Podcast: Jaime Smith: Transfer & Homeschool Admissions

In today’s episode, I sit down with educational consultant Jamie Smith to explore transfer admissions. Join us as we unravel the opportunities and challenges for non-traditional students, from transfers to homeschoolers. Get ready for insights into the evolving higher education landscape and its impact on admissions. Don’t miss this conversation about fostering diversity on campuses and empowering students on their unique educational paths.

TRANSCRIPT

Jamie Smith: 

About half of all first year undergraduate students are starting at two year colleges. You know, the media attention is all on the big four year universities, the highly selective institutions, how hard it is to get in. But actually half of all new freshmen are starting at their open access local community college, and they’re kind of forgotten.

Sheila Akbar: 

Hey, everybody, welcome back. Today, I am talking to Jamie Smith, who is an independent educational consultant with a really deep expertise in homeschool applicants, and transfer applicants. And we have this fascinating conversation about both four year college to four year college transfer, which is what we normally think of when we hear the word transfer. But what she educated us about was that actually, the vast majority of transfer students are transferring from a two year college to a four year college. And that’s where most of the students in the United States are half of all first year, undergrads are starting at two year colleges, I was just really blown away by those numbers, and really encouraged by some of the things that she shared about that transfer pathway. So she’s got a lot of really great data and information about how this can be helpful for students, both in terms of their educational outcomes, reducing costs, and just starting at a place that may be a better fit for them and increasing diversity for universities at the same time. So take a listen, and I hope you enjoy it. Jamie, thank you so much for joining us today. I’m so excited to talk with you about your work. Thank you. I’m excited to be here. Well, let’s start with what you do. And then we’ll back up into how did you get to doing this work? And how did you find this interest?

Jamie Smith: 

Yeah, so I’m an educational consultant, certified educational planner. But I’ve been in education for about 25 years, I started out as an English teacher and I taught at a lot of different institutions post secondary, secondary. And I just really love working with all different kinds of students. So it was sort of a natural transition into helping students with college. And I seem to really love the underdogs. So I love working with students who are on non traditional paths, homeschoolers transfer students, students with different learning disabilities are neuro divergence. So that’s kind of my my jam.

Sheila Akbar: 

Yeah, that’s great. And it’s so needed, right? As much as let’s say, neurotypical, totally traditional, what seemed like straightforward cases of students really need support in this process, because it is overwhelming and complex and very selective at certain places. Any other challenge you introduce into the equation makes things I think exponentially more challenging. It does. Yes, yeah. So there aren’t really training courses on how do you help students to transfer or how do you help a homeschooled student apply to college? How did you gain this expertise? And what was that process? Like?

Jamie Smith: 

Yeah, so I did a lot of work with transfer students when I started in California, because there’s a huge transfer path from the community colleges to CSU and UCs in California. So I started working with a lot of students there. And then I moved to Oregon and discovered that it’s a completely different system. So that was a little bit eye opening to really see how much it varies state to state. And then I stumbled across a postmasters certificate program and transfer leadership and practice at the University of North Georgia. And I completed that it’s in collaboration with the National Institute for the Study of transfer students. So there actually is a training program. It’s a four core certificate program. And that was really eye opening. That’s where I learned a lot of the ins and outs of national policies, state policies, and how hard transfer really is for a lot of students.

Sheila Akbar: 

Yeah, that’s fantastic. I mean, I didn’t even know there was a course on it. And I’m glad you took it. So you could tell us all about it. But before we get into transfer admissions, which I definitely want to spend a lot of time on. I want to back up to something that you said almost as an aside. I live in California, and I can see how wonderful the City College system is, which is what they call the community colleges in California. City Colleges are awesome. They’re beautiful campuses, they have so many resources, and they really serve a lot of students, a very diverse group of students, adult learners, what we might think of as traditional college learners diversity of different racial and ethnic backgrounds as well. And it’s really fantastic to see just how progressive and creative the education that’s accessible is.

Jamie Smith: 

Yes, it is. I’m, the California system is just amazing to me. And I’ll tell you knowing everything that I know, I encourage my daughter to go through that system, she could have gone any direction, but the community college system just made sense for her. And so she was a community college, do you see transfer, and she will still tell you that her community college experience was the best part of her education.

Sheila Akbar: 

That’s fantastic. Yeah. And then that transfer pathway does exist in many other places. It’s not as I think, well structured in other places as it can be in California. But can you talk to us a little bit about these articulation agreements between community colleges and four year colleges and universities?

Jamie Smith: 

Yes. So that’s one of the things that I love about the California system is there is an entire database, where you can go in and see how certain community college classes will transfer to CSU us and UCs. And there are specific guarantees sometimes. So if you finish a certain number of credits in specific areas, you can have guaranteed admission to one of the universities in California. So there’s, there’s a lot available there where you can just go through the right steps and make sure that you’ve got a good outcome. The challenge is students who don’t realize that articulation agreements are out there or don’t understand how they work, you know, the information is all there. But if you don’t know to look for it, or where it exists, then you might be floundering and taking credits that you don’t really need. So it’s an amazing system, once the students can learn to use it. And I think that’s the step that maybe we’re missing a little bit.

Sheila Akbar: 

That’s the key. I mean, even the fact that they’re called articulation agreements, it, you know, the word articulation has no relevance to transfer Community College for your college, right. But, folks, if you’re listening, go Google articulation agreements. And you’ll see the text of these articulation agreements, which are literal contracts between a community college and a four year college that really map out what that pathway looks like. And as you said, Jamie, what what students are required to do, how things will transfer. I’ve got members of my family who started at a community college and graduated with a degree from UC Berkeley, which is a very hard school to just apply to and try to get into. But you know, they take the transfer pathway, and they get a great education and that brand that everybody seems to be seeking, as they’re thinking about colleges is still on your diploma. So there are a lot of pathways through there if if that’s the thing that matters.

Jamie Smith: 

Absolutely. And that’s another thing, just I want to point out that one other thing that I love about the California system is that the UC is actually are setting aside space for transfer students. It’s not like transfers, get whatever space is left over the UCs are committed to admitting transfer students and helping them succeed. So it is a really viable pathway to wonderful universities.

Sheila Akbar: 

Yeah, fantastic. Now I want to back up a little bit, because I think when most people hear the word transfer or college transfer, they’re not necessarily thinking about the two year community college or like the associate’s degree to to four year bachelor’s degree transfer. They’re thinking about one four year college to another four year college. So we really do have kind of two buckets when we’re talking about Transfer Admission. So talk to us a little bit about those differences.

Jamie Smith: 

Yes, absolutely. So I sort of start off talking about community colleges, because about half of all first year undergraduate students are starting at two year colleges. You know, the media attention is all on the big four year universities, the highly selective institutions, how hard it is to get in. But actually, half of all new freshmen are starting at their open access local community college, and they’re kind of forgotten. They’re not in the news, but they represent half the population. But yeah, there are also lots of students who get to a four year university find out that it’s not the right space for them, or it turns out, they’ve fallen in love with a major that that university doesn’t offer. And more recently, since COVID, I’ve seen some students who miss some of those transition pieces in their senior year of high school, you know, some of those sort of critical life events and they found themselves at a four year university not really prepared for life at that kind of university, and struggling with mental health, struggling with executive function and ending up on academic probation. And a very common path at that point is to go back home, stay with your parents, go to the local community college, rebuild your academic record and then either re enter that original four year university or transfer to a new one if you want a fresh start somewhere else. So we’ve been seeing a lot of that as well. And when you take all of those things combined all the community college students, all the students who find out that, that four year university wasn’t quite the right fit students who might be collecting some extra credits here and there at a different university and then transferring just those credits in, it turns out that like two thirds of undergrads are following some non traditional path where they’re moving around credits, and really only 1/3 of students are going, you know, joining a four year university and just going all the way through and graduating from that university. So, you know, this thing that we often think about as an exception is actually very, very common.

Sheila Akbar: 

Wow, that’s amazing. And I’m so glad you brought out some like real data, because it sounds like we might need to redefine traditional, in that sense, when we think of as a traditional goes straight through a four year college is actually somewhat in the minority of students here. It’s, it’s maybe the non traditional route. And I think, as we imagine the future of work, the impact of AI and other technologies, I think, we need to get more creative about education. And I think those four year institutions, you know, they’ve got big, shiny brands, and everybody knows their names, but they are very slow to change and adapt, right? The places where the experimentation, the really novel, innovative ways of educating students that’s happening at the community college level, or in, you know, non traditional kinds of educational paths. Okay. Well, that’s really helpful. I will say that at Signet, I think just because of our client base, and maybe some other factors in the market. When I hear families talking about transfer, it’s either that four year to four year because they’re not quite happy, or it’s not the right fit. And in many cases, yeah, they they flamed out in some way they weren’t ready. And now we’re trying again. But I also hear and it’s very easy to tell kind of what the story is, as soon as you hear this, I hear a lot of people who have just graduated from high school who have not even started their freshman year of college yet saying, I’m going to XYZ school, but I’m planning to transfer after my first semester because they want to go to a quote unquote, better school. And of course, the questions that are will, why did you apply to this place in the first place? And secondly, what do you think you’re going to accomplish in one semester of your new college that is going to so impressed this other college that you really want to go to? That is so different from what you applied within your high school record? That is going to change the game for you? And do you understand how much more selective that four year to four year transfer process is then just applying as a first year student, because unlike the transfer articulation agreements, you were just talking about with California, there are not spots set aside for those kinds of transfer students, that’s just, if somebody decides to take a year off, or somebody drops out, or somebody else transfers to another university, maybe there’s a spot. And then all of the transfer students are competing for a spot in the sophomore class, a spot in the junior year class or a spot in the very rarely, second semester freshman.

Jamie Smith: 

Exactly. Yet, students think, Oh, I’m gonna go to this one university, but this isn’t going to be my permanent spot. And it’s even worse when they’re talking about wanting to transfer into a school that rejected them first time around. Because they really have to think about Yeah, what are they going to do with this first year at a different university, that’s, that’s going to really change their record and make it possible for them to move to this other university. At that point, I say you have to fall in love with the university you’re at, you know, find a way to be happy there, because you’re much better off. If you can make that work, it’s probably going to be a much more positive experience for you than feeling like this is a temporary place and not really settling in and finding friends and committing to a major, but just thinking this is temporary. I’m not really here.

Sheila Akbar: 

Yeah. And in fact, that’s only going to hamstring their transfer application, if they go through with it. Right, if they don’t let themselves fully engage on campus, if they don’t take their classes seriously. They don’t build relationships with professors and other students, while their transfer applications not going to be all that compelling. Right. So oftentimes, when those people do call us, we, you know, we tell them, Okay, this is how you have a strong four year before your transfer application. get as involved as you can. We’ll talk again in February, and then usually by the time February comes around, they’re like actually love it here. And I don’t I don’t want to transfer.

Jamie Smith: 

Yeah, once they allow themselves to fall in love with the school, it usually works out. Yeah. So much of my job, actually, in my initial consultations is telling people they shouldn’t transfer. You know, it’s like, yes, if you really want to transfer and that’s the right thing for you. I would love to help you. But I don’t think transfer is the right thing for you. And here’s why. You know, and so very often I just have that quick conversation and then they’re like, Okay, I’ll stay.

Sheila Akbar: 

So let’s leave aside the four year to four year transfer and come back to this community college to four year transfer pathway. I know that you are very interested in sort of the policy aspects of social justice aspects of that pathway. So give us a kind of introduction to some of those issues and how you think transfer can help.

Jamie Smith: 

Yeah, so with community colleges, of course, they’re open access, they’re less expensive, sometimes they’re even free. And so the community colleges end up educating the largest percentage of underrepresented groups, students from low socio economic backgrounds, first generation students, those kinds of students are much more likely to attend a community college because it’s nearby, it’s less expensive, you don’t have to go through this whole rigorous application process, which you may or may not know how to do if your parents didn’t go through it. So that’s where a lot of these students end up. And then their pathway to getting a bachelor’s degree, and then maybe qualifying to enter a master’s program to get a PhD and ultimately become professors who train the next generation. That pathway is all dependent on that community college to four year transfer aspect. And so I think when there are systems that are trying to streamline that process, and help those students survive and thrive and get on to the next step, that’s really important. In our conversations, when we’re talking about diversity, equity and inclusion, if we’re talking about universities who want to maintain diverse student bodies, they need to be looking at the community colleges and recognizing that those students are well prepared to enter those universities and bring their own unique backgrounds and stories with them. And I think it’s really important that we support them and recognize them and stop talking about just the freshman admissions at the selective four year universities, that’s such a minority in this situation.

Sheila Akbar: 

Right. It’s such a good point. And you know, I know a lot until just transparently, I’ve done some work at community colleges, after all of my education and degrees in my PhD, I regularly take classes at the community college more in things that you know, my parents didn’t really want me to do when I was growing up. So like I’ve done I’ve done a lot of art classes, and things like that. But I’m always so impressed by the students who are there. And I think we have this in our society, we have this impression that those highly selective colleges have the sharpest, smartest, hardest working students. And yes, there are sharp, hard working smart students at those schools. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t those kinds of students in other types of schools, or even in four year universities that are less selective than, you know, the ivy League’s, let’s say. And one of the things that I always think about when I’m sitting in one of those classrooms is this 19 year old sitting next to me is not only coming to this class in the evening, after a full day of work, and maybe doing things with their family, you know, family responsibilities and things like that. They’re so dedicated to their education, they are really good at time management, they are really good at setting priorities, they are really, really good at getting to the heart of the matter, and knowing what matters to them. Right? And what college doesn’t want a student like that what employer doesn’t want an employee like that. So I think those are things that are often overlooked. And we have this really backwards way of thinking about quality of student and quality of education.

Jamie Smith: 

Yeah, unfortunately, there really is a stigma to community college, a lot of people feel like that’s, I don’t know, taking the easy way out, or that’s somehow a failure. You know, I’ve worked with a lot of freshmen applicants as well. And they think of it as well, that’s the backup plan. That’s if I’m a loser and don’t get into a four year university, you know, and we need to stop thinking of it that way. Community colleges do an amazing job of educating a wide variety of students for all kinds of different things. You know, they have academic programs, but also vocational programs and, you know, Senior Learning Opportunities, dual enrollment for high schoolers, like, they’re, they’re doing so many different jobs and doing it really well. And so then to sort of frown on it and be like, no community college, that’s really a bummer.

Sheila Akbar: 

Yeah. And I also ask people, you know, this all comes back to I think our obsession with brand, when it comes to college, as if that brand really has an impact. I mean, how many of you listening, think about where, I don’t know, where he or accountant got their degree from? You know, that’s, that’s not a thing that really matters. It’s like, Are they good at their job? That’s what matters, right? Are they easy to communicate with? That’s what matters? Do they do what they say they’re going to do? That’s what matters, right? It’s not like you are choosing your doctor, your lawyer, your accountant, your teachers. Based on what brand of school they carry with them, because that at the end of the day means very little. So, yeah, I think that’s an important consideration here. Okay. So let’s think about now this recent SCOTUS decision barring colleges from considering race in admitting students considering race, let’s say in a very superficial way, which I don’t believe colleges were doing to begin with to be clear. But now this data is being taken away. Websites are being scrubbed of data. And this is being removed from college applications. How do you think that will impact transfer admissions? And I guess on the other side of that, you kind of touched on this a little bit, but how do you think transfer admissions can solve part of the problem when colleges still want to have a diverse class?

Jamie Smith: 

Yeah, I think that transfer students are an excellent pool for universities to pull from if they want to ensure diversity transfer students come with all these different experiences, they’re more likely to be from underrepresented groups and first generation. So if colleges want to maintain that kind of diversity that they were maybe superficially looking at from checkboxes, turning to transfer students from community college is a great way to make sure that you’re pulling from a larger pool of students. So I think I hope that it’s going to be a positive thing for transfer in general. And I think also, you know, coming from California, you know, the UCS stopped being able to consider race many years ago. And they have found ways to maintain diverse classes. And it’s a multi prong approach. It’s partly doing recruiting in specific neighborhoods and in specific groups and high schools. And it’s partly that they do have this commitment to transfer students. And so overall, that ends up leaving us with a very diverse population at most of the UCs.

Sheila Akbar: 

Yeah, that’s great. And they had to work quite a bit to kind of build back their diversity when when that first decision first came down for them to not be able to, they did have a negative impact on diversity. So that’s a great model for us to be able to look at. Okay, I want to switch from transfer a little bit to homeschool admission. I think there are a lot of homeschool students. And they’re homeschooled for a number of different reasons, you know, might be religious, it might be some other kind of ideological decision, but it also could be an athlete, it could be an actor, it could be I don’t know, a person who has social anxiety, and so they’ve decided homeschool is a way for them, but for your college is in their plan. So tell me about what it’s like working with homeschool students, what are the considerations that families need to make in order to be well prepared for the college process?

Jamie Smith: 

Well, first of all, homeschooling is no longer fringe, it really became mainstream during COVID. Because everybody was turning to emergency remote teaching was varying quality, because teachers really didn’t know how to suddenly put their lessons online. That’s a learned skill, not something innate. So a lot of families decided, well, we’re all locked down at home anyway, let’s, let’s really homeschool. And they found out that it worked for them. So I think you know, I homeschooled my own daughter. And back when we were starting in the mid 2000s. There were like 1.5 million homeschoolers in the US. And now there are over 3 million. So that tells you a little bit about how mainstream it’s really become. And all the statistics all the studies show that homeschoolers are just as successful, if not more so, at college, and you know, they’re prepared to do so much more. They’re independent learners, they’re curious, they’re thoughtful, you know, so much in high school is, you know, a teacher saying, Do this on this day. And, you know, check off these things. And with homeschoolers, it’s not usually like that, and students have to be a lot more in charge of their own learning. And that transfers very well to the university lifestyle of maybe you have three big projects to do, and you have to be planning your own time and you have to be unafraid to approach a professor and talk to someone who’s not your age, you know, those are all things that homeschoolers bring. So there is a huge advantage and universities are starting to see that and actively recruit homeschoolers, but it is sort of scary for the parents to think we have to do all this preparation, we have to get everything right. And there are some steps that you can take you kind of want to make sure that you’ve got some outside validation because there’s always that fear that homeschoolers just have mommy grades you know, that mom’s giving them an A and everything. So you know, it’s helpful if you’ve got some outside things, maybe a test score, maybe a dual enrollment class at the community college like I just love community college, you know. So it’s, it’s great if homeschoolers can can have those outside elements that sort of beef up their application, and also those outside elements can sometimes give them a teacher recommendation option that’s outside their smaller circle and that can be really helpful as well. So I think when you’re thinking, I’m going to homeschool to college, one of the most important ways is just to make sure that you’re planning everything out. And you have ways to sort of validate what you’re doing so that there’s not a discrepancy of mom gave me an A in calculus, but then I went to the community college and I got to see in in something you know. So if you can sort of line things up so that you validate your grades and confirm that the a mom gave you is an accurate reflection of what you can do. And I’ve talked to a lot of admissions officers and asked, you know, how, how do they manage those homeschool transcripts, and they say they just take them at face value, they trust them. And then look at all those other factors as well and make a holistic decision. It used to be that homeschoolers had to take extra tests very often SATs Subject Tests were required of them. But between COVID canceling all the tests, and then the College Board canceling Subject Tests forever, that’s not really such a requirement anymore. And so they’re relying on the other elements. And also, I think having a little bit more faith in the homeschoolers that most homeschoolers aren’t trying to, you know, get away with something.

Sheila Akbar: 

Yeah, and I’m really glad you mentioned online education, you know, which obviously proliferated during COVID. But we were seeing even before that there were online high schools, where students could either be in a classroom setting online, or do one on one, somewhat asynchronous education with with an individual teacher. There are public versions of that, and there are private versions of that. And they also go through a sort of similar set of challenges that I would think a homeschool student would, though recommendations are a little bit easier, a transcript is a little bit easier. Right. But it’s a more individualized education. And I think that that’s a really interesting trend. I’m curious, if you have thoughts on, you know, are we going to see online education in that, in that way, homeschooling in that way continue to grow?

Jamie Smith: 

I think so. What we’re seeing more of now is sort of these eclectic transcripts, especially kids who are going through the high school years during COVID. You know, they maybe started at their local public high school, but then everything went remote. So they started taking online classes, and then they mix that in with some homeschooling. And then maybe when COVID was over, they went back or they didn’t, you know, so we see a lot of these transcripts now where it’s just a whole bunch of different credits coming from different places. And that used to be like, Oh, I’m a little worried about this student who’s bounced all over the place. But I think it’s more understandable. Now, given the complications of COVID. And for a lot of kids, it makes sense, you know, just following that path from class to class through high school is not always going to be the best fit. And if you can pick and choose your sort of ala carte classes, from different places, you can put something together that really fits the students and is going to provide them with the best possible education and maybe give them choice. You know, if you’re pulling from a larger field, then you’re not just relegated to B to foreign languages, your public high school happens to offer you can go online and take Swedish. So I think there’s some of that as well, where it just opens things up. And students can pursue unique interests.

Sheila Akbar: 

It’s empowering in that way. I had a student yesterday, we got onto a call. And she was so disappointed. She didn’t get a spot in her AP Stats class that there was some clerical error. And now the class is totally full, and they can’t get her in. She was devastated. And I was like, Well, what about dual enrollment? What about taking it online? And she was like, Wait, that’s possible, oh, my gosh, I could do this and that and like she started looking at all the courses she could take. And now, I don’t know if she wants to drop some other elective from her high school so she could fit in more of these other online courses, just like you were saying, Well, I think one of my bigger takeaways from this conversation is like, we really need to educate ourselves on what students are actually doing, and reframe our ideas of what a traditional education is what a good education is. Because I think that’s only going to prepare us help us serve these students better, but also help us prepare them for the world that’s waiting for them because it’s not the world that we graduated into.

Jamie Smith: 

Absolutely. Everything is different. I don’t know about you, but I did not take any online classes during my bachelor’s degree. That was not a thing.

Sheila Akbar: 

No, not at all. That was not a thing. Yeah. Well, Jamie, I think that’s a great place to leave it. Thank you so much for sharing your insight and perspectives with us today. If people want to learn more about you or what you do, maybe get some advising from you. Where can they find you?

Jamie Smith: 

Yes, my website is jsmithiec.com. And you can reach me there to talk about anything homeschooling transfer, standard, plain vanilla freshmen admissions. I do all of that. And I love to hear from folks even if you just have a quick question I can answer I’m always happy to do that. I like to get the word out on homeschoolers and transfers and all kinds of non traditional students.

Sheila Akbar: 

That’s awesome. Well, I’ll make sure all of that information is linked in the show notes. Thank you again for all that you do for students.

Jamie Smith: 

Thank you. I appreciate you doing this podcast so we can get the word out on lots of different issues.

Sheila Akbar: 

Well, I’ll definitely have Jamie back on at some point in the future to talk more about some of the specifics here, how we navigate it. And perhaps we’ll dig a little bit more into applying as a homeschool student as well, because we didn’t cover that as much in our conversation, but check the show notes for where you can learn more about Jamie. And I really feel that this conversation opened my mind a little bit about the possibilities and the different pathways that students can take to their eventual degree. And it was just really encouraging. And I think that there are a lot of interesting things happening at that community college level that we should be paying attention to. And we shouldn’t be feeling disappointed or sorry, if a student starts there. Sometimes that’s the best place for them to start. Something to think about. All right, we’ll see you next week. Thanks, everybody.

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