The University Network

Transfer Student Guide — Interview With Dr. Martha Parham, Sr. Vice President of Public Relations, American Association of Community Colleges

TUN sits down with Dr. Martha Parham, senior vice president of public relations at the American Association of Community Colleges, to offer guidance on how college students can effectively transfer to another college or university.

TUN: Dr. Parham, thanks so much for joining us. 

DR. PARHAM: Thanks for having me. It’s exciting to be here. 

TUN: At what point are students eligible to transfer to a different school? Can students transfer after one semester, or do they have to wait a couple of years?

DR. PARHAM: There’s really no one rule for transfer. Each community college and each university has its own rules. 

Typically, students can consider transferring after they’ve completed 12 units, but that can vary depending on individual circumstances and colleges. Some universities will accept students with fewer credits, but they may be admitted as a freshman. For the most part, if you have 12 units that are transferable, you can be eligible for transfer. 

TUN: If a student wants to transfer, what does that entail? Can you give us a step-by-step guide to the transfer process?

DR. PARHAM: I can do my best. As I said before, there’s no one rule for transfer. 

My best piece of advice would be to do your homework before you start your classes. If you’re a community college student and you know you want to transfer, you want to start with the end in mind. Make sure that you’re taking classes that transfer to the university program that you’re interested in. 

So, the first step is research and doing your homework. Find out what will qualify you as a transfer student at the university that you want to go to, remembering that universities are different. So, if you have two in mind, they may have different requirements for the same application period. 

Talk to an academic advisor or a counselor at your community college before you start taking classes. You don’t want to take a bunch of classes or take a whole semester’s worth of classes and find out that they’re not going to transfer to the program that you’re interested in. So, talk to them before you start taking classes, and make sure that all of those classes will transfer accordingly. Again, remember it may be different for different universities. 

Once you’ve developed your pathway and taken and passed all of those classes that will transfer, you’re going to need to apply to the university. Now, many community colleges have these structured transfer pathways where, if you complete a certain set of classes, you’re automatically admitted to a university. So, it may lead to an automatic admission. 

But, you’re still going to have to complete some paperwork. So, understand what that paperwork is and what the deadlines are. 

Just know this, it seems complicated. In some cases, it is kind of complicated. But, don’t let it overwhelm you. Admissions counselors at both community colleges and universities are more than happy to help you. That’s their job. That’s what they do all day, every day. Use those resources to your advantage. 

TUN: You mentioned deadlines. What are the important deadlines that students should be aware of?

DR. PARHAM: Application deadlines will probably be different for different programs at different universities. Transfer applications may have a different set of dates than the regular freshman applications. 

So, just make sure you understand when those dates are. Make a note of those deadlines and really make sure you understand all of the things that are required to accompany your application. You may need transcripts. You may need high school graduation records. Those things can take time, sometimes weeks, to process. 

You don’t want to wait until the last minute to apply and find out you don’t have all of those supplemental, backup things that you need.

Make sure you understand those deadlines as well. The good news is, those dates are usually posted online. So, they’re easy to find. Application processes are mostly online now, so you do have a little bit of extra time. But, just make sure you’re aware of all of the dates for all of the steps and requirements. 

TUN: Missing one of those deadlines would definitely be a problem. What are some of the other common barriers that students run into while attempting to transfer from one school to another? Can you provide some advice as to how to mitigate those barriers?

DR. PARHAM: Sure. Understanding the deadlines, understanding how to order transcripts and how long that takes. Credits is another. I mentioned it earlier, but so many students end up taking classes without understanding which classes will actually transfer. Then, they find out that they’ve taken a semester’s worth of classes that aren’t going to transfer. So, that can be a problem. Do your homework. 

The other issue can be money. It costs money to apply to colleges, so make sure you understand how much it costs to apply for admission to colleges and universities. In some cases, you may be able to ask for a waiver of that if that’s a barrier. But, really understanding how much it will cost in money and time to complete the entire application process is important. 

Again, talk to your counselor. Ask for help. Understand what you’re getting into. The barriers can be broken through, but you have to ask for help. 

TUN: Who should they be reaching out to for help? You mentioned a few people, but who should they be reaching out to? 

DR. PARHAM: Absolutely. There’s usually a transfer center at community colleges. If there’s not an official transfer center, it would be in the admissions office. In some cases, they’re academic advisors or counselors. They are all very well schooled in transfer and how it works for the different systems and universities. 

In some states, they have those predetermined pathways so you can literally walk into a transfer center and get a list of the classes that you need to take and pass to get into XYZ university.

But, talk to them. They can help you. They can help you understand financial aid. They can help you understand the transfer process itself. That’s really who you need to go to. 

So, your counselor, your academic advisor, someone in the admissions office, they’ll be able to help you. 

TUN: How can students maximize the amount of financial aid that they receive from the institutions that they transfer to? Is the process different than it would be when applying to college for the first time right out of high school?

DR. PARHAM: No. If we’re talking about federal student loans, Pell Grants and grant programs, they all have their own unique requirements. Again, your counselor can help you with that. 

I would say, if you can afford to be in community college without utilizing Pell Grants and a lot of loans and you can save those for the more expensive university cost, it will be to your benefit. You’ll just have less debt coming out of college. I think that’s probably the smartest way to go. 

But, it really depends on your individual circumstance. Again, go back to your counselors. They usually have information about grants that are not just federal grants, but also state grants or institutional grants that you can get.

You don’t have to pay grants back, so that’s the most ideal type of financial aid. 

TUN: Did we miss anything? Is there anything else that you believe that students who want to transfer should be aware of?

DR. PARHAM: I think what’s important to remember is, a lot of times, students who transfer from community college have fulfilled all of the requirements, or maybe need one or two more classes, to be eligible for their associate’s degree. 

So, my advice would be to make sure you go ahead and get your associate’s degree. In some cases, it is just a matter of filling out an application. Regardless of what happens in the next part of your journey, if you don’t get that associate’s degree, those credits just sit there.

If you end up not going to a university or taking a different pathway, you always have that associate’s degree and no one can take it away from you. So, that would be my advice. Before you transfer, see if you qualify to get your associate’s degree. Go ahead and get it because, again, it’s something that no one can take away from you once you’ve earned it. 

TUN: Thanks, Dr. Parham, for joining us today. 

DR. PARHAM: Thank you, Jackson.

This interview has been edited for clarity. Watch the full video here.