point in time: It’s okay to begin community college without knowing where you’d like to transfer to complete your bachelor’s degree later on, but you might lose credits down the line. The chances that you can apply all of the credits you earn at community college improve if you attend a school with an articulation agreement. Ask the community college you have your eye on if it has a partnership with a nearby four-year school. If it doesn’t, be aware that you might have to retake courses after you transfer.

Prepare Academically for an Eventual Transfer

What kind of degree program should I enroll in?

Community colleges offer various programs and credentials, and if you hope to one day transfer to a four-year college, you should make sure that you are in a program that will help you achieve that goal. For students interested in eventually transferring to a four-year school, community colleges offer Associate of Arts (AA) and Associate of Science (AS) degree programs. The degree you earn typically depends on the subject you major in. A student earning an AA will focus on (or major in) liberal arts and humanities, while a student earning an AS will have more math and science requirements.

Since the coursework is similar to that of a bachelor’s degree program but shorter, AA and AS degrees are typically earned en route to bachelor’s degrees (though in some cases, they are used as terminal degrees.) A student who wishes to obtain either an AA or an AS will be required to complete general education courses but will have the freedom to take some electives as well.

Are there any programs I absolutely should not enroll in if I plan to one day transfer?

Community colleges also offer certificate programs and Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degrees, but neither credential is meant to serve students who would like to receive a bachelor’s degree. Both of these credentials are aimed at students who are attending community college to learn a trade or vocation, not those who hope to further their education. Both of these credentials are so specialized that their credits do not usually transfer to a bachelor’s degree program.

Do I need to earn my degree before I transfer to a four-year school?

No, you don’t have to earn your associate’s degree before transferring to a four-year school. Some students transfer after just a semester at community college, while others transfer after earning their associate’s degrees. If you end up transferring to a four-year school after earning an associate’s degree, you may list both your associate’s degree and your bachelor’s degree on your résumé.

Do I need to budget for my transfer?

Your budget depends on your financial situation, but if you are planning on transferring to a four-year university to complete your bachelor’s degree after spending time at a community college, realize that your cost of attendance is going to increase after your transfer. You may need to plan ahead so that you can tackle those costs head on. If you need to, search for the current tuition cost at your prospective four-year college with the Institute of Education Sciences’ College Navigator.

Four-year colleges are more expensive than community college. That’s one of the reasons that it is so important to ensure that all of the credits you’ve completed while at community college will transfer to your four-year school. If they don’t, you will end up having to retake general education classes, which could increase the amount of time that you spend at a four-year school. The longer you spend in school, the more money you will have to pay.

In the meantime, you should apply for federal financial aid (which may be available to you while you are enrolled in a community college and after your transfer).

Page last updated: 02/2017