As Washington state’s flagship public university, the University of Washington is a common destination for many SCC students looking to transfer to a 4-year university. The draw is obvious — in-state students get reduced tuition, community college credits transfer relatively easily and, in recent years, the UW’s reputation has risen to new levels.
But with the prestige comes a record number of applicants and a steady increase in enrollment, which has left some SCC students wondering whether they have been adequately prepared to face an academic environment described by some to be "cutthroat," as reported by the Seattle Times in February.
Some prospective transfers may just be asking themselves: Is it worth it? What will the UW even be like?
Junior Tyler Alben started at the UW last fall and described his own transition from SCC as “pretty rough.”
“There were a lot of safety nets (at SCC) and teachers were more lenient,” Alben said. “In university, you’re one of 300 students. … You’re not as focused on individually, and the level of competition in general is just way higher.”
Alben cited the increase in personal responsibility and out-of-class effort as a significant difference between SCC and the UW, though he acknowledged that some international studies classes at SCC, like INTST 200 and INTST 201, were helpful in preparing him for a more rigorous course load.
“The class (would have), like, three analytical papers and a final,” he said. “There was no participation grade, there (were) no weekly homework assignments that you could get free points on, there wasn’t extra credit. It was, like, know the material and do well on the test.
“But at the same time … (the professors) understood that they were asking more than most of the classes at Shoreline, so that was really helpful,” he continued.
Other SCC-UW transfer students agreed with Alben regarding the notable academic differences between the two schools.
“SCC had prepared me well, in a sense of academic integrity, diversity and understanding, but (it) was unable to prepare me (for) the academic pace of UW classes,” said senior Jirapat Techachakrit in an email interview.
Techachakrit said she initially had a difficult time adjusting due to a variety of factors, from larger class sizes to increased exam frequency to competitive grade curves.
But the transition isn’t purely academic; part of moving over to the UW involves adjusting socially, something many transfer students found themselves struggling with.
“Shoreline is such a small school, and it’s very easy to build community there,” junior Aaron Berry said. “And while there’s always different clubs and organizations at UW, it’s kind of overwhelming and hard initially to find a place, so you feel like one of these thousands of faceless students.”
Berry started at the UW in the summer quarter of 2016, right on the tail end of his graduation from SCC, and by the end of his fall quarter, he was “burned out” and “ready to drop out.” He ended up taking a quarter off to travel before returning to school for the spring.
“Although the UW has so many students, it feels very lonely,” Berry said. “It’s very easy to feel isolated.”
But Berry found a way to deal with the isolation — according to him, taking classes with friends helped him deal with stress and lack of motivation. Now, he is back in the process of pursuing his double degree in mathematics and linguistics.
The other SCC alumni also had some advice to give to potential SCC-UW transfers.
To keep up with the increased workload and the faster pacing, Techachakrit, who is studying biochemistry with a pre-med track, recommended that students learn how to work independently, as habits like self-studying and daily organization go a long way in making sure they don’t fall behind.
As for the social aspect, junior Ashley Cowan suggested said students should “get involved” upon arrival to the UW. Cowan left SCC in 2016 and is a current political science major at the UW.
“(Getting involved) is harder at UW because there are so many options … it can be overwhelming,” Cowan said in an email interview. “Don’t do what I did and become indecisive and hesitant, dive in head first — you can always move around later if you find something else which fits better.”
Meanwhile, Alben, who earlier praised the SCC international studies department, stressed the importance of having a backup major.
“A lot of majors, in recent years, (have) become competitive simply because of size,” Alben said. (His own intended major is economics, though his backup is psychology.)
“If you go to the website, a lot of the majors will post their data on the last two years of, like, GPAs and average GPAs of people who got in and what the average cutoff was,” he said. ”So just do your research on anything you want to get in.”
Another piece of advice from Alben?
“Don’t bother with career fairs,” he said. “Don’t give up on them entirely … but don’t think that’s going to be what gets you somewhere.”
Despite having somewhat similar views on what made transferring to the UW difficult, the SCC alumni still diverged on whether their choice was worth it. The SCC alumni had differing opinions on whether their choice of school was worth it.
“I would recommend looking at other schools, maybe a smaller school, maybe a school that better caters to your major,” Berry said, though he acknowledged that the UW is oftentimes the sensible option due to its proximity and quality academics.
Mainly he warned against attending the UW solely due to its reputation.
“It’s easy to let this prestige of the UW kind of sideline other schools and other options,” Berry said. “I think if you let that happen, you might be doing yourself a disservice.”
“There’s a lot of glamour attached to going to the UW,” he continued. “As of yet, I’m not sure if it’s worth it."
On the other hand, some of Berry’s peers recognized the better aspects of UW’s “glamour.”
“The way resumes are looked at, having UW on there is gonna look better than having a lot of other options on there,” Alben said. “The thing about UW that you’ll hear is that it doesn’t necessarily give you a better education, but it just proves that you put forth more of a certain effort because they ask for more of a certain level of effort.”
In the end, the UW students agreed most transfer students are already on the right track to success just by being at SCC. The building blocks for being successful at SCC, like good study habits and general academic knowledge, are equally applicable at the UW, they said.
So what is there left to do for the SCC students who are mere months away from graduation — and maybe from the UW?
“Cherish your time at Shoreline,” said Cowen, who, earlier in the story, vouched for getting involved at the UW, a philosophy she also extends to SCC students. “This time at Shoreline, this moment in time, will only happen once in your life.
“Love it and live in every moment of it, because someday you will really come to miss it.”