Transferring from community college to a university should be as simple as basic math: Two years at the first school plus two years at the second equals a bachelor's degree. But the equation is often more complicated.
Many students' classes don't transfer correctly, and they have to spend extra time and tuition dollars finishing their degree, if they complete it at all, according to a May 2017 report from the Community College Research Center.
The vast majority of community college students — 80 percent — intend to earn a bachelor's degree or higher, according to 2011 National Center for Education Statistics data. But only 13 percent of students who start at a community college successfully transfer and earn a bachelor's degree within six years, according to a 2017 report by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.
Here are five tips for acing the transfer process, so you can beat the odds and earn your bachelor's degree on time and on budget.
FIND OUT HOW YOUR CREDITS TRANSFER
Like piecing together a puzzle, transfer students must figure out how their credits fit into the degree requirements for their new school. Many community colleges have transfer agreements with local colleges and universities — also known as articulation agreements — that map out how specific classes translate at the four-year institution.
It's possible to transfer to a school that doesn't have an articulation agreement with your community college, but you'll have to do extra research and work closely with advisers at both schools.
BEFRIEND AN ACADEMIC ADVISER
Students should meet with an adviser at their community college at least twice a semester, says Laura Riley, coordinator of the advising and transfer center at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
A community college adviser can help you choose a major, pinpoint potential four-year schools and enroll in courses that will transfer to those schools. If you have questions about the school where you hope to transfer, reach out directly — many colleges and universities have a dedicated transfer office.
CONSIDER A RANGE OF SCHOOLS
What was a "reach" college for a high school senior might be a realistic option for a transfer student, says Kevin Meza, the transfer center coordinator at Glendale Community College in Glendale, California.
Admissions requirements for transfer students are different than those for high school seniors. They vary by school, but many institutions require transfer students from community colleges to have earned a certain number of transferable credits, maintained a certain grade point average and completed prerequisites such as English and math.
To give yourself choices, apply to some safeties, a handful of middle-of-the-road options and a few dream schools.
APPLY FOR FINANCIAL AID
It's crucial to submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The FAFSA is the application for all federal student loans, grants and work-study programs, and you need to submit it every year you're in school to be considered for this aid. If you submitted the application before, you can file a renewal FAFSA, which is easier and faster.
Next, search for potential scholarships, including awards that are designated for transfer students. For instance, all members of Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, a national group for high-achieving community college students, are eligible for scholarships from the group. The average member receives $2,500 disbursed over two years, according to the organization.
EARN A CREDENTIAL FIRST
Community college students who earn an associate's degree before transferring to a four-year institution are more likely to earn a bachelor's degree, according to a 2015 study published in Research in Higher Education.
The type of associate's degree matters. Students intending to transfer should pursue an associate's degree designed for that purpose, such as an associate's of arts or an associate's of science. An associate's of applied science is typically designed for students who want to enter the workforce immediately after community college.
This article originally appeared on the personal finance website NerdWallet. Teddy Nykiel is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: email@example.com. Twitter: @teddynykiel.
Community College Research Center: Is it really cheaper to start at a community college?
National Student Clearinghouse Research Center: Tracking transfer
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