Mid-rate State School or CC w/ Transfer to UC?

Hi everyone,
I’m new here although I’ve been reading for a while and learning a lot from everyone.
Short story: dropped out of college with very few units taken, worked successfully as a software engineer for 10 years, now looking at college to finish undergrad and then med school…
So my question is:
Would it be better to finish my undergraduate degree at a CA state school (like San Jose State - 2nd/3rd tier) or do my first two years at a CC (Santa Monica College) and transfer to a higher ranked school like UCLA?
I guess I’m most worried about doing my pre-reqs at a CC because to transfer and have any chance of finishing school in 3-4 years I’ll have to do most of the pre-reqs at the CC. On the other hand, graduating from UCLA (assuming I can get in) might look better to adcoms.
So it’s CC to UC with the chance that some schools won’t accept pre-reqs but a ‘better’ degree school OR mid-rate state school.
I don’t know, maybe I’m over thinking this…
Thanks for any opinions/help!

Hi there,
The less pre-reqs that you do at a community college, the better. One or two classes are OK but not most. UCLA versus another 4-year school does not make that much difference as long as you do well in the classes. Your undergraduate degree location is not that much of a problem as long as you graduate and do well. The CC thing can be a problem especially if you have taken most of your pre-reqs there.
Good luck!

This is one of those unique-to-CA questions because of the transfer-from-CC rules, and I think it’s honestly hard for me to say where you’re better off. I would actually be inclined in the other direction especially if you take some of the prereqs or, still better, some advanced science classes at the UC. From my point of view, being a UC graduate is helpful, but not essential. Having been in both the UC and CSU systems I’d say the upper-division courses are probably better at UC and the lower-division courses are probably better at CSU. If you can find good lower-division courses in a CC then you are better off by transferring to a UC probably. You may want to consider a five year plan–two years (or a bit less?) at the CC, then three years at the UC to get your UC’s worth–don’t just barrel through it if you’re going to do this plan.

This is especially true for CA schools which will understand this whole arrangement and won’t have to be convinced about why you went to a CC for the first two years. It might take a bit more explanation for some out-of-state schools–and you will want to make sure to take some science classes at the four-year school to show that you can do it and to get letters from UC science profs rather than CC science profs.

If you’re going to a CSU, there are of course many choices in the LA area as well; and don’t count out SFSU either.

Good luck either way–the good news is I think either option is good as long as you do well at school, which I’m sure you’re quite prepared to do.



Natalie, thanks for your reply. (I’ve noticed that you are very generous with your help to everyone here.)
I guess like Joe said, CC to UC is a ‘common’ thing in CA because of the great transfer programs we have here. I’m thinking of getting my degree in Math/Applied-Science or Math/Econ and if I don’t get the pre-reqs done early it will take many years to graduate. Ideally I would do ChemA/B, OrgoA/B, CalcA/B/C/D, PhysicsA/B, BioA/B, and English A/B in the first two years but that puts basically all of the pre-reqs into the CC.
Maybe I need to start looking at traditional 4 year colleges, especially ones that might have an admission process for non-trad undergrads.
Joe, I agree with what you’re saying but if I have to do most of my pre-reqs at the UC it will probably take 5 or 6 years to graduate.
Oh…why didn’t I know what I wanted to do when I was a kid?!

Well, I hope that some of us don’t fall prey to collegiate elitism. My understanding, gathered from a few practicing docs is that it’s the grade, not the place. I hope that’s the case. Coming from someone who’s AA (80% of pre-reqs.) was obtained at a community college, it would be a shame to think 3 years worth of A** busting work for a 3.70 science GPA was done in vain.

With the current budget crisis in California, the scenario of CC to UC (or CSU) is going to become even more common. The number of well qualified freshman turned away from the all the UC campuses, but especially Berkeley was very high for the coming 2004-05 school year. There simply isn’t enough money. It is more cost effective for the state to educate these students at the CC the first two years. Particularly with the high quality of education at California CC’s. Qualified freshman turned away are guaranteed a spot as juniors if they spend their first two years at a California CC. All the UC’s and CSU have articulation agreements with various CC’s to assure that the courses offered at the CC’s are up to the curricullum requirements of the UC and CSU’s. Check out www.assist.org. They are changed and reworked every year. They are extremely picky about content and instructional quality. When you talk to undergraduate admission advisors in the UC system, students are advised to get as many of their lower division courses out of the way to be competitive for admission to the UC campus of their choice (UCB,UCLA and UCSD being the most competitive). Hence the reason for IGETC (intersegemental general education transfer curricullum). This has to be certified prior to admission to a UC campus or else a student is subject to the general education requirements of the campus they attend. The drawback aside from the ones delineated in other posts, is the inability to intersperce easier GE’s with harder courses through each school year makes choosing courses without exceeding the maximum credit boundaries tricky. I don’t know many students who can handle a full load of science courses and not have their head explode. Many students go to CC’s in California go on to UC and the CSU’s graduate and go on to grad and professional school. Happens all the time. It’s a good system. In light of the number of students who have successfully transfered to private and Ivy League schools directly from California CC’s to complete their undergraduate degrees, apparently someone is aware of how good the CC’s in California are.

Probably not necessary to do all or even most of the pre-reqs at the UC, but it will be to your advantage to get letters from UC profs who teach premeds. This is why I suggest at least some upper-division courses (probably the only way you’d see a prof at most UCs anyway!).

Donno, the question of CCs vs. 4-year schools is an often-discussed issue here; but most of the time it is in the context of post-bacs, not people who are going on to four year degrees. For post-bacs I think it is reasonable to think CCs are a bit of a disadvantage though certainly in no way an insurmountable one (especially, as above, in CA). If you’re getting a BA or BS after your AA I think it’s a different question, and one that probably depends a lot on the CC in question and your goals.


I am thinking of this in the context of graduate school; either medicine or business (if I can’t make med school).

For letters, do they have to be from Bio/Chem professors or would letters from upper level math (or other) professors be acceptable?

I guess there is no real answer to this general question because it depends on adcoms and their opinions. Assuming good grades, good MCAT, and good experience, would a typical adcom prefer a guy with a degree through 2yr-CC/2yr-UCLA or 4yr San Jose State? I know some schools will outright not accept pre-reqs at CCs but I don’t have that list yet.


PS I meant ‘mid-rated’ school not ‘mid-rate’ in the subject.

Hey there,
Is there any way to go to a CSU for the first two years, and transfer from THERE to a UC, thus avoiding the stigma of a 2-year school? I’m not from CA, so I don’t know how this works, but I was just wondering.
If you’re worried about how the CC credits will be perceived at this point, I’d advice being really careful in your decision. I attended a CC (but as a postbac). Before I started, unlike you, I didn’t even know they were looked down on (because we have a good CC in my vicinity here in Minnesota, for one thing). The education I got there was first rate, and that’s still my opinion after taking upper level classes at two four-year schools. But in the end, my opinion doesn’t matter, and that’s why I’m responding to your post. If you’re going to go against the grain in any way during the pre-med process, just be really sure you’re ready for that. Call medical schools you might be interested in, and ask their opinion first. Take it to heart. I know that UCSF med school, for example, specifies a maximum number of CC credits you can count toward your bachelor’s degree. Whether that means they accept CC prereqs, who knows?
I don’t want to sound too cynical, but the truth is, it’s depressing to get a great science education and then have it systematically devalued for a whole bunch of absolutely unscientific reasons. So be really careful.
Ok–on a more cheerful note, good luck!

Yes you can transfer to a UC from a CSU or another UC campus or any other university. But priority is given to students from California CC(s). Its designed to work this way. The reason for this is because in order to move on a student from a community college has to transfer, whereas a person already at a CSU is already admitted to a four year institution and can graduate where they are. There is no stigma following the CC to CSU or UC path. Thousands of students do it every year. I have many friends who have gone on to grad and prof. schools following this course. Its set up this way for a reason. Remember after transfering to a four year school one has two, possibly three years of course work to demonstrate ability at a
a university.

Hey Meredith,
I know there is no stigma within most professions or university systems regarding having attended a CC. The NY Times has even featured several articles in the last couple years on the subject of the growing competitiveness and respectability of CC’s, particularly in the face of tuition increases at universities all over the US. And this trend will continue until states figure out ways to more broadly fund education. The “stigma” seems to be unique to medical school admissions. But it does exist. Just because CC’s are held to high standards in states like CA doesn’t mean certain med schools won’t use attendance at them as a way to weed people out. It is probably only a handful of schools that take a truly hard line though. I suppose in a lot of cases it’s just the unknown nature of them that gives adcoms pause.

Yes, I’m completing my BS psychology/natural science at Nova Southeastern University (December); it is just a matter of most pre-reqs being from the CC. I received my AA in pre-med studies (for what it’s worth) and I have letters from professors at both institutions, so hopefully that helps. Honestly, I’m not too worried, the wheels are in motion and there’s no turning back now. Nevertheless, I appreciate your input.

Thanks for the input everyone. I know this general question has been asked before but I didn’t find any threads that specifically talked about 2yr-CC/2yr-UC versus 4yr-State. Maybe I’ll post this question on SDN too.
I guess I still don’t know if either way would be significantly better in the eyes of adcoms. So, I’m going to get in contact with a bunch of schools over the next couple of weeks and see what they say.


The people in the admissions office at UCLA are very nice. I peppered them with questions and all were answered. Since your’re in LA why not give them a call. Further since its a UC they would be in a position to address the CC issue. I don’t think you are going to have as much of a problem if you pursue this route as opposed to those who have had to complete their post bac at a CC. Other things to consider, San Jose State is a good school, but you won’t have as many research opportunities there or access to a hospital like UCLA which has a busy ER to volunteer at. Its a big school with many resourses at your disposal.UCLA also has an excellent tutorial program for undergrads, an academic honors program for students which you can step directly into from the CC if your GPA is above 3.5. And the most important thing… The Mongolian BBQ on Galey in Westwood. That alone is worth staying. Good Luck Jack Skellington!

If it is more economical to go to a CC then id do it if I were you. I know of 4 med students at the Univeristy of Washington, which happens to be one of the best in primary care who attended a CC for the science prereqs and got in just fine. Just do well on the MCAT and show that you know ur stuff.
Some may disagree with this, but I think if I could do it over again I would have gone to a CC. In some ways I think its better simply because of the class size, and the fact that many teachers at 4 year schools are really not there to teach, but to do research. Not to mention cost. That is just my two cents. Either way if you do well it will show I believe.


Thanks for your thoughts. To be honest, I would rather go the CC/UCLA route because I really like the west LA area and I like the smaller class sizes of the CC for lower division stuff. SJSU is a good school but as you pointed out UCLA offers more opportunities. The only downside would be if med schools outright reject or limit CC courses which some do.

Also, if you like Mongolian BBQ, the one on Gayley is good but “Big Wok” on Sepulveda in Manhattan Beach is REALLY good (in my opinion).

Thanks again!


I agree with you. I actually would prefer the CC/UCLA route for the reasons you mentioned. One downside is not living on campus but as an older student it’s not like I was going to live in the dorms anyway.

Skellington, you mentioned getting letters from your upper-division profs at the UC (assuming you chose that path). From what you, Joe and Meredith have described about the UC/CSU system, I have a question: could CC profs who taught you the prereqs also submit letters to the UC pre-med committee prior to your getting a committee letter? It sounds like it would work in this system, whereas it might not in another setting.
Donno, having worked on an Adcom I can tell you that a problem with CCs is you just don’t have a good idea about the quality of the course, whereas there tends to be a little more standardization about what’s covered in a four-year college’s gen-chem or o-chem course (for example). Some CCs are great; others are not much more challenging than high school. The AdCom person reading a file just isn’t going to know, and SOME schools (not all) will ding you for doing prereqs at a CC. For some medical schools, the MCAT will be the ‘great equalizer.’ If someone did CC prereqs and nailed the MCAT with a great score, obviously they learned something somewhere, and CC concerns are put to rest. If you gotta do your prereqs at a CC, well, you gotta do it, but people need to be aware that it can be a liability and should be avoided IF possible.

I think it has to be determined if UCLA has a pre-med commitee. I know UC Berkeley does not have one.

The problem is that I want to get a Math/Applied-Science (Medical and Life Sciences) degree and there is no way to push off the pre-reqs because they are required for transfer to the major.
Do you think that a good MCAT score and good grades in the upper-division courses in math, biomath, neuroscience, etc. would be enough to dispel any doubts about taking calc/chem/ochem/physics/bio/english at a CC?
To do this degree I have to do (semesters):
yr1: calc 1/2, physics 1/2, bio 1/2, english 1/2
yr2: calc 3/4, physics 3, chem 1/2
yr3: ochem 1/2, upper division math
yr4: upper division comp-sci/bio math/neuroscience/etc.
Plus whatever general requirements.
Wow my noodle is already hurting.