By Luis K. Feliz
1. Start early. Go to Commonapp.org and open an account. Most of the schools to which you will apply accept the commonapp. Make a list of at least 10 schools, or a maximum of 15. Your lists should consists of “reach schools,” that is, schools that have a low acceptance rate, think Stanford, the University of Chicago, Harvard, “target schools,” that is, schools that are selective but you have more of a chance of getting in, and safety schools. On safety schools, I did not like applying to safety schools because I did not think I would attend any of them, if I were admitted. Thankfully, I had many choices to choose from and thus I did not have to dip into my target or safety schools. However, you don’t want to be a snob about looking into great safety schools. Three schools that you might consider are: Reed College, Mount Holyoke (women only), and Bard.
2. Affordability. Your lists should include schools that give transfers hefty financial aid packages. Therefore, apply to Ivy League schools like Yale, Brown, or Cornell among others. Apply to selective liberal arts colleges such as Amherst College, Vassar College, Swarthmore College, and Williams College. These schools have excellent financial aid packages.
3. Preparedness. If you want to go to a first-rate school, you have to be a first-rate candidate. In other words, you have to exhaust every intellectual opportunity available to you at your school. That means taking honors courses, becoming a member of Phi Theta Kappa, volunteering (for causes that you really believe in). Aside from standing out from the heap, you don’t want to be one-dimensional. You can’t just care about economics; you should also have an interest in other areas. Of course, this is all discretionary, that is, you must choose. I say this because you should not strive for what you think colleges would like, but actually tell them who you really are. Who knows maybe the admissions people will find your experiences worth bring to their college community?
4. Courses. You might think that it is not necessary to focus on classes. But the classes that you take define who you are to an admissions committee. Therefore, when you select courses, make sure you are doing so with intellectual integrity, that means, no easy classes. Although everyone takes at least one or two easy classes, you don’t want your entire transcript to reflect an eclectic selection of mediocre courses. The goal of a college education is expanding your understanding of the world. Your classes should reflect your attempt to engage the issues and ideas that have shaped our world and continue to do so to this day. That means you should take philosophy, history, economics, and English. On math, I know that for some people math is the bane of their GPAs. Disclaimer: many of the math courses that you take in community college are remedial, even if it is not explicitly stated on the course description. This means you need to take math courses above calculus. Precalculus does not transfer to most selective schools. You also need to take at least one lab science such as biology or chemistry.
5. Major. Unfortunately, a lot of people find out too late that majoring in business is not optimal for transferring to a selective liberal arts college outside of Cuny or Suny. But the truth is that your business classes won’t transfer to Amherst College, Vassar College, or any other selective liberal arts college or topnotch university. Therefore, if your goal is to transfer to a selective liberal arts college, you need to major in the liberal arts because it allows for depth and breadth.
6. Resources. There are many resources available for people who are interested in becoming community college scholars. That is, people who have an unquenchable desire for knowledge and thus have outgrown their community college experience because they have exhausted all the intellectual opportunities at their disposal. Check out these websites: unigo.com, collegeprowler.com, collegeboard.com. These websites have a lot of information that can assist you in finding out information that is indispensable in the transfer process such as tuition, room and board, application deadlines and etc. You want to check these websites early because they can help you narrow down your lists. Check out these books: the Fiske Guide, Colleges that Change Lives by Pope.
7. Requirements. Some colleges require the SATs, a test that high school students must take to gauge their college preparedness. That’s why it is of utmost importance that you have a “working college list.” I say “working college list” because it can change. If you have a list of schools early on in the process, you can look at the requirements and fulfill them without panicking and inevitably giving up on Harvard or Yale. This can be averted if you follow these guidelines. I hope you do. There are other requirements, but this is a major one. For other requirements, check the respective school’s website.
8. Interview/Visit. Many students don’t know that colleges offer interviews in person or over the phone for transfer students, as well as opportunities to attend a transfer student open house event. Again, you want to leave no stone unturned, without being too anxious to the point that it hurts, not helps, your chances. For the interviews, you want to go to the website or call the admissions office to find out the dates. Do this early! It is better to get an interview in person for two reasons. First, you get to meet, if the person with whom you are interviewing works at the admissions office, someone who is going to read your application. Secondly, it is your opportunity to learn about whether or not the school is the right match for you. In admissions’ literature, the word the “right match” crops up fairly often. What that means is that the school might not be right for you, or you might not be right for the school. You want to make sure that if you visit you learn as much as possible about the school. A third transfer, although possible, is not a good idea. In addition, for the interview, you want to dress appropriately. Because you are an older student, you should present yourself as such. That means you have to wear business attire. If you don’t know what that is, look it up. You should go with a list of questions and talking points. For example, you should know why you are applying to the school for which you are interviewing, and please try to be original –don’t say because of its rank. Now, listen, because this is very important: there are good questions and then there are outright stupid questions. You don’t want to ask information that is already on the website that will annoy your interviewer for wasting his/her time. You questions should be genuine and insightful.
9. Time/Essay. You should give yourself as much time as possible to work on your application. Therefore, you should start working on your essays during the summer, if you are looking to transfer for the fall of next year. Now, I don’t mean any rigorous work during the months that are reserved for basking in the sun. Instead, what I mean is that you should start putting together a list. You should start looking over the websites of the schools that interest you, and write down any interesting program or interesting fact about the school that appeals to you. You should also start thinking about—I hate to use this phrase—how you are going to sell yourself. By that, I mean that there is something about you that is different from another applicant. Perhaps, you work two jobs while attending community college at night and coaching baseball little league on the weekends. Or something else that seems more mundane. You have to know how to tell your story. For example, what is the theme of your life? What makes all these activities important to you? What do they say about you? These are the big questions that you should ask yourself before you start writing your personal statement. Your personal statement is the only part of the application of which you have control. The admissions process is a crapshoot: people who don’t deserve to get into certain schools get in, while others who deserve to get in because they have worked hard don’t get in. However, there is hope. You can increase your chances of getting in if you really sit down and think about rendering an honest account of your life. Honesty is your best ally. The people who work at the admissions office and read your essays are adept at discerning when someone is a cheat and a phony. So please don’t lie. Believe in yourself. You probably have something interesting to say about yourself, and you just need to find out what that is. Therefore, time is of the essence, so use it constructively. Map out your dreams, and then pursue them vigorously.
10. The big binder. Now, you might be asking where I am going to put all this information. Well, the answer is you have to buy a big three ring binder. In it, you should include a profile of the school, which I will discuss later, with all relevant information. You should also include a note pad to take notes when you call the admissions office. You should include any copies of emails that you sent or that you receive from the admissions office. Usually, the person who handles transfer applications is called the transfer coordinator. You want to develop a relationship with this person. You want them to know your name. Therefore, any questions that are relevant to your application should be addressed to this person. You don’t want to overdo it, though. This binder will be your Bible or Koran, or whatever religious book you use in your private religious or spiritual life. You should keep it in safe place. You should update it accordingly. For example, in the transfer process, the admissions office will invariably lose something that you sent. This is the place where you keep copies of everything that you sent to your schools, extra recommendation letters, copies of your taxes, and sealed transcripts. Also, you want to send your application materials in one envelope.
11. Recommendation letters. You want to ask for recommendation letters early two or three months in advance. You should ask for four recommendation letters. However, make sure that they provide meaningful insight into who you are as a person, student, scholar, activist, and etc. Extra recommendation letters that all say the same thing can actually be used against you, so please put thought into who you ask to write you a recommendation letter. Also, most schools require two recommendation letters. Call and ask the transfer coordinator if it you can submit supplementary recommendation letters. Brown University only accepted one extra. But it was good enough because I was accepted. Amherst College suggested no more than four. Please call before sending more recommendations than are required.