How to Transfer Universities and Be a Transfer Student in the USA

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By Azara Lantra
Last updated on October 16, 2023

If you are an international student planning to transfer to a university in the US, this step-by-step guide can help you understand the application process, entry requirements, transfer policies, and more.

A male international student sits at a table in front of an open textbook

Transferring universities in the US is very common: According to a National Student Clearinghouse Research Center (NSCRC) report, approximately 2.1 million college students transferred between institutions in the academic year 2020-2021. Whether you are a transfer student transferring universities in your home country or within the US, the application process can seem complicated. This guide will help you understand everything you need to know about how to transfer universities in the USA and set you up for success.

Let’s get started!

Can I Transfer Universities as an International Student?

Transferring universities involves leaving the university where you are enrolled, then enrolling at a new US college or university. As a transfer student, you may continue to pursue your original degree, or you may opt to change to a new degree program altogether. Depending on your program, the universities, and the time of your transfer, the conditions of your transfer can vary. Usually, you can transfer most credits you have earned to maintain progress and get your degree in a similar timeframe. 

As an international transfer student, knowing how to transfer universities in the USA will include understanding application requirements and the transfer policies of your current university and the university you plan to transfer to.

There are a variety of reasons why you might want to transfer universities:

  • You want to change majors, but your current university does not offer your new course of study

  • Your financial situation has changed and you need to consider other options

  • You found a more rewarding program at another university

  • You are experiencing culture shock and want a different university environment or community

While most universities allow you to become a transfer student, keep in mind that many set deadlines in order to do so. Be aware of all relevant application and transfer schedules if you are considering transferring in the future. 

Can You Switch Universities After the First Year?

Yes, you can. However, this may depend on the policy of the university you are attending and the one you want to switch to. Some university programs require you to transfer to select universities after completing your first year as a part of your program. As a minimum requirement, to be eligible to transfer universities, you need to be enrolled in an accredited college or university in your home country or the US and complete at least one semester of coursework.

How Late Can You Transfer Universities?

Typically, most universities accept transfer students with up to two years of study at another university. Some universities may not accept transfer students with more than two years enrolled at another college. If you study at a community college, it may be possible to transfer to a four-year college with a pre-approved program. 

You should also keep in mind the university’s enrollment deadlines when considering a transfer. If you plan to become a transfer student and switch universities in the future, you should start gathering the documents required for transferring as soon as you can, as these can take time to collect and evaluate. 

What Are the Different Transfer Options Available?

There are three transfer options available for international students:

  1. Transferring from a local university outside the US

  2. Transferring from a US two-year community college to a four-year institution

  3. Transferring from a four-year US university to another US university

How can you transfer universities? Requirements may differ depending on the type of transfer and the particular school. 

If you need help determining which option works best for you, you can always ask an advisor. A Shorelight advisor can help with providing student visa support, applying for a F-1 visa, and supporting you in adjusting to college life in the US. Your advisor can also help you choose the right Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS)-approved school to transfer to, provide application assistance, guide you toward internship opportunities, and more! 

Contact Your Academic Advisor 

As each university and college has its own policies regarding university transfer, it is important to work closely with an international student advisor or academic advisor through the process. This type of advisor, also known as a Designated School Official (DSO), can help you understand the type of information and documentation you need to collect, go over anticipated costs, and address any changes to your student visa you need to keep in mind. 

This process is different depending on the university you are currently attending, the program you want to study, and the universities you are considering for your transfer. With the help of your Shorelight advisor and an academic advisor, you can learn how to transfer universities in the USA and will be supported through the entire process. 

Depending on your particular transfer, there may be specific transfer processes you need to follow.

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Transferring From a Four-Year US University to Another US University

Four-year universities refer to universities that offer bachelor’s degrees, as these usually take four years to complete. 

When you transfer from a four-year university or college, two processes take place:

  1. Academic Transfer—The credits you earned at your current institution are evaluated to determine which can transfer to the university where you are transferring. This ensures you have the necessary credits to begin a new program or continue an existing program without having to start from the beginning.

  2. Immigration Transfer—Your SEVIS information covering your status as an international student is updated and transferred to your new school.

Once your admission to the new university or college is confirmed, you need a new I-20 form. To start this process, you need to register on SEVIS, submit any required payments, then request that your current school transfer your SEVIS record to your new university. Your SEVIS record will be updated with information about your transfer, and depending on when you transfer, this could change the conditions of your student visa. Remember to work with an advisor through this process!

Transferring From a US Community College

If you are undecided about your major or need more time to consider your options, you can consider starting at a community college in the US. 

Community colleges provide mostly the same general education classes as four-year universities but at a much lower cost. This gives you time to explore your interests and find what you want to specialize in. Once you have found a field you are interested in, you can apply to transfer to another US university or college.

Many four-year universities and colleges also waive the requirement for standardized tests during their admissions process, especially if you are transferring from a community college. A recent study by FairTest (National Center for Fair & Open Testing) shows that 80% of degree-granting institutions in the US do not require students to submit ACT or SAT scores, or have made these standardized tests optional. This can also help you enter highly competitive institutions while bypassing the pool of first-year applicants.

Transferring From a University in the Home Country to the US

Starting a degree in your home country, then transferring to the US later to complete it, gives you the opportunity to acclimate to university life in a familiar environment first, which may help you adjust faster when you arrive in the US. 

To be eligible to transfer to a US university or college, your completed courses need to be evaluated to determine which credits are transferable. This process can take time, so it is best to start as early as possible to make sure you meet admission deadlines. Some credits may not be transferable, which means you may be required to complete additional classes in the US, which can also impact your timeline for graduation. 

No matter which transfer option you want to start planning for, the first step is to understand the transfer policies of your own institution and the ones you are considering transferring to.

Research Transfer Schools and Their Transfer Policies

Before deciding which university to transfer to, it is important to research the minimum entry requirements for the transfer program, application deadlines, and international college credit transfer policies. International college credit transfer policies help you understand the minimum amount of credits you need to have completed at your current university to be eligible to transfer, and how many credits can be transferred to the university you have selected.

For credits completed at accredited universities outside the US, some universities may require a foreign transcript evaluation (or course-by-course evaluation). Please visit the National Association of Credential Evaluation Services (NACES) website to find an organization that can help you.

If you are planning to start your degree in your home country, speak with an advisor to inquire if your current university has any affiliations or partnerships with US colleges or universities. These partnerships usually have streamlined international college credit transfer processes with a higher chance to transfer more of your credits. They may also offer opportunities for scholarships or other forms of tuition assistance. 

Before you begin the process of applying for a transfer, determine how you will settle any ongoing financial obligations to your current university or college.

Take Care of Any Pending Financial Obligations

Depending on the timing of your transfer, you may have one or more remaining financial obligations to your current institution. Each institution lists payment deadlines every semester and you should settle any outstanding payments well in advance of your transfer to make the process as smooth as possible. If your transfer takes place before the payment deadline, you may have to only pay a partial fee, depending on the institution’s policies. Remember to check these financial obligations with an advisor or DSO in advance!

Additionally, keep in mind each university and college has its own costs for the program you want to enroll in. In addition to different tuition fees, housing and dining costs are also different and may vary from what you are currently paying. If the institution is in a different city, town, or state, you may also see a difference in daily expenses. 

While this may seem like a lot to consider, speaking to a representative or advisor can help you stay aware of critical information.

Contact the University

As you are transferring to a new university, it is important to be aware of their policies and unique offerings. After finalizing your decision about where to transfer, research the new school’s transfer policies and conditions and gather as much information as you can. Staying in contact with your advisors through the transfer process can help you follow all the required steps.

Gather Required Documentation

Once you have completed your research and selected your new university, it is time to apply to transfer! Entry requirements and documentation are different depending on the university and the degree — remember to check the university website for full details about the program or major that interests you.

When applying to transfer as an international student, you can expect to submit: 

  • Your academic credentials or transcripts from the local institution you attended (if your transcript is in another language, it must be translated into English)

  • Standardized English language tests such as the TOEFL and IELTS

  • SAT/ACT or GRE scores

  • A valid I-20

  • A valid student visa appropriate for the program and university you are transferring to

  • Letters of recommendation

  • Application fee

Optional documentation may include:

Postgraduate students may also be required to submit their GRE or other graduate-placement exam scores (if specifically requested by their destination institution).

Transfer Documents From One Uni To Another

When considering your options for universities to transfer to, check if both your current university and potential transfer universities have transfer policies in place. Some universities may only accept transfer students from specific universities or disciplines as some programs may be highly specialized. 

Coordinate with both your current advisor and the advisor of the university you are transferring to for requesting and submitting all required documentation. Usually, this involves the same documents you provided to your current university, such as your academic records, letter of recommendation, and standardized test scores. Depending on the program you are enrolling in, you may also be required to take additional tests or certifications before being admitted. Be sure to clarify all requirements with an advisor!

Update Your Visa Requirements

No matter where you study, your student visa is extremely important. When considering how to transfer universities in USA, you need to make sure the programs and universities you are considering still allow you to meet your visa requirements so you can maintain your status as an international student. 

For example, certain university programs may only be eligible for J-1 or M-1 student visas, and if you have a F-1 student visa, you would not be able to enroll. In this case, you would need to coordinate with advisors to change your student visa type or consider other university options. 

For specific visa types, some institutions may also need to be certified by specific governing bodies. For F-1 and J-1 students, programs must be certified by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP). This information is listed in your SEVIS record and is part of the documentation you need to transfer. J-1 students pursuing STEM-related undergraduate studies are also eligible for a 36-month visa extension under the latest international education initiative jointly established by the U.S. Department of State and the Department of Education.

Once you have a list of universities and programs you are considering, you can speak to a visa authority to learn more about the requirements you need to meet. If you want to learn more about the visa application process, you can refer to our guide to US visas for international students.

Transfer to the US with American Collegiate

American Collegiate helps international students earn recognized credits which can be applied toward a transfer to a top-ranked US university. Program options include digital learning, on campus, or Honors. 

  • Digital learning: With just a laptop and internet connection, you can start your US university degree program from home and stay on track — no study delays or interruptions. The award-nominated American Collegiate Live digital classroom experience lets international students earn recognized credits and learn in real time with top faculty at the University of Massachusetts Boston, a nationally ranked university.

  • On campus: Spend your first year at American University in Washington, DC, or at UCLA Extension School in Los Angeles, California, earning undergraduate-level credits you can apply toward a transfer to a top-ranked US university.

  • Honors: Earn up to one year of recognized undergraduate credits at top-ranked North American universities remotely from home, and take advantage of our Honors Guarantee to transfer with confidence to a top-50 university in the US.

Transfer with Transfer Direct

An additional option for transfer students is Transfer Direct, part of Shorelight’s exclusive services for international students. With Transfer Direct, counselors work with you to estimate your qualifying transfer credits and then create an individualized study plan, including identifying which universities may be the best fit for your transfer, submitting applications, and completing the enrollment process.

Now that you know how to transfer universities in the USA, be confident and plan the next step in your educational journey! Remember, each university may have different transfer requirements, so speak to an advisor to get the best advice for you and your goals.

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