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Articles / Applying to College / How Will Elite Colleges View Community College Applicant?

How Will Elite Colleges View Community College Applicant?

Sally Rubenstone
Written by Sally Rubenstone | Dec. 2, 2015

Question: My daughter wants to come home for spring semester of Freshman year.  She will be attending the local community college honors program.  Do colleges such as Swarthmore or Vassar look down on this if she want to apply her sophomore fall or junior fall semester?

 “The Dean” is flying without instruments here. It would be very useful to know where your daughter is at school right now, why she plans to come home and attend community college, and if she was admissible to places like Swarthmore and Vassar straight out of high school.

While “elite” colleges don’t “look down” on community college transfer candidates –and, in fact, may even woo them–this special consideration is typically reserved for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, for those who weren’t properly counseled to apply to highly selective colleges the first time around, or for late bloomers who didn’t hit full academic stride while in high school.

If your daughter is at a competitive college now and then applies to places like those you’ve named as a transfer student, it will certainly raise flags with admission committees although it may not be at all a deal-breaker. The admission folks will definitely want to know WHY your daughter made this move to come home. Some reasons will work in her favor more than others. For example, if her current college is unaffordable and she’s making the move for financial reasons, that won’t hurt her. If she came home because a family member was critically ill and she wanted to be nearby, then her decision should not work against her either. If she was physically ill herself, the transfer college cannot by law discriminate against her, but it’s possible that the admission committee will worry that she could bring a serious medical problem to campus and might deny her, although they will never tell you why.  Likewise, if mental health concerns brought her home, the admission committee will want confirmation that she is ready to engage in a rigorous academic program and—as with the physical health concerns—they may fear that she’s not fully up to speed and could deny her and not say why.

If your daughter was not likely to have been admitted to Swarthmore, Vassar, etc. right from high school, she will need an exemplary record at the community college (and at her current college), a good reason why she transferred home, and probably something “extra” (activities, job, talent, etc.) outside of the classroom. If she was of that caliber in high school, she should expect to explain why she came home, and she may find that seemingly similar colleges may view her in dissimilar ways.

Finally, keep in mind that highly competitive colleges typically have few spots for transfer students, and the number of vacancies can vary from year to year. So even if admission officials are impressed with your daughter and find no fault in her credentials or in her decision to attend a two-year school, they simply may not have room for her when she’s ready to enroll.

Hope that helps. If you want to tell me more, maybe I can help more.


Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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