Transferring to a 4-year school may be worth it

Mid adult woman talking with a colleague at work

Transferring from a two-year community college to a four-year institution is a great way to build knowledge and advance your career. It makes good financial sense, too. According to 2021 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, full-time workers with a bachelor’s degree earn $350 more in median weekly earnings than those with an associate degree.

Ace Hilliard
Ace Hilliard, student services coordinator

It can seem daunting to transition to a four-year degree program, particularly if it’s been a while since you were last in school or are contemplating a new style of education, like online learning. Here are six tips to help smooth your transfer:

1. Shop around for your best interests

Beyond tuition costs, consider what types of credits you’ll need to achieve your goals. See what scholarships and aid are available to transfer students, whether you’ll be required to attend part time or full time and if the courses you need are offered regularly so you can progress in the program as you’d like.

2. Plan ahead

As you review public and private institutions and in-person, hybrid and online programs, investigate what types of support will be available. If you’re going into a math-heavy degree program, is there a math learning center you can access?

3. Check your credits

Find out how the credits you’ve earned will transfer to each four-year school, as this can vary. Ask if your two-year school has a transfer agreement with any four-year colleges. This type of pre-approved pathway makes it especially easy to transfer to specific bachelor’s degree programs. For example, Madison College’s transfer agreement with UW–Madison Online gives students earning an associate degree in liberal arts or business management a direct path to completing a bachelor’s degree in business online at UW–Madison.

4. Meet with advisors

If you’re still in your two-year program, let your advisor know as soon as possible that you’re planning to transfer to a four-year institution so they can help you select the right classes and advise on the process. Meet with academic and career advisors at your four-year institution to discuss your options for a major as well as opportunities like internships that allow you to earn credit and experience.

5. Make a parallel plan

Acceptance to a given school doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be accepted to your desired degree program. Make a parallel plan. For example, are there other degrees or majors that can get you to your goal? If you’re not sure about your choice of major, taking a class or two at a community college before you start on a bachelor’s degree can help you determine if you’re on the right path.

6. Join in

Once you’ve been accepted to a four-year school, take time to participate in programs like student orientation, even if they’re not specifically geared to transfer students. You’ll become more familiar with the school and gain valuable insights into the resources and people that can help you succeed.


The Lifelong Learner is a monthly feature written by UW–Madison’s Continuing Studies staff. Ace Hilliard, student services coordinator, can be reached at ace.hilliard@wisc.edu. An edited version of this article first appeared in the Wisconsin State Journal on May 8, 2022.