Photo: Courtesy of Max Tang
Tricky Transfer Process
Max Tang is helping other community college students navigate the move to a four-year school
When Max Tang, Ed.M.’22, came to the United States from China with his family, he didn’t speak English. He was 17, first gen, and had no idea how to apply to college. He spent two years at a community college before facing another challenge: trying to figure out, on his own, the complicated process of transferring to a four-year school. Tang recently spoke to Ed. about why he’s now helping other community college students navigate the tricky transfer process.
When did you realize transferring wasn’t easy?
When I started at Santa Monica College, I met so many students with very similar backgrounds. I went through the whole transfer process myself. I even read a huge book about how to transfer to a four-year University of California school, but it’s so complicated, especially with limited support from your school. Needless to say, I was often lost and confused. I studied hard, did a lot of extracurricular activities, and got a high GPA, but it was only through sheer determination and many challenges later that I was able to successfully transfer to UCLA.
What about your classmates?
Most of my peers did not transfer. All of my friends were struggling with access to counselors, too. We had to help each other. You can’t always wait to get a question answered. Unfortunately, community colleges are very underfunded. The result is these problems either delayed their transfer time or stopped them from transferring altogether. A [National Student Clearinghouse Center] study from 2018 said 80% of incoming community college students say they plan on going on to a four-year school, but only 13% actually do.
Aren’t community colleges set up for transfers?
Yes, but community colleges are underfunded and resources are limited. Counselors are really important in the transfer process — you have to map which colleges you want to apply to and see what courses are required, and that takes a lot of time. Too often, students have to wait to get appointments with counselors, and then you might get only 15 minutes. It’s hard to get much done in that time. Parents of community college students sometimes don’t know how to help, so students have to do it on their own.
Is this why you started ProDream Education?
I had this idea to help other community college students after a friend asked me to help him map which courses he should take and for guidance on the transfer application. He knew I had successfully transferred. Then another friend asked and I was like, Wow. There’s a need for this.
How exactly are you helping?
I started offering free one-on-one consulting. In the past two years, we served hundreds of students and have helped more than 100 successfully transfer, but there is still much work to do. Traditional education consulting is labor-intensive, making it hard to be scalable, and usually only wealthy students can afford it.
Now you’re trying to grow the company?
I was working almost nonstop [between] my own schoolwork and the company, doing it all myself. I realized we need to help more students, so last semester I got into the Harvard iLab. I started taking business classes at Harvard Business School and was exposed to new theories. I came up with an idea to automate consulting services. With one-on-one consulting, you only have time to help a couple of students a day. With an AI adviser, it’s now a free, one-stop hub. Students put in their basic information and we predict which schools they can transfer into. You can generate a report with application advice and transfer information for each school, and it can be used 24/7.
Are you hopeful for community colleges?
I see a lot of opportunity for community college students now under the Biden Administration. The first lady has advocated for community college education. It’s a really important sector and community college students have huge potential to add to our economy.