Transfer Talk Tuesday: Transfer Journey – Non-Traditional Path

 

Transfer Talk Tuesdays are a series of personal blogs where current USC transfer students dive deeper into their real-life stories, perspectives, and experiences in transferring to USC. Note that each transfer application is unique and there are no guaranteed paths to transfer. For guidance on how to put together a competitive transfer application, please review our Transferring to USC brochure. 

My name is Sammie Zenoz and I am currently a senior at USC. I transferred in from Miami Dade Community College in South Florida. I am majoring in Creative Writing with a double minor in Screenwriting and Theatre. At USC, I work with the Office of Admission as a Transfer Ambassador, helping community college students navigate the transfer process and sharing my own experience as a successful transfer applicant.  

My Transfer Journey: The Non-Traditional Student 

From Past High School Dropout to Future Valedictorian 

“It wasn’t long ago that I defined who I was by my single greatest failure: being a high school dropout. I wore it like a mark of shame and ached with regret for all the missed memories, forgotten friendships, and lost opportunities. It was agonizing to watch from afar as my former classmates stumbled through all these important milestones while I went through the hardest time in my life. It was a difficult decision to drop out of school at fifteen years old, but something terrible happened to me and I couldn’t ignore it. I needed to take the time to understand it, heal from it, and find my own way back. I struggled for a long time but in the end I learned one important thing: the most difficult lessons are those with the greatest rewards.” 

This was the beginning paragraph to my letter of appeal when I was initially rejected by USC back in 2020. To this day, I consider it to be the single greatest thing I’ve ever written and the very letter that changed my life forever.  

At the time I was in the middle of my own transfer process, like many of you are now. I had just graduated from community college and I didn’t know where my next step would lead me. Every waking moment since graduation day and even before, I wondered whether I’d actually be able to transfer to a 4-year university. It sounded like a fantasy. I wasn’t sure whether I’d ever find my way to somewhere new that I belonged. I was filled with self-doubt and fear of failure. I agonized over whether I’d even get into any schools at all after applying to so many. When filling out my transfer applications it was hard to ignore the fact that I was different from other students applying. I was a former high school dropout with a G.E.D. I spent a decade out of school working late nights as a waitress and bartender. Could a high school dropout really find a place at a top university? Was I too old to have dreams of attending university? Would my troublesome past hold me back from moving forward with my life? I wondered often if there was any hope left for me after so much time had passed me by. I know that I’m not alone. This is the story of millions of students across the world who have been faced with difficult hardships that set their academic progress off course. The non-traditional student’s educational journey is one that is filled with surprise twists and turns. Hopefully I can share with you a little bit about my own journey to USC and give all my fellow non-traditional students some inspiration and advice to help you along the way.  

What is a Non-Traditional Student? 

There is a lot of debate about what specifically makes a non-traditional student, but the general definition refers to students who are over the traditional college age of 24 years old. Other definitions include students who earned their G.E.D diploma instead of a standard high school diploma, students who work full-time jobs while attending college part time, or students from low-income backgrounds who are not financially dependent on their parents. For the sake of this blog, we will define a non-traditional student as anyone who has returned to school after previously taking a break from achieving their educational goals. As more and more older adults return to school, non-traditional students have become more common in the admissions process. Every year, millions of non-traditional students return to college. You are not alone in your journey to return to school. Non-traditional students make up a small percentage of USC’s campus, and you’re bound to run into one eventually during your time here. 

Knowledge is Power 

I dropped out of high school at a young age. Because of this, I never had the opportunity to learn about the college admissions process. I didn’t have SAT scores. I didn’t even know what the Common Application was. I dreamed of attending a top university, but I didn’t know specifically what that process entailed. I was fortunate enough to have a couple wonderful professors at my community college take me under their wing and share with me what they could. Eventually, I won a community college transfer scholarship that helped fund my continued education and also included a weekend-long trip to West Hollywood, California where I was invited to attend a “Transfer Student Symposium” that would educate and train me in all aspects of the transfer process. This event changed everything for me. As a first-generation student whose parents never attended college and as someone who never finished high school, I didn’t have any foundation of knowledge to help guide me through transfer applications, supplemental essays, or building up a competitive resume. Thankfully through my scholarship foundation’s help, I was able to learn so much that it kicked open door after door for me as I finished my time in community college. This is the first piece of advice I’d like to give all of you: learn as much as you can about the transfer process. This new journey to transferring will require a lot of hard work and research on your part. Everything that you learn will be another piece of the puzzle.  

You will want to know a lot of the basic stuff at first: the difference between a college and a university, the difference between a non-profit and a for-profit institution, the difference between a public university versus a private university, which schools practice need-blind admissions and which ones are 100% meet-need schools (which is especially important for low-income students).  

Once you have gone through those important foundational questions, you’ll need to decide which schools to apply to. You will need to research which schools best fit your needs as a student while considering which schools have the best programs for your intended major. Your top choice school may have an impressive football team and an amazing dining hall, but does it have a well-funded science program for you as a biology major, or does it offer generous financial aid for you as a low income student? Perhaps a question that applies to returning adults reluctant to move out of state for school – will the schools near you have strong well-funded programs and scholarships, or other financial aid, that makes it possible and plausible for you to attend? At some point, USC must have ended up on your list of schools to attend, otherwise you wouldn’t be here reading this fabulous blog! I would love to share with you why I ended up applying to USC. 

Why USC? 

The University of Southern California isn’t just one of the top schools in the country, though that certainly is reason enough to apply. What many don’t know is that USC practices need-blind admission while meeting 100% of students’ demonstrated financial need, meaning that they don’t take your family’s ability to pay tuition into account when deciding whether to admit you. If you are admitted, they will assess your situation and do everything they can to meet your financial need in a way that would make it possible for you to attend USC. This was crucial to my decision to attend. 

As a non-traditional student, I also chose USC because of their large transfer student population. Over one-third of undergraduate students at USC are transfer students from other schools around the country. Over 55% of those transfer students are from California community colleges. Knowing that USC valued community college students so much meant a lot to me. I wanted to attend a school that understood my unique journey and recognized my potential. USC’s application process also takes a very holistic approach, considering many different factors of an applicant’s profile, not just leaning heavily on grades and test scores, but diving into who potential students are through many different essays aimed at getting to know the whole person applying.  

Once I knew which schools I wanted to apply to, I started my research into what previous successful transfer applications looked like. Online I was able to find many examples of personal statements and transfer essays from students who found success in transferring. Each of these resources helped me to craft my own competitive application. Arm yourself as much as possible with all the resources and knowledge available to you. The information is all there, you only have to find it. 

Reframing Your Story 

Your story is everything, and I’m not just saying that because I’m a creative writing major. When I first thought about transferring to a 4-year university after graduating from community college, I saw all the supposed red flags in my story. I didn’t finish high school. I had a G.E.D. I was a 30-year-old waitress barely getting by. I didn’t see what I could possibly have to offer a prestigious university on the other side of the country. Through the transfer process and especially while crafting my application essays, I was able to start seeing a new side to my story. Maybe I wasn’t just a high school dropout. Maybe I was a smart, talented student who went through a difficult time. I considered that maybe having a G.E.D. meant that I never truly gave up on myself or my education. Yes, I had a less than ideal GPA, but my transcripts told the story of someone who struggled at first academically and ended with a strong upward trend in grades by my final semester. Where I once saw failure, I now saw proof of my resilience and strength. After all, I was beginning the race to attend a top university from behind the start line, but even knowing I was behind I ran as fast and as hard as I could anyway. I knew that I might not compare with other more privileged students who had more opportunities than me but it didn’t make me feel any less than. Reframing your own story is essential and something that, quite frankly, you owe to yourself. Throw away any negative ideas you may have about your journey and give birth to a new version. What if all the mistakes you once made were actually gifts to help you better understand yourself and make you strong than you ever were? Would you still have your same regrets? The truth is, you can’t change the past. You will never be able to gain back that time lost, but what if it wasn’t time lost, but time spent getting to where you need to be. You are the incredible person you are today because of everything you have gone through. Own that. Reshape your story to fit the new you.  If you don’t believe in yourself, how can you convince the rest of the world to believe in you? Besides, I know for a fact everyone loves an epic comeback story, especially the amazing admission committee at USC.  

My Story 

Though I was initially rejected by USC, I was given the opportunity to appeal, one last one-page letter explaining to the committee why I feel they may have overlooked my application. It was agonizing to be rejected, but I wouldn’t have it any other way because it pushed me to write a terrifically beautiful, powerful letter that helped convince the admission committee to take another look at me. I can’t begin to explain to you the overwhelming emotions that overcame me when I received news that my appeal was successful and I had officially been granted admission to the University of Southern California, my very own dream school.  

Two amazing years at USC later and I am about to graduate with a 4.0 GPA and fielding an invitation to apply as Valedictorian of my graduating class. Not too bad for a former high school dropout, right? Just a few years ago, this felt like a wild and impossible dream for someone like me. Now it is my everyday reality. Even after all this time, I’m still in awe that I’m really here. I feel so lucky and grateful that I pushed through and never gave up. I was able to ignore that crippling self-doubt and those around me that told me I was too old and foolish for ever daring to dream so big. As I walk through campus and watch the younger students enjoy their time at USC, I often wonder how things would be if I was ten years younger but as I well know by now, youth is entirely wasted on the young (I’m kidding! Well mostly). I don’t think I could’ve ever appreciated USC as much as I do now, where I spend every moment here taking part in as many opportunities as possible. Really, I’m just soaking it all in. Just know that there are many returning adult students like myself and even older that have found their place at USC. I have met other non-traditional students in my classes and on campus, and it is always a joy to hear the stories of their journey back to school. I’ve been able to make so many friends with fellow classmates, professors, and the brilliantly kind staff all throughout campus. My final and perhaps greatest piece of advice for you now is to be brave enough to dream big and never give up on yourself. You are worthy of greatness. You are moving on to that next great step in your journey. You need only to believe in yourself. You are ready. Fight on.  

Written by Sammie Zenoz, (she/her/hers), 2nd year at USC studying Creative Writing.

 



The Expectations vs. Realities of Being Admitted to the Spring

So you’ve been admitted to USC, but you don’t start until the spring semester. We know those of you who were admitted to the spring must have a lot of questions, maybe even some concerns, so we hope this blog provides you with a more realistic view of what it means to start at USC in January.  

“No matter what you choose to do during the fall, coming to USC in the spring allows you to try something out of the ordinary, giving you truly valuable perspectives and unique life experiences that you carry with you throughout your college journey.” – Abby Jarvis, Class of 2022 

We asked two current USC students what their expectations were starting at USC in the spring, versus what actually happened when they got to campus. Abby Jarvis is in her senior year, double majoring in Linguistics and Spanish. Abby spent the fall semester of her freshman year working two jobs to save up for college. Yara Akiel is in her sophomore year, majoring in Neuroscience and minoring in Psychology. Yara spent the fall semester of her freshman year attending community college, taking transferable coursework. 

Well, let’s get into it!

Choosing What to Do in the Fall 

Expectation: Everyone at USC will have already begun to do big and incredible things during the fall semester, while I will be forced to fall behind and be stuck at home. 

Reality: “The six months or so that I had after I graduated high school gave me a much-needed mental break, extra time home with my family, and I was also able to save some money for college by working part-time jobs. I promise you, that fall semester goes by super fast! I am unbelievably grateful for that break from the classroom and the opportunity to get a head start on building my resume and earning some money. No matter what you choose to do during the fall, whether that be studying abroad, taking classes at community college, or just staying home with your family, coming to USC in the spring allows you the opportunity to try something out of the ordinary from a unique vantage point, giving you truly valuable perspectives and unique life experiences that you carry with you throughout your college journey.” – Abby Jarvis 

Making Friends 

Expectation: Everyone will already have friends. 

Reality: “Entering USC, I was greeted by the welcoming nature of the school. It did not feel cliquey at all, but rather, people were social and open to meeting others! In USC Housing, I became friends with my roommates and others on my floor through events my RA hosted. I met friends in my classes, which made for great study-buddies as well! Starting or joining study groups with others helped me make friends. Also, I found friends who shared similar interests to me, academic and recreational, through clubs at the involvement fair that happens once a semester. There will always be people happy to make friends, regardless of the year that you join USC.” – Yara Akiel  

Orientation Process / Actually Arriving at USC 

Expectation: I would be dropped into the middle of the USC campus with no guidance as to where to go or what to do. 

Reality: “During your orientation, you will not only have the opportunity to plan out your entire four-year course plan with your academic advisor, but you will also have the chance to meet other spring admits and explore LA during Welcome Week. That first week on campus, USC always plans fun excursions into LA to allow spring admits to get a better sense of what it’s like living in Los Angeles. On these trips, you will be introduced to so many other incredible spring admits who share similar stories to yours and who each bring a new and unique perspective to USC. This allows you to make some friends first thing, and sets you up for a truly fluid transition into USC.” – Abby Jarvis 

Getting Involved 

Expectation: (1) Clubs would be difficult to join. (2) Like high school, I would have to be involved in 4+ clubs to be a part of the social scene of USC. 

Reality: (1) “USC has 1000+ different clubs and orgs you can join! Whether you want to join a music group, an intramural sport, an art club, musical theater performances, or even random clubs like our Bagel Appreciation or Napping clubs, there are so many communities that openly welcome any and all members! You can check out some of these incredible clubs and meet current members at our Involvement Fairs, which happen at the beginning of each semester.  

(2) In college, you generally commit to fewer extracurriculars than you do in high school. In high school, I was involved in tons of after school clubs, but now in college, I really only participate in one student org. The rest of my time is dedicated to classes, work, and research on campus. For me, this mental shift and different time allocation was super freeing, and I realized my first semester that college is the first time you have the opportunity to make your schedule look exactly the way you want.” – Abby Jarvis 

Picking Classes 

Expectation: I won’t know how to pick the right classes for my major. 

Reality: “Although I was very overwhelmed with the idea of being completely free to choose my own classes for the first time, my advisor helped me a lot in figuring it all out! During our first meeting, he showed me the general course guide to my major and helped me outline a 3 ½ year course plan that ensures I have all the credits necessary for my major and as a pre-medical student. Also, advisors must have a mandatory meeting with their students once a semester in order to go over their intended course plan for the next semester. I use this meeting to figure out what classes I should be taking, and my advisor clears up any confusion I have.” – Yara Akiel 

Finding the Right Social Scene for YOU 

Expectation: Everyone at USC is involved in Greek Life, so if I didn’t join, I wouldn’t find a lasting community. 

Reality: “Only about 20% of students are involved in Greek Life, so you definitely don’t need to be a part of a sorority or fraternity to make friends on campus. I personally am not involved in Greek Life, and I’ve found so many incredible friends and communities that have made my college experience so wonderful. I met my friends mostly by joining certain clubs or meeting them in classes, so I would recommend getting involved as soon as you can and by participating in the spring Involvement Fair. For me, it was super nerve wracking having to put myself out there and introduce myself to people I had never met before, but I promise you, it’s always worth it.” – Abby Jarvis 

Graduating in 4 Years 

Expectation: I can’t graduate at the same time as my class as a pre-med student. There is no way I can graduate in 4 years if I come to USC a semester late. 

Reality: “Before starting at USC, I took community college classes in the fall to get some credits. Once I started in the spring, I had no issues with creating a schedule that made sure I graduate at the same time as all my peers. My advisor helped me figure out an outlined course schedule of my time at USC that ensures I will take the classes I need to graduate on time. I even had enough room to add a minor on top of my major and pre-med classes, so my fear of not graduating on time was quickly washed away.” – Yara Akiel 

“During that orientation meeting with my advisor, we discovered that I had quite a bit of extra room in my schedule, so she recommended that I declare another major. Thanks to that advice, this semester, I’m graduating with a double major in Linguistics and Spanish. These degrees not only fit perfectly into my four-year plan, but throughout the years, I also was able to take fun, extracurricular classes in addition to the classes required for my major without having to complete extra summer courses.” – Abby Jarvis 

If you made it this far, I’m hoping you’ve gathered that you’ll be supported on USC’s campus. As a Trojan myself, and former spring admit too, I know this is a scary process that is extremely overwhelming, but I hope you’re able to embrace the excitement of it all and enjoy the fall in anticipation of getting to campus in the spring.  

As a Spring admit, here are the next steps to take before arriving to campus!  

Good Luck and Fight On! 

Written by: 

Natasha Hunter, Assistant Director – USC Office of Undergraduate Admission 



The High School GPA

Weighted, unweighted, academic – there are so many versions of this little number.  Some schools even calculate the GPA out to the thousandth place as if there were any material difference between a student with a 3.876 and a 3.877.  Some students even believe they don’t have a GPA simply because their school does not print it on the transcript (here’s a hint: if you get grades, you have a GPA, it’s just math). 

You’ve probably been led to believe that your high school GPA is one of the most important factors in the college admission process.  And it is – but only sort of.  It is, insomuch as your GPA is a neat calculation for all the grades you have received throughout high school.  But it really is just a shorthand for your overall transcript – and one that doesn’t do a very good job of distinguishing one student’s preparation from another. 

When we are reviewing a student’s transcript, we are focused on their overall academic preparation.  We do learn this from the grades on the transcript (which make up the GPA), but we learn at least as much from the courses you chose, how you progressed through high school, the subjects where you chose to challenge yourself, and what classes you have in progress even before you have earned any grades in them at all.  And we’re doing all of this while thinking about you in the context of your individual high school; we learn about different curricula, the baseline rigor that is offered at your school, and how students from your school have done when they have come to USC. 

Add to that all the other ways we learn about your academic preparation: your secondary school report, standardized testing (if you choose to submit any scores from various exams you have completed), letters of recommendation from teachers and counselors who talk about you in an academic setting, and through your own words as well. 

Which is all just to say that we are spending much more time looking at the courses and grades you have on your transcript and considering your overall academic preparation than we are thinking about the number that is calculated for the GPA.  So don’t worry about your GPA number – by the time you’re in the college application process any new grade you earn will only change your GPA by a small fraction.  Instead, spend time telling us about what excites you academically, how you have prepared for college, and why you think USC might be the right next step in your academic journey.  You have many opportunities throughout the Common App and USC Supplement to share your story with us and we are looking forward to getting to know you. 

Written by Becky Chassin, Assistant Dean of Admission