California Community College Transfer: Facts vs. Fiction

Transfer TopicsA large percentage of all university students in California begin their academic careers in one of our state’s 112 community colleges. Despite the overwhelming success of California’s Community College system, which is by far the largest and arguably most successful system of public education in the world, many people are still confused about the reality of transferring. In the first installment of Transfer Topics, we’ll address a few of the questions that we, in the transfer world, frequently encounter:

“Do universities really want transfer students?”

Yes! While there are a small handful of universities that restrict transfer admissions, the majority welcome transfer students. The CSU and UC systems give high priority in their admissions to California Community College students, and there are a number of guaranteed or priority admission agreements available for transfer students going to public, private, and out of state schools. Students who were denied admission to a particular university as a freshman applicant are often admitted as transfers.

“Transfer students don’t do as well as those who start at the universities, do they?”

The latest data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center shows that transfer students graduate at a higher rate nationwide – 71% vs. 65% – than students who start as freshmen at four-year schools.* And highly competitive schools such as UCLA have also confirmed that transfer students complete their upper-division university coursework at comparable rates and in the same amount of time as those who start their careers there.

* ”Baccalaureate Attainment: a National View of the Postsecondary Outcomes of Students Who Transfer from Two-Year to Four-Year Institutions,” published 8/2013

“Aren’t community college classes easier than the courses students would take in their first two years at a university?”

Not at all. Our course articulation agreements ensure the transferability of classes and specify that transfer classes taught at the community college include the same content with
comparable rigor as equivalent courses at the universities.

“Transfer students get a different diploma, right?”

Nope. There’s no asterisk, and a UC, CSU, or private university diploma is exactly the same for all graduates, regardless of where they started their academic career. And transfer students who plan well can usually add an additional diploma – the Associates’ degree – along the way.

“What are the drawbacks of starting your academic career at a community college?”

A California Community College can be an excellent setting, but it’s not the right fit for everyone. While the community colleges offer hundreds of majors and degree or certificate programs,
some students may want immediate access to a specialty program that’s only available at a certain school. Others may want to attend a school where many students live on campus, or where they have Division 1 sports. There can be a variety of resources available at any given school which may not be available at another. Skilled counselors and advisors can help guide students to a college or university that is the right fit for them, and good college admissions counselors may even sometimes recommend a campus other than their own.

“What are the benefits of attending community college?”

Again, the answer is different for everyone. For starters, students can generally get the same course content as they could get in the first two years at a university, but usually at a much
lower cost. It may be easier to get courses than at some highly impacted universities. Students who are still deciding on a major or want a campus which offers personalized support may also find a home at a community college. Certain career paths are particularly well-suited to starting at a community college, including teachers, firefighters, nurses, and more, and even some majors such as engineering, biotech, computer science, and green tech programs are booming at CCCs. And just as the CSU and UC systems have their areas of specialty, community colleges also offer a wide variety of programs not found at other schools. Finally, with 112 community colleges in California, most students can find a campus that is convenient and readily accessible.

By Robert Waldren



  1. Lauren Cook says:

    Hi Robert – I Chair NACAC’s Editorial Committee and the Journal of College Admission is looking to have more pieces on transfers – this type of Q & A could be great. Knowing how large the California system is, I think it would translate to a wide audience. If you’re interested in more information about submitting to the Journal you can go to our website ( or contact the Journal Editor at

  2. A serious drawback can be the transfer rate. The California Community Colleges Chancelor’s office puts out the Student Right To Know Report annually to provide accurate information about the ability of students to transfer ( Today’s statewide successful transfer rate is only 14.36%. Use this site to determine the transfer rate for the California Community College you are researching.

    • This is a great example of how to take statistics with a grain of salt. This rate does not weed out students that have no intention of transferring from the community college, nor does it exclude students that haven’t even attempted a transferable math course. I could go on and on about the flaws in the stats, but caveat emptor to all ‘rates’, especially transfer rates. Over 65,000 transferred to UC and CSU in 2012-13 and another 40,000 to private and out-of-state institutions, according to the National Clearinghouse, from California community colleges. If you do what we tell you, you will have transfer options.
      – Dan Nannini, WACAC President

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