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Admission to a Top-Tier School From Community College

There are high school students who, due to a variety of circumstances, don’t perform academically up to the level required for admission to a top-tier four-year institution directly from high school. One way for these students to demonstrate their ability to succeed academically is to graduate from a community college with an excellent academic record and then apply to a top-tier college or university.

In a recent post, we covered the steps that top-tier institutions are taking to make admission more attainable for transfer students than it has been in the past. The term “transfer student” generally implies a student who has completed one or more semesters in a four-year college and then seeks admission to another four-year college. This post concerns opportunities for students who have earned an Associates degree, which signifies that they have graduated from a two-year community college. There are 1,132 community colleges in the United States today with 13 million students, more than 40% of the total number of undergraduates in the country. The largest community college is Miami Dade College in Miami, Florida, with 174,000 students, far more undergraduates than attend any four-year institution in the U.S.

Community colleges are public institutions operated by a county or a city. Private institutions that may be identified as junior colleges are considered community colleges for statistical purposes.

A recent study by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation has, for the first time, disaggregated the transfer student population to examine the patterns and outcomes of students going on to attend four-year colleges from community colleges as distinct from those transferring from one four-year institution to another. The study found that at the 100 most selective colleges in the U.S., 14% of the students are transfers from four-year colleges but only 5% are transfers from community colleges. Fortunately, many four-year institutions are now seeking to achieve more balance between these two types of transfer students and to increase the total number of transfer students overall.

The Foundation’s report, titled Persistence, builds a case for the nation’s highly selective colleges and universities to consider community college graduates as a valuable applicant pool. The report states that, “We hope this report will serve as a resource for institutional leaders, and a jumping-off point for a much-needed dialogue on increasing opportunity for the many high-achieving community college transfer students around the country.”

The community college students who are admitted to selective institutions are not just superstars from a few exceptional community colleges. Fully 84% of the nation’s community colleges transferred at least one student to one or more of the 100 most selective four-year institutions in the country last year.

Many high-performing community college students assume that they won’t be able to transfer to a selective four-year institution, so they don’t even try. However, some selective institutions have begun to actively seek out qualified community college students for admissions consideration. They believe that community college graduates add diversity to their student bodies and that the perspectives of these students add to the richness of their institutional cultures. This belief is supported by the fact established in the Persistence report that community college students who get accepted by selective institutions graduate at a higher rate than do first-time freshmen and transfers from four-year schools.

Even some of the Ivy League schools now offer programs that facilitate the acceptance of community college graduates who apply to their schools. Cornell accepted 157 transfer students from two-year colleges in a recent year. Columbia accepts many community college students into its School of General Studies, which serves nontraditional students who have had at least a one-year break from high school. Penn has a special liberal and professional studies program for community college graduates that is similar to its School of General studies. This program admitted almost 150 community college graduates in a recent year.

The best example of a new program that benefits community college graduates is the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation’s Community College Transfer Initiative at eight highly selective colleges: Amherst, Bucknell, Cornell, Mount Holyoke, UC Berkeley, Michigan, UNC-Chapel Hill and the University of Southern California. The graduation rates of these students is higher than the general student body, over 90% in four years. Such programs will not solve the problems that inhibit community college graduates in gaining admission to highly selective four-year schools, but they provide examples to other top-tier institutions about ways to develop a source of well-qualified transfer students.

IvySelect, as a college admissions consulting firm specializing in admissions to top-tier institutions, formulates a custom-tailored approach that is unique to each student’s situation. We advise you to seek to transfer from a four-year college or a community college by applying to a range of top-tier schools that fit you well. Through our strategic guidance and expert assistance, you can be sure that IvySelect will raise your competitive stature and optimize your attractiveness to top-tier colleges and universities.

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