The university application system was designed to keep you out.
Community colleges were created to get you in.
Notice I did not say community colleges were “designed” to get you in.
The system is hard. Not all credits are transferrable. And there isn’t a universally accepted curriculum across the US, or within states.
So here’s how I did it. I hope this guide can still help people outside of California.
How I Started Out
When I was 17 and enrolled in community college, I didn’t know how hard it would be.
I was lucky that my wake-up call came 3 weeks into my first semester. I qualified for Calculus, so I took it, thinking it would be smart to knock out 5 credits in one class.
Mistake. I was terrible at calc. By the 3rd week, my grade was already so low, the professor pulled me aside and asked what my major was.
I was set on liberal arts. So she kindly suggested I drop her class before it ruined my transcript.
This was the best advice she could have given me.
I was in way over my head. I had no idea what I was doing, and the fact that I had to drop a class freaked me out.
How I Figured It Out
So I went to the admissions office and got one of those IGETC flyers, which outlined the curriculum I needed to follow in order to transfer.
What’s IGETC? Pronounced “I-get-see,” it’s the Intersegmental General Education Transfer Curriculum. These are the courses that California community college students can take to satisfy general education requirements for most University of California campuses & majors.
I was set on UCLA, UC Berkeley, or UC Irvine.
Then I picked up a course catalog and circled all the classes that fulfilled IGETC requirements.
I considered only those classes. And there were plenty to choose from.
Then I figured out how I’d finish all the courses based on the 4 semesters I had, while being mindful of the 5 credits I just lost. I had to make sure I took 5 classes each semester.
At this time, first semester, first year, I didn’t know exactly what my major would be.
Though I had a feeling it would likely be Communications, English, or Literary Journalism.
For second semester and onward, I chose only those transferrable classes based on ratings and reviews on RateMyProfessors. I don’t know how helpful that site is today, but 10+ years ago, it gave me a good sense of what to expect from each professor.
Meantime, I met with several guidance counselors. I’d open up the course catalog or point to the IGETC form and do a sanity check.
But when in doubt, I always followed the catalog or form. This looks to be a similar but better resource than what I had.
But then I made another mistake.
Wanting to get ahead, I signed up for 2 classes during the short, 5-week winter quarter at another community college.
The professors actually crammed the 3-month semester into those 5 weeks. I couldn’t keep up. I eked out a C- and a B.
I was afraid these grades would tank my GPA. So I resolved not to use these transcripts.
This meant I had to take even more classes during the remaining spring and fall semesters to transfer within the 2-year time frame. I took 7 classes each semester.
I hustled. Applied to the 3 UCs on my list. Got into all of them. Though I’ll admit, I had a 3.9 GPA. Did I get in because of my grades? Maybe.
But UCs give highest priority to community college students, who make up 90% of junior transfers. And the minimum GPA required is 2.4.
The overall takeaways?
By the end of your first semester at CC (or sooner):
- Get a sense for which college you want to transfer to
- Narrow down your major to 3 options, max
- Choose only from transferrable courses
- Double check with a counselor or ask for help
Transferring out of community college is hard, but it’s doable.
Though my parents were happy to have me at home, I knew they were disappointed. I heard whispers of friends-of-friends saying how “sad” my life was because I was “supposed to be smart.”
When I dropped that Calculus class, I had something like a 10% grade. I even had a friend tutoring me after class. I had never felt so stupid. What business did I think I had being there?
I was lost.
I figured it out mostly on my own, but I don’t think it should be that way for anybody.
Still, it was worth it for me, and I’m proud I did it. And I hope more high school students consider this in the future.