Making the move from a junior college to a traditional four-year university is a huge step in your personal and professional development. The numbers don’t lie. Professionals with bachelor’s degrees out-earn those with associate’s degrees or less in almost every field. Earning a BA or BS from a major university has the potential to increase your lifetime income by $500,000 or more. That’s half a million dollars towards buying a home, towards education for your children, towards a comfortable retirement for you and your spouse.

The benefits are more than just economic. At a university you will have access to exciting and engaged faculty and classmates. These important people will serve as the backbone of your professional network for years to come. Society also looks favorably on those with a four-year college degree. Whether rightly or wrongly, your bachelor’s degree is your ticket into the upper echelons of the business and social communities.

With all that in mind, you can see why a move from junior college to university is within your best interest. That transition, unfortunately, is not always a smooth one. University culture comes with its own unique set of mores and taboos. The culture can seem queer to a student transferring from a junior college. If you’ve already made the decision to transfer and you’re nervous about navigating these rocky waters, consider these three tips for transferring to a four-year institution of higher learning.

1) Finish your associate’s degree

Research shows that students transferring from two-year schools have a much higher rate of success at university if they complete their associate’s degree first. Attaining an associate’s degree actually provides you with a leg up on most of your matriculating classmates at a four-year school. You’ll likely find that many of your credits transfer over, giving you a head start on your bachelor’s degree and reducing your ultimate debt load. A finished degree is always more valuable than a random mix of credits.

2) Meet with administrators

The best information comes from face to face interactions with school administrators and peer leaders. Speak with your advisor at your junior college first to ask his or her advice on the transfer. Chances are: he or she will tell you to finish your degree and pick a major beforehand – both good pieces of advice. Next, approach someone at the admissions department of the university and ask for information about application fees and transfer credits. You might be redirected to the registrar, but hopefully you’ll find the information you seek. Lastly, seek the council of both faculty and student advisors. If you’re transferring into a program to pursue a masters degree in education, meet with the chair of the education department and a student enrolled in the education program. They can give you the most personal feel for the culture of the campus.

3) Shop around

Most university students have to borrow some money from the government – either to pay tuition, cover books and supplies or to supplement the cost of living. In order to qualify for this funding, you need to fill out a form called a FAFSA. Once you find out how much money you can borrow, do some research to figure out which schools offer the best deals. Four years is a long time. You want to find a university with cheap tuition, cheap cost of living and a liberal policy regarding transfer credits. These three factors will save you thousands.