by Laura Lyjak
Did you know that the average yearly earnings for a college graduate are just over
$45,000 while the average annual income for a high school graduate is about $25,000
a year? Itís estimated that over a lifetime college graduates make about $600,000
more than no graduates. And aside from the good economic reasons to earn a college
degree, there are other less-measurable benefits like the increased skills, knowledge
and confidence that come with education. If youíve always dreamed of a college education
but arenít sure how to make it a reality, you should know that there are many college
students who donít fit the traditional stereotype. Not every college graduate begins
as an 18- year-old freshman, living in a university dorm, supported by parents.
Consider these facts from a 1999 U.S. Census Bureau survey:
These numbers add up to a significant percentage of students who donít fit the typical
profile. And if you think youíre too old or you canít afford college; if you have job
and family obligations; or if youíre not sure you have the academic skills to succeed,
there are resources to help you.
- About 28 percent of students took more than four years to finish their degree.
- A third of all college students are enrolled part-time.
- 38 percent of college students are over age 25.
- One third of all college students are enrolled in two-year colleges.
Make the transition
When traditional four-year colleges donít fit your life, community colleges provide
a more flexible alternative. With low tuition, evening and weekend classes, resources
to prepare you for college-level academics and an opportunity to get your GPA in
shape, if necessary, a community college can prepare you to make the transition
to a four-year institution. And both community colleges and universities have programs
to help make the transition a smooth one. More and more, universities welcome the
experience and diversity that transfer and non-traditional students bring to campus.
Whatís the best university for you?
Your choice of a transfer institution will depend on various
considerations, like your field of study and your willingness to relocate. But your
options include everything from local universities to prestigious private colleges.
If you canít relocate, youíll likely attend a local university and chances are good
it already has a transfer agreement with your community college. Many state universities
have detailed transfer plans that help students choose which community college courses
to take. In Michigan, many colleges and universities participate in the MACRAO transfer
agreement, which allows community college students to transfer up to 30 credits
hours of general education requirements to a four-year institution. Counselors and
instructors both can provide advice about what classes will fulfill your transfer
Universities value transfer students
Eric Freedman, author of "How to Transfer to the College of Your Choice" lists several
reasons why universities consider transfer students to be assets, "They add to the
maturity of the campus; theyíve already proven themselves in the classroom; they
tend to stay on track and graduate; they know what they want to do." Thatís why
starting out at a community college shouldnít keep you from aiming high. A number
of well-regarded private colleges have special programs for transfer students and
even Ivy League schools accept transfers who meet their high standards. For example,
Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island has a special Resumed Undergraduate
Education program for students over the age of 25 and Xavier University in Cincinnati,
Ohio offers an undergraduate program for adults taking courses full and part time.
Articulation agreements are worth looking into, also. Some universities will guarantee
transfer admission for participating community college students who take a specific
course load and maintain a minimum GPA. An unusual and noteworthy example is a recent
articulation agreement between Smith College, a prestigious, private college in
North Hampton, Massachusetts and Miami-Dade Community College in Florida. Miami-Dade
students can transfer up to 57 credits toward their degree at Smith. Agreements
of this kind are much more common between large state universities and community
Plan, plan, plan
According to Freedman, transferring requires thought and planning. Aside from choosing
the right classes and keeping your grades up, you should be methodical about investigating
different colleges and applying for admission and financial aid on schedule, "Students
need to think about this on an ongoing basis, not just in their last semester."
And he suggests you monitor possible glitches such as lost transcripts or missed
deadlines. He also suggests having a back-up plan in case you donít get accepted
by your first choice of school. Asking, "What will I do if I donít get in?" is important
to your strategy. "Students need to remember not to take rejection personally; the
more competition there is to get into a school, the more chance there is of rejection,"
Freedman says. Compared to students who transfer from one university to another,
community college students have an advantage. Freedman notes, "Community colleges
know that they are an intermediate step for many students and they can help students
plan the process from deciding what courses transfer, to getting recommendations
from faculty, to figuring out appropriate financial aid." If you want to find out
more about college transfer, look at Freedmanís book "How to Transfer to the College
of Your Choice" published by Ten Speed Press. Or, if youíre returning to college
as an adult, see "Never Too Late to Learn: The Adult Student's Guide to College"
by Vicky Phillips published by The Princeton Review. The Association for Non-Traditional
Students in Higher Education has a Web site at www.antshe.org/ with useful links
and information for adult college students. Back to College Resources for Reentry
Students at www.back2college.com has more information for students returning to