I first heard about community college when I was looking for a recommendation on how to improve my English. A Bechtel International Center writing class instructor, upon hearing that my English goals are set far beyond composing a cover letter, came to me with the suggestion to take an English writing class at Foothill college. I hesitated: ‘Like English-for-English-speakers classes you mean?’ ‘Yes’, she answered and then assured me that I can totally do it if I pass their placement test.
A community college operates under a policy of ‘open admission’ and uses placement test results to qualify a student for specific courses. This relatively effortless enrollment along with the reasonable rates of community colleges, partly sponsored through the communities’ property taxes, gives you a chance to take your first step on your educational journey in the U.S.A. Most community colleges, along with dedicated schools, offer English as a Second Language (ESL) courses, and these are often the obvious choice for immigrants. This is because a dedicated English course for English speakers may be too in-depth or business related, but for those who already have some skill in English, these community college courses can be ideal.
When I realized that living in a new country requires not just language acquisition, but also a certain amount of retraining, community colleges came up again. I was particularly interested in transfer programs that allow you to convert your educational credits earned at the community college into those of a public university – for me, either the University of California (UC) or California State University (CSU). Usually, transfer students study two years at a community college and then apply for the 3rd year at a university. The cost of these two years in college may be four times as low as what freshmen and sophomores at a university would pay. Who would reject the opportunity to get a university degree at such a good discount?!
The UC system is considered more reputable than CSU, and fortunately, six out of nine UC campuses offer a guaranteed admission to California community college students who meet specific requirements. Berkeley, which is the most prestigious non-private educational institution in the Bay Area, does not guarantee a transfer, but still encourages students to take a chance and apply. Those who enrolled Berkeley City College, College of Alameda, De Anza, Laney, and Merritt colleges enjoy a versatile support initiative by Berkeley named The Pathways to four-year Universities Program. Those who aren’t eligible can check what classes are required for their transfer at www.assist.org – ‘the official repository of articulation for California’s public colleges and universities’.
The last thing I wanted to find out was what the Berkeley experience was like for a transfer student, so I arrived at the famous hippie campus to talk to a ‘transfer-survivor’.
‘I found that professors like transfer students because they tend to be more studious and usually prioritize school over social activity,’ Clifton, a volunteer at Berkeley’s Transfer, Re-entry and Student Parent Center says. He’s just graduated from Berkeley after transferring from Diablo Valley College. From Clifton and his colleague Juan, I learned that universities do not discriminate on transfer students, yet expect them to have a mature attitude toward the major.
If you feel like taking a chance on community college, I would recommend the following plan:
- Determine at least one of the following: your desired major/the distance you can travel to college/your career goals. Here: salary surfer helps to determine the most lucrative curricula, and the campus locator to help you to make a more informed choice.
- Compare desired colleges in terms of their student success scores here.
- Meet a counselor at each college you pick. Remember that whatever good research you’ve done nothing compares to talking to an insider.
Read a personal account of the transfer process and obtaining an American Education:
I’m not saying you should abandon book learning in favor of networking, however, balancing these is crucial in the pursuit of an American education.