Guaranteed Transfer

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By Ashley Claire Simpson

Where there’s a will, there’s a way, and now more than ever before, it takes a strong will to excel in higher education.

Fortunately for thousands of area high school graduates, Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) has paved the way for students to attend and thrive at four-year universities. Through a variety of partnerships and agreements, NOVA provides tried-and-true routes for its students to turn their Associate’s degrees into Bachelor’s degrees.

“We are intentional about carving a path for students to transfer,” said Jennifer Nelson, NOVA’s coordinator of university transfer and initiatives. “We want to provide a method for students to be able to transfer to their chosen universities, but we also want to establish ways for students once they have gained acceptance. We do this through different types of agreements, but mainly through Guaranteed Admissions Agreements (GAAs), Articulation Agreements, and finally, our new Guaranteed Transfer Partnerships.”

With upwards of 100 agreements with colleges and universities, NOVA’s transfer programs collectively benefit tens of thousands of students. “We frequently see students coming to community college to continue their education to ultimately earn a Bachelor’s degree,” Nelson said. “National statistics show that 80 percent have the intent of actually transferring, and our ballpark .number of NOVA students is 70,000. So, these programs impact a lot of people.”

Step 1: Getting In

GAAs officially establish the conditions a student must meet to be guaranteed acceptance to a university. Conditions often include applicants’ overall grade point averages (GPAs), the courses they must complete, and even the letter grades they must earn for those courses. The contents of each GAA can vary as widely as the colleges and universities that hold them. Some institutions have GAAs with all 23 colleges in the Virginia Community College System (VCCS), including NOVA. However, NOVA also has its own GAAs with certain four-year universities and colleges.

Between the NOVA-specific GAAs and those that apply to VCCS students in their entirety, “NOVA students can take advantage of GAAs with more than 40 Bachelor’s degree–granting institutions,” Nelson said. “We have partnerships with a mixture of public and private schools. Every one of them is different, so it’s important for NOVA students to monitor those specific requirements from the beginning.”

Step 2: Then What?

While GAAs are undoubtedly advantageous, they only apply to admission standards. These contracts do not address how the transfer will work. “While GAAs may promise a student acceptance to a four-year institution, they do not necessarily guarantee entry into a specific program or major,” said Dr. Sharon Robertson, NOVA’s vice president of academic affairs. “That’s where articulation agreements come into play.”

More than 20 years ago, there were so many four-year universities interested in getting NOVA students on their campuses that the academic affairs department had to do something to simplify the transfer process. Thus began the development of the many articulation agreements that are in place today. “Articulation agreements are program-to-program specific agreements that outline the most appropriate courses for students to take at NOVA that will then transfer to the four-year institution,” Nelson said.

Enter: A New Type of Partnership

Last year, NOVA established guaranteed transfer partnerships—setups to further ease the transition to certain universities. “The guaranteed transfer partnerships are essentially marriages between guaranteed admissions agreements and articulation agreements,” Nelson explained. “Not only do the guaranteed transfer partnerships highlight what a student needs to do to be promised acceptance, like the existing GAA, but they also detail the courses students should take to maximize transferability. The goal when it comes to transferring credits is to ensure that students do not simply transfer a bunch of electives, but that they take courses to satisfy general education and entry-level major-specific requirements. We’re able to do this by developing pathways for a select group of majors—traditionally the most popular programs of study sought after by our students.”

In August 2017, Radford University signed on as the first guaranteed transfer partner, and since then, a few other  schools (and counting) have followed suit. NOVA’s Guaranteed Transfer Partnership Program ecosystem currently includes George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, School of Nursing, and College of Professional Studies; Marymount University, Old Dominion University, Radford University, and the University of Mary Washington.

Reaping the Benefits of an Associate’s Degree en Route to a Bachelor’s

As NOVA students diligently meet all the criteria of their target Guaranteed Transfer Partnership, or even GAA, they can work hard knowing that their efforts will pay off in a world of different ways. “There are a mix of kids who just aren’t academically ready to go to a four-year university, so community college allows them the chance to mature as they tackle certain required classes,” Robertson said. “Then, since grades at NOVA don’t count toward their university grade point average, they get to start over with a clean slate.”

The bottom line is: there is certainly a brilliance to the NOVA “way,” and the dedicated academic affairs team will continue to develop these programs for their melting pot of a student body. “Our faculty and staff go above and beyond, but we don’t think of it as doing anything more than we should be doing,” Robertson said. “By virtue of our size and location, we tend to run into hot issues before other areas. Whether a student hopes to one day graduate with a Bachelor’s degree or not, we work tirelessly and are always exploring solutions so that we can serve everyone who comes through NOVA.”

Ashley Claire Simpson ( is a corporate communications professional by day, but her real passion is learning more about this community and the world by writing.


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