Core Idea 4: Transfer to a 4-Year College

By Rajkamal Rao

Go back to Checklist for Core 4 Undergrads



This page is dedicated to undergraduates - that is, those that want to pursue a traditional 4-year US education to get a BA/BS degree.

The best-kept secret yet is that most good Community Colleges have articulation agreements with top schools.  An articulation agreement is a legally binding agreement between a 2-year Community College and a 4-year college detailing a simplified but guaranteed transfer from one to the other.

The idea of articulation is that you complete a pre-determined set of courses (or lesson plan) at a lower-cost college and transfer to a destination institution without questions asked (as long as you meet all the conditions of articulation). This provides what is generally called college or university "pathway" to millions of students who otherwise can't go to a 4-year college after high school graduation.

A 2022 study shows that while many four-year colleges expressed the need for facilitating transfer in an effort to maintain enrollment and improve diversity amidst the pandemic, the scope and impact of the efforts have proved to be limited, in part because of Covid-19. Transfer enrollment continues to drop, resulting in a double-digit enrollment decline over two years since the spring of 2020 (-16.0%).

So, 4-year colleges are even more ready than usual to accept transfer students. It is this fact that can be exploited to use upward transfer mechanisms to get admission to your desired 4-year college.

Example 1: Houston Community College to University of Houston Clear Lake

Suppose you're an underperforming student in high school who wishes to earn a 4-year degree in Information Technology.  Or suppose your family has constraints to send you to a 4-year college away from home. Whatever may be the reason, exploiting the Core 2 - Core 4 pathway is a great idea. For foreign students, this could be the Core 2 - Core 3 - Core 4 pathway because it gives them an additional 1-year OPT opportunity in between.

First, you would enroll at Houston Community College and take the required 42- credit minimum core curriculum towards earning an Associates Degree in the Arts and Sciences. You would also complete 18 credits in the elective of your choosing. Or you could directly consider transferring to the University of Houston for your BA degree in Information Technology, as long as you maintain a minimum of 2.0 GPA at the community college.

Notice how UH specifies exactly what courses to take - among a wide variety of courses - to meet its requirements for the degree. There's a lot of flexibility for the average student. But there's also specificity. It is this combination which makes articulation agreements so beneficial to both student and institution.

Example 2: Collin College to various degree programs at several colleges

Collin College has negotiated various pathways too many to list here. Check out their website for details.

An easy way is to decide with your area of interest. Suppose this is computer science. Click on the STEM option to see several options about this field. The closest program to computer science is 21-22 Computer Systems - Information Systems. Click on pathway. A .pdf document will open in a different window showing the exact menu of courses you need to complete, by semester, to transfer to your destination institution.

Notice that courses with a "c" designation represent core curriculum courses. All students pursuing an undergraduate degree must complete the 42-hour statewide Texas core curriculum. Core courses may be chosen from a large menu of classes offered under broad topic areas such as English Composition, Humanities, History, Government, Social Sciences, Math, Natural Sciences, and the Arts. Students can generally proceed to take classes in their major only after completing core curriculum requirements - and will do so after three semesters, assuming 15 credits a semester.

Example 3: Austin Community College to Texas A&M

Suppose you are interested to get a degree in Biomedical Sciences at Texas A&M University.  What are your chances of getting into Texas A&M as an international student as a traditional undergrad?  Even if you rate your chances as high, what would be the cost? Answer:  Flat rate tuition costs for international students are $10,913 per semester.

At Austin Community College (ACC), however, a five-course semester will cost $4,860 (a 3-credit course costs $972).  Luckily for us, ACC and Texas A&M have signed a binding agreement.  Accordingly, if a student completes a pre-determined list of courses at ACC totaling 67 credit hours, obtains at least a 3.6 GPA and doesn't score lower than a B in science and math, this student is automatically guaranteed admission to Texas A&M!

Let us look at the ROI analysis.  For this exercise, we are only considering tuition and fees but omitting all other expenses (living, health insurance, transportation, etc).

Traditional Option:  Complete all 120 Credit Hours at Texas A&M
Total Cost: $87,306 ($757.55 per credit hour x 120 credits)

Core Idea 4:  Complete 67 hours at Austin CC and 53 hours at Texas A&M
Cost at ACC: $21,708 ($324 per credit hour x 67 credits)
Cost at Texas A&M:  $40,150.15 ($757.55 per credit hour x 53 credits)
Total: $61,858.15

Your final 4-year degree will still be stamped by Texas A&M but the cost is nearly 29% lower.  Plus it was probably easier and more structured to get into the college to begin with.  You earn an Associates Degree along the way which you can add to your resume.  And if you're a foreign student on an F-1 visa, you have the chance to work, in the United States, as an intern for a full year if you exploit the Core 2 idea.

The ROI is clearly better in the second option.  We said earlier that we would prove to you that the Core 4 approach is off-the-beaten-track, requires hard work but is beneficial to you overall.  Many famous Americans have exploited this route, so you won't be alone in this adventure!

There is just one issue with this approach, though.  Not every 4-year college - indeed, the top private schools in the country - has articulation agreements with community colleges.  And by definition, articulation agreements are restricted to partners within a state - that is, the community college and the 4-year college both are generally present within the same state making transferring across state lines difficult.

Recognizing this gap, Quad Learning, a private company has slowly begun developing a network of community colleges and 4-year colleges across the country, called American Honors.  The site's mission statement says: "In collaboration with local community colleges and nationally renowned experts in higher education, we create new pathways for individuals to earn a high-quality bachelor’s degree."

The New York Times reports that at the community colleges participating so far, students in the honors program pay about $2,000 per year more intuition than their classmates. Quad Learning has long-term revenue-sharing agreements with each college.  “We like to think about the price as being halfway between a community college and a four-year, open-access university,” said Chris Romer, president of the company. “If we can do the first two years of college for $12,000, that’s a game-changer for a lot of families.”  Partner schools include Ohio State, Vanderbilt, Stanford, the University of Arizona, and Georgetown.

No matter which approaches you choose - the in-state Core 4 articulation method or the American Honors route - the win-win benefits are clear.  You can more easily get into a top-quality degree program but with a significant discount.

Example 3: Internal Transfer of major once already in college

While the focus of this article is to transfer from 2-year institutions to 4-year colleges, it is possible to apply to switch majors after starting your undergraduate career. For example, at the University of Texas at Austin, this process is known as internal transfer and is similar to the process of transferring to another university, as you must apply for admission to the college or school that houses the new major.

UT has published detailed guidelines about such transfers. This process is the same at most large and reputed universities where transfers are competitive. The process is much less formal at smaller institutions where all you need is the approval of your academic advisor.

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