When I made the decision to transfer schools, I figured things would be easy. 

It was the end of my sophomore year at a private East Coast university that wasn’t right for me. I missed registration and decided to withdraw my enrollment. I had high hopes for admittance to a new school, a University of California (UC) where I fit in. I didn’t know much about transferring. I had seen family and friends do it, seemingly with ease, but I had no idea about all the ins and outs of strict course requirements and articulation agreements. In my head, it was going to be seamless. Then, in April 2021, I received a rejection letter from every single school I applied to. 

Suddenly, I was schoolless, and things began splitting at the seams.

In Oct. 2021, Governor Gavin Newsom passed a slew of legislation with the aim of simplifying the transfer process from California Community Colleges (CCC) to the UC and California State University (CSU) systems. From requiring a common course numbering system, to the establishment of a UC and CSU-wide general education transfer process that expands and clarifies transferable courses, these laws attempt to reduce the confusion that is present within a disparate system of over 100 community colleges and two vast university networks. Despite these efforts to streamline the CCC transfer experience, there is still much work to be done in easing the vague and complex process required of more “nontraditional” transfer students — students who are outside of the CCC system and students who may not take the traditional four-year path toward graduation.

One-third of UC students begin at CCCs. In 2021, over 21,000 transfer students enrolled at a UC. CCC transfers are vital in the makeup of our UC community. Transferring itself, particularly within the CCC to UC and CSU pathways, opens up higher education opportunities to students who otherwise may not be able to gain access to such institutions. A 2021 RP Group study reveals that among CCC transfer students, lower-income students and particularly students of color cite university affordability as a major challenge in completing a four-year degree. Transferring can serve as an affordable solution to this barrier. Access to an easily navigable transfer program from CCCs to the UC is imperative in achieving equitable educational opportunities for all students. 

Already, a robust agreement exists between UC and CSU campuses with the CCC that is meant to prioritize admission for CCC students. This system, however, has grown into a vast maze criss-crossed with bureaucratic red tape. 

With programs meant to guarantee admission, such as the UC Transfer Admission Guarantee (T.A.G.), students should find a standardized course of study that, when completed, opens up the door to a quick and easy transfer experience. However, every UC that offers T.A.G. has vastly different completion requirements. Other resources, like the Intersegmental General Education Transfer Curriculum (IGETC), a specified course of study that allows students to waive any general education requirements once enrolled at a UC or CSU, is a vital tool in transferring, but often unclear in its variable course requirements. Even sites like assist.org, that allow CCC students to handily view each articulation agreement between each institution, can be overwhelming to navigate due to the vastly differing articulation agreements between community colleges, universities and major departments. 

It’s clear that this massive network of in-state transfer opportunities and resources needs a massive overhaul. Newsom’s legislation helps simplify the in-state transfer process, which is extremely important.  

Still, there exists another population of transfers: nontraditional transfers who come from outside the CCC system. Though our numbers are small — non-CCC transfer students make up about 8% of transfer students within the UC — we are just as deserving of an accessible, streamlined path to the UC system as those in-state. 

After finding myself without a school, I knew I wanted to reattempt transferring to a UC. But, as a nontraditional transfer student, I had no idea where to begin. UC websites were vague about transfer qualifications for students coming from outside CCC’s. As a student attempting to transfer from a private university, I wasn’t given the tools to even qualify for UC admission the first time around. 

In order to qualify for transfer, students are required to complete a seven-course pattern of general education courses, 60 UC-transferable units, maintain a GPA of 2.4 and complete all prerequisite courses for their intended major. This is doable for community college students with goals of transferring to a UC and access to resources that, theoretically, should map out a pathway toward the completion of these requirements. However, those who wish to transfer from an outside university are not afforded these same resources. 

For me, there was no assist.org, there was no T.A.G., there was no IGETC, there was no way to determine which of my classes were UC transferable — there was nothing. I searched Google endlessly and struggled with the ambiguous language on the UC transfer website page that included little to no information for non-community college transfers. I called UC advisor offices, but I learned nothing. Even if these resources for CCC students are maze-like and in need of simplification, their existence is still important and helpful in navigating the complex in-state transfer requirements. 

My hopes were high before receiving my first round of transfer rejections. But, tucked away in the back of my head, there was still a sense that I knew I didn’t have a shot in the first place. And how could I? I didn’t have the same resources or chance to qualify for transfer.

I flew home and enrolled at my local CCC. It would now take an extra year to graduate. I met with a counselor who advised me to take a full load of gen-ed courses. I had already taken these classes at my university, but they were not transferable to the UC system. I felt like I was being punished for choosing the wrong school, for realizing the out-of-state experience wasn’t right for me and asking to come home. 

My second round of transfer applications was not so painful. I had more resources and two semesters worth of UC transferable courses. Still, I experienced the ambiguity and confusion that exists within the CCC transfer system. Despite meeting with counselors on multiple occasions, I was not given any information about the IGETC. It wasn’t until I attended orientation at UC Santa Barbara and asked an advisor how I might mitigate the 10 general education courses I was being told I was required to take, that I even heard it mentioned. Without the IGETC, it would have taken me at least six years to earn my degree. 

The recent legislation is a positive first step in remedying a broken transfer system — a system vital in facilitating higher education for low-income students, students of color and first-generation students. Still, there is more work to be done, inside the system and out. My experience does not exist in a vacuum. Other nontraditional transfer students, like myself, are bound to experience a complex, opaque system that affords them few resources. They deserve better. They deserve a system without so many seams. 

Riley Burke remains optimistic about the reform of the transfer system. But not too optimistic.


A version of this article appeared on p. 12 of the Nov. 10, 2022 print edition of the Daily Nexus.