How to Compare Two-Year with Four-Year College Programs

So now you want to transfer, but you're puzzled. You hear from other students that this or that doesn't transfer. And you may wonder, “How does my two-year college curriculum fit into a four-year college curriculum?” Or you may fear that what you are taking will not transfer to your favored four-year institution. I have heard these and similar questions from thousands of students at my Community College Counseling Center.

The answer, fortunately, starts with understanding the community college, which is a multipurpose college that usually offers career-oriented and transfer programs. Very simply that means that the two-year college serves people at various stages of life, and many levels of preparation who have many different goals. A person can start at a pre-collegiate level if needed. Also, an individual can enter courses at a level similar to that of most other four-year colleges. Additionally, students at a community college can select competitive university-parallel work when they are prepared for it. Advisors will help you select these alternatives at the right time.

Let’s clean up one popular misconception at the start. Attending a community college will not hold you back from a distant academic and career goal. Typically, it will offer smaller classes, excellent professors, and superior, modern laboratories and equipment. Faculty, who are teaching- oriented rather than research-oriented, recognize that each student starts at a unique starting point. An advisor and a counselor will help plan the steps on the path to that future goal, whatever it may be.

Here is one explanation to help you understand college transfer: a program of studies at one college can relate and transfer to another college. Look at what they have in common. The curriculum at the two-year and the four-year colleges have common curriculum or program components. All colleges have essentially similar components. They are: a) general education, b) a major, and c) electives. Each college degree program has them in slightly different proportions as you can see in the illustrations on the next page. Synonyms sometimes used for these segments in college catalogs are area requirements, or college requirements, or distribution requirements. If you understand the three basic components, you will better understand all college catalogs.

Associate in Applied Science Degree (AAS)

Many students want to prepare for a career requiring two years of college. The Associate in Applied Science (AAS) degree major courses offer an excellent and efficient way to get the necessary career-related studies. The student can then enter the job market with the skills that the employer insists upon. These are sometimes acceptable courses for transfer to a four-year college program, too. While a few technical courses are not transferable, the general education and other liberal arts courses are.

Associate in Science Degree (AS)

The Associate in Science (AS) degree is parallel to the Bachelor of Science (BS) degree. It contains major courses that you would take in the first two years of a BS degree. Related majors are in engineering, science, business, or other pre- professional type of studies in a four-year college. You will select the mathematics, science and general education courses for the AS degree. These courses must be equal in level to those required during the first two years in four-year college degree programs. The two-year programs permit students to take preparatory level courses first, if needed. The exit level is when you receive the AS degree. This is equivalent to the beginning of the junior class at competitive four-year colleges.

Associate in Arts Degree (AA)

Associate in Arts (AA) degrees look a lot like the typical Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree in the four-year college freshman and sophomore years of study. The major and electives are very small components of the degree. However, the two-year college faculty have carefully designed these courses to transfer. The general education component of the AA degree is the largest component in this degree pattern. This design fits nicely with the practice at four-year schools. Most four-year college advisement directors say that you must take the general education part early in the four-year program. Their advice is to take most of it during the first two years. There are logical and compelling reasons for this.

Sampling a wide variety of study areas, or disciplines, helps students decide on a major and a career. In addition, most of the major will be taken during the junior and senior years of study. Then the student has studied the most recent knowledge available in a given field just before graduating. Also, the background of knowledge and your insight will be greater. Analyzing a problem in your major area will be easier and your insight will be more advanced.

While it’s important to start comparing your two-year program to the first two years of the four-year colleges you may wish to attend, remember that you are not alone in this process. Nearly all two-year colleges have transfer counselors or advisors whose task it is to help you make and plan for transfer decisions. Check your two-year college catalog, ask your professors, and get to know where to go early in the game.

It isn’t so hard to understand how to compare the two-year college program to the four-year program. All you need to know is:

  1. Start at the level which is right for you. Entry testing is designed to help you do that.

  2. Next, get advice about what program is parallel to your final objective.

  3. Finish any necessary prerequisites.

  4. Then proceed to the program that is parallel to your goal.

  5. As you finish that program, or near the beginning of your final semester, seek advice about transfer to several four-year undergraduate colleges of your choice.

  6. Send some of the postcards in this College Transfer Guide to four-year colleges which offer the program you are interested in.

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