With the ballooning costs in undergraduate education (bachelor’s degrees), more and more students are deciding to start their educations at community colleges. Whether you’re transferring from a community college to a university or between universities, this guide is for you!
Before You Apply
Before you apply to transfer institutions, you’ll need to create a list of universities.
Do not just apply to one university. You’ll want to apply to several to give yourself a number of options to compare, especially as different schools will have different financial aid offers. I usually recommend applying to a couple of schools that you feel you’re likely to get into, a couple of schools that you feel are reaches, and a few schools where you feel that the odds are 50-50. In total, I suggest applying to 4-8 institutions, though you can certainly apply to more.
One common mistake is omitting private universities. While these can be far more expensive, they often have much more robust financial aid. Don’t write them off because of the high price tag. They may end up being less expensive after financial aid.
Also, don’t bother applying anywhere where you wouldn’t be willing to attend. It’s a waste or your time and theirs.
In addition to the usual factors to consider in picking a post-secondary institution (strength of program and faculty, opportunities for students, location, etc.), there are some additional factors specific to the transfer student.
How much of your coursework will transfer to your new institution? Consult with an advisor at the university to which you want to transfer to find out.
Some schools have guaranteed transferability pathways (sometimes called “articulation agreements”), which can help guide your choices at your current institution for maximum transferability. Others may not, but might still take most of your courses. Most will limit the number of hours you can transfer in (or mandate a certain percentage of your degree be completed at their institution). Most will also have certain requirements for grades, such as giving a minimum grade for courses you transfer in. Some institutions create even more significant barriers to transfer, such as barrier exams that you’ll need to pass in order to move past the courses you’ve already taken.
It’s important to note that most universities will discourage transfer students from taking too many classes at another institution, such as a community college. Universities will ideally want you to take as many classes with them as possible. There’s not only an economic motivation for them, but it helps them ensure that the quality of education you received is consistent with their standards. Despite these warnings, community colleges will still usually present a viable start to undergraduate music majors and may allow them to complete half of their bachelor’s degrees at a fraction of the cost, all while earning an associate degree or certificate.
Universities often have certain grade requirements for courses to transfer and may have different GPA requirements for transfer students than for entering freshmen. Google search the school’s name and “transfer” or “transfer requirements” to find these.
While this may be a secondary factor after the transferability of music courses, if you’ve taken a lot of core courses at a community college or your initial university, it’s worth checking to see how much of that will transfer in. If you’re transferring from a community college to a public university in the state, look into how much of the core will transfer in. For instance, in Texas, if you complete the core at a community college, you’ll be considered “core complete” upon transfer to a public four-year university, even if their core requirements differ.
Private Lesson Instructor
Regardless of if you’re applying as a freshman or a transfer student, a major factor for picking universities and conservatories to which to apply should be who will be your primary private lesson instructor. While you may not know in some areas where there are multiple instructors per discipline (voice, composition, etc.), research the faculty, and consider reaching out to the school to see if the faculty will meet with you or give you a sample lesson. This can be a great way to see if you’d like studying at the institution and to forge an initial connection with someone who will likely be a chief decision maker in your application.
Preparing to Apply
Here are some things to consider as you prepare to apply to universities for transfer.
Dates & Requirements
Start your search for a transfer institution early! Create a calendar for yourself with the submission and audition deadlines and start planning ahead of time for all the specific requirements you’ll need. Schools may dictate what type of repertoire to prepare, if you need to submit a video “pre-screen” audition in advance, special requirements that will take time to prepare, and priority deadlines for applying. Get started on this early, so you’re not caught unprepared.
To prepare to apply, get together these written materials:
- College Résumé – Note that this isn’t like a job résumé, where you’ll list an objective. Your objective here is clear: to attend their university.
- Application Essays – Review the requirements by university.
- Repertoire List – Prepare a categorized list of pieces you’ve learned and/or performed. Even if they don’t ask you for it, it’s good to have that at your audition, in case they ask you about other repertoire.
- Cover Letter – You may need to send a cover letter or cover email with your application. With online applications, that’s become less common.
Visit the page on Writing Resources for help preparing these materials:
Make sure that you have a writing coach, career coach, or professor review these materials and give you robust feedback well in advance of when you need to submit them. Other applicants will rely on this help to strengthen their written materials; if you don’t, you’re putting yourself at a disadvantage.
Letters of Recommendation
You’ll also need to solicit letters of recommendation. Most schools require 2-3 of them. Check with your professors well in advance to see if they’ll allow you to use them as a reference. You’ll want to use professors who know you well and represent a variety of perspectives. Ideal letter of recommendation writers include private lesson teachers, ensemble directors, and a department chair or academic professor (music theory or history course, for instance). Note that in the letter of rec world, anything shy of a glowing, detailed letter is considered a weak letter that damns you with faint praise. Be sure to pick people who know you well, and if you ask someone and they show any reluctance to write it, find someone else.
Some universities will require the SAT or ACT, so plan ahead for that. Some universities or conservatories may also have theory, aural skills, and/or history testing you’ll need to prepare to take.
Some universities will require filmed auditions called “pre-screens.” Only a portion of those who submit pre-screens will be invited for in-person auditions. Here are a few guidelines to follow:
- Check with your current institution. They may have resources to help you film a strong audition if you give them enough notice. The college where I teach, for instance, will provide an accompanist, provide a space to film it, record it professionally, and deliver a final product to the student for free if they give us enough time to plan for this.
- Check the guidelines very carefully. They may have specific repertoire requirements, ask you to put titles on the screen with your name and piece (or not), etc.
- Dress professionally, as you would for a recital or interview.
- Give yourself a professional background. Don’t film this in your bedroom. Try to create as polished of a look as you can. A plain wall is a good backup option.
- If you’re playing an accompanied piece, try to use a real (and good) accompanist. If you can’t, you can use a backing track.
- Most schools do not allow for cuts or edits, so you’ll have to get your best take all the way through. Don’t drive yourself crazy trying to make it perfect; just aim for a solidly good performance.
- Slate (say your full name and what you’re playing) before you perform, just as you would at an in-person audition, unless you were instructed not to in their pre-screen instructions.
- Don’t forget to actually perform! It’s easy to sing too soft or play as though you’re practicing, but this is still a performance, so try to perform as if you were on stage and engaging a real audience.
Applying to universities will usually cost some money. There are application fees for many institutions, and you may have to pay to send your transcripts, get your pre-screens made, for an accompanist, etc. Budget ahead for this, so you’re not limited in how many schools you can apply to by your budget.
Auditions & Interviews
If you pass the pre-screens (or if the school doesn’t use them), you’ll move on to in-person auditions and/or interviews.
- Review their audition requirements to make sure you meet what they’re asking for. You must meet their requirements when you audition.
- When picking your repertoire, pick the music that shows your strengths. Your private lesson teacher may pick repertoire that addresses technical challenges for you, like certain études. While these may be great to grow your technique, they may not highlight your assets. Audition rep should be the material where you sound strongest, even if it’s not the very hardest material you’ve tackled.
- Schedule your audition early so you can find a good time for you.
- Dress professionally in business attire.
- Arrive very early. You may have trouble finding parking or finding the building. You want to have time to arrive and decompress a bit before you head in.
- Tune and warm up before you go in (though it’s often a good idea to quickly fine-tune your tuning with the accompanist if you’re playing with one).
- Make sure your sheet music for an accompanist is well prepared. Minimize page turns, have your music in a binder, and have your cuts clearly marked in the music. When you enter, give your tempo and take them through anything tricky in the cut, if you’re using one.
- Bring copies of your sheet music and your written materials (résumé, etc.), and have them prepared in a professional looking folder that you can easily hand them.
- Be warm, polite, and appreciative. Say hello when you enter and thank them when you’re done.
- Practice slating and working with an accompanist in advance so that you can do so confidently in an interview.
- They may cut you off while you’re performing. That’s not a bad sign necessarily. Don’t be shocked if this happens and stay polite and appreciative. Given this, if you’re performing a cut, make sure that you pick something that shows them what you can do early on. If you’re two minutes in and they cut you off, you can’t really be mad at them because you didn’t get to the good part.
For tips on interviewing, read this post on preparing for an interview.
After You Transfer
While our focus here is on preparing you for successful transfer, a few words of advice on after you transfer.
Course Info & Syllabi
Some universities may require course descriptions, learning outcomes, and/or syllabi from courses you’ve transferred in. You can usually find course descriptions and learning outcomes in your initial institution’s course catalogue. For syllabi, if you didn’t save them, contact your professors or the department chair at the school from which you’re transferring for assistance.
If you left a community college without graduating with an associate degree or certificate, it may be possible to transfer university courses back to the community college to earn your degree or certificate afterwards. This is sometimes called reverse transfer. It’s an opportunity to earn another degree for no additional work, so I highly recommend it!
Staying in Touch
If you transfer from a community college, stay in touch with them! They may continue to be good career and educational resource, provide you with letters of recommendation, etc. It’s also a chance to support the school that started you on your education by informing them of your experiences with transfer, so they can better advise future students, or by being open to talking to future students about transfer to your university.