How To Do Two Years at a Junior College (the right way)

I am a professor at a 4 year college in Chemistry. Even in the short time I’ve been here I’ve seen evidence of a problem: The two years at a junior college/community college to “save money”.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I think that getting your first two years done before you go can be a fine thing to do. It can be financially sound – BUT – you have to do it right. And most people do it wrong.

So here is what I’ve seen so far:  Students transfer in after two years at a junior college. Students just take all general education classes with no rhyme or reason while at community college. Classes don’t all transfer correctly. The student doesn’t take the right classes for their major. Student ends up having to spend more than 2 years at the 4 year university – costing them both time and money.

Lemme tell ya how (from the educator point of view) to go from junior college to 4-year university successfully.

Know what 4-year college you want to go before you start at the J.C. Knowing where you want to go after your stint at your Junior College will help guide you in your class selection. If your Junior College and the school you want to go to afterwards are in a similar geographical area then it is likely that the JC will have a list of classes that transfer. Furthermore, it is likely that the 4-year college will also have a list of classes they accept from that JC. Trust the list from the 4-year school over the list from the J.C. when there is a discrepancy – which inevitably there will be.

Contact the chair of the department you want to major in before you start at the J.C. Here’s why: Your major will have specific classes that get covered in those first two years that your chair will want to see you’ve taken. Not taking them puts you behind the other students and will cost you extra time (and money and stress) to try to catch up. It is likely that they have a wish list of classes that they want their transfer students to have in order to be able to complete their major on time AND if you’re going to a local community college they probably also have which specific classes at that particular community college you need to take. For instance, I have on my computer a list of EXACTLY which classes students need to take at a J.C. to finish my major (Chemistry) in exactly two years when they arrive. Well shoot, I’ll just show ya. 😉

To graduate with a major in Chemistry in two years  students should transfer in:

1st Semester:  Pre-calculus, General Chemistry I with lab for majors

2nd Semester:  Calculus I, General Chemistry II with lab for majors

3rd Semester: Calculus II, Organic Chemistry I with lab for majors

4th Semester: Botany OR Zoology (with lab) for majors, Organic Chemistry II with lab for majors

If a student transfers in as a Chemistry major completing the above classes at a community college or junior college they’ll be able to jump right in and be right on track to finish their degree in two years…. Almost….

Contact your future 4 year school about which electives to take. My school requires that you have 48 upper division hours in order to graduate. By definition, you can’t get upper division classes at a junior/community college. That means each semester of your two years at my four year university you HAVE to take 12 units of upper division classes to graduate. In order to do this your major classes typically aren’t enough. For instance, you would only get 26 upper division hours from finishing the Chemistry major. So somehow you’ll need to get 22 more upper division hours. So how do you do that? Your electives and general education classes.

Contact your school and find out first how many upper division hours they require for graduation. Secondly, find out from the chair how many you’ll get from completing the major assuming you take the first two years of classes that they recommend from the community college. And then thirdly, find out how many of their general core classes have upper division options. For instance, my college offers upper division english classes, history classes, art classes, humanities classes, ect fulfill those upper division credits.

Why find out the classes that your future 4-year university offers as upper division beforehand? Well, knowing what classes are available with upper division options for the general education, those are classes you DON’T want to transfer from the community college with only lower division credit. Finding out that you are 1-3 classes short with your upper division classes means you’ll need to stay an extra semester to graduate to finish up upper division hours. Costly, both financially and time-wise.

Ask about transferring an Associates of Arts or Associates of Science degrees. A new trend in education now is to transfer over Associates of Arts (AA) or Associates of Science (AS) degrees as having fulfilled your general education requirements. If the four year school you’re looking at going to has this option TAKE ADVANTAGE OF IT. I cannot stress this enough. IF YOU CAN TRANSFER OVER AN A.A. OR AN A.S. DEGREE AS HAVING FULFILLED YOUR GENERAL EDUCATION REQUIREMENTS, DO IT.DO IT. DO IT. DO IT.

If your 4 year school accepts the A.A./A.S. as having fulfilled general core, it is worth staying an extra semester (or extra few classes) at the community college to get that degree. It is worth it’s weight in gold and is quite frankly the best deal you can get in education.

Let me explain why. First, you don’t have to worry about “does this general education class transfer?” or “have I chosen the right general education classes to take for the upper division requirements?” Those questions are obsolete because you don’t have to worry about general education requirements.

If you can transfer without having to worry about general education you only have two concerns:

1) Finishing your major

2) Getting enough upper division hours to graduate

In fact, you’ll have half your schedule to SPECIALIZE in anything else that you want. For instance, if a student transfers over with an A.A. that counts as their General Education requirements and has done the above that I’ve suggested for fulfilling their first two years of Chemistry classes this is what their schedule looks like:

Semester #5: Upper division chem class, Upper division chem class, Upper division class of your choice, Physics I

Semester #6: Upper division chem class, Upper division chem class, Upper division class of your choice, Physics II

Semester #7: Upper division chem class, Upper division chem class, Upper division class of your choice, Upper division class of your choice

Semester #8: Upper division chem class, Upper division chem class, Upper division class of your choice, Upper division class of your choice

You know what you do with those “upper division class of your choice”? Specialize in something else that you enjoy. Get a minor in biology, computer science, religion, business, communications, art, music, ect, ect, ect, – what ever the heck you want as long as it is upper division. Now you have the freedom to pursue whatever you want, you can graduate on time, you don’t have to worry about general education – you can take what you WANT in your final two years of college!

Ask your advisor at the community college to lay out a four semester schedule for you – then approve it with the chair of the department that your major is in at your 4-year school. I’ve taken the liberty of putting this schedule together for students who want to come in with a chemistry degree AND get an A.A. at the community college nearest my university. I’m going to send it to the advisors at the community college so that if any students go there they have my recommendation as what to take. Here is what it looks like for that school. In the end of 4 semesters the student will have met all their requirements for their future Chemistry major AND have completed an A.A. degree. The best of both worlds.

My last words of advice: Don’t take a year of just general education classes unless you’re willing to stay an extra semester in college (at least). It has been popular advice for years that if you just “go” to a community college and take classes then things will transfer and everything will be alright. This isn’t the case. And students end up spending a lot of time and money taking classes that are required at one school that aren’t necessary, nor do they transfer, to another college. The end result is that if you don’t have a plan, and a good one, you’ll end up spending at least an extra semester taking classes because of a lack of good planning. Look at the catalogs for the schools you want to attend. Talk to the department in the school you’re looking at transferring to. There is a perfect plan to get everything done in four years. It doesn’t need to be a painful process. The key is knowing where you need to get to before you start.

Taking random general education classes will get you no where fast. Most (not all) majors at four year universities TAKE FOUR YEARS to complete. So if you’re just blowing a semester on general education classes and not doing anything towards your intended major – you’ve just “wasted” a semester of your life. A semester can be made up – but a whole year of nothing but general education classes makes it nearly impossible to finish a major in only 4 years. That is – unless those general education classes are part of a plan you’ve developed with both your junior college AND your future 4 year school to get you where you need to be.


18 Responses to How To Do Two Years at a Junior College (the right way)

  1. findingserenity2010 says:

    As a community college educator, I think this is a very thoughtful post. Honestly, some students who start out at community college need Planning 101. Also, Personal Responsibility 101. That’s not to say that CC’s don’t let some students fall through the cracks and don’t prepare their students adequately for the transition, but even the small things like contact the universities are things that no student thinks about. And more of them should!

    • Acelia says:

      I couldn’t agree more! I’m going to be the first to graduate high school in my family as well as go to college, so definitely-I am as well as some classmates are going in all of this college business blind, which also causes us to put aside 4-year Universities aside and because of the intimidation. If you get started on a blog for that “Planning 101/ Personal Responsibility” that would be great!

  2. This is great advice. I definitely wish I had of been more organized and coherent when getting my AA. It would have saved me a lot of time and hassle.

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  6. Kaia B. says:

    Thank you! To a high school senior, this is valuable information!! <33

  7. Brenda Helverson says:

    I suggest that you get the catalog from the intended college and read it cover-to-cover. After you do, you will know more about University and Department policy than most of its employees.

    Here’s the best reason to go to Community College – Individualized Attention. At a University with graduate programs, the Profs concentrate on their grad students. At a 4-year college, the Profs concentrate on their department Majors. At the Community College, the Profs concentrate on your first two years and you will never find that sort of attention anywhere else.

    It is also the only opportunity to be a Big Man on Campus as a Sophomore.

    • SS4BC says:

      Individualized attention can be had at a 4-year school. Having taught both at the community college level and at (multiple) small four year universities, I can honestly say that the attention you’ll receive at the 4-year school (provided it is small) is better than the junior college.


      At the junior college most of the professors are adjunct. At a lot of schools the professors aren’t even required to have office hours. Whereas at a small 4 year school the professor is on campus at minimum of 35 hours a week (for most schools) and as such you can just “drop by” their office at any time.

      As well, my classes are all smaller at the four year college than they were at the community college. I have 3 classes right now. One of them has 29 students, the next 4, the other 3. Lemme tell ya, I get a lot of one-on-one time with the majority of my students. The only ones who DON’T get individual attention are those that CHOOSE to avoid me. 😉

      At the community college all of my classes were between 20-30 students, and I never saw a single one of them (ever) outside of classroom hours. I wasn’t required to, I wasn’t paid to, so I didn’t. And they didn’t expect me to – not one in 3 years ever asked!

      • Brenda Helverson says:

        Surely you would admit that a Junior or Senior was more likely to take advantage of your help than a lowly and unsophisticated Freshman.

        In terms of qualified CC instructors, I can see that you are not familiar with the CC system in Washington State.

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  10. David says:

    Great post. Another factor to keep in mind is that many four year schools now compete for JC students to the extent that some JCs have transfer agreements with many schools. This allows students to shop for the best transfer and financial deals.

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  12. Acelia says:

    Reblogged this on Fala, Acelia and commented:
    Awesome Advice for City/Community Colleges

  13. Baily says:

    The community college near me does not have the major I intend to pursue. Is it still a worth it to go to the community college first then transfer to a 4 year University that has the major?

    • Brenda Helverson says:

      The Community College may not help you directly with your major but can certainly help you knock off the basics. Calculus in a 30-erson class is a lot different than calculus i a 300-person class. The CC can often give you the individual attention that you might not get a at a University. On the other hand, if you are a self-starter who already knows your major field, then you might be better off taking an Intro course in your field to see if you like it. In that case, you would be smart to match the CC requirements to your future 4-year college.

      The life of a University Professor can be filled with politics, meetings, committees, tenure worries, and other items that have nothing to do with teaching you. Many times a Prof will teach at a CC because he wants to teach and not worry about University-level politics.

  14. Brian says:

    This was sooo helpful! Do you know if UCR takes A.A or A.S degrees for transfer? I currently attend a community college and plan on transfering. My major is Psychology… it would also be great if you could put together a four semester plan for me. (My Community College counselors lack in that area.) Thanks again!!

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