Here's what international students should know about transferring from a school in their home country or within the U.S.
As a high school senior, Ai My Thai enrolled at Green River College in Washington, spent three years at the community college and obtained her high school diploma and two associate degrees in science and engineering. The Vietnamese student then transferred to the Georgia Institute of Technology where she graduated in December with a Bachelor of Science in aerospace engineering.
International students may consider transferring schools for reasons ranging from costs to not yet being prepared for a four-year university, or a school not being a good fit.
Through her educational path in the U.S., Thai says, "I had more time to get used to the culture, how U.S. school works and how to communicate in English."
Before considering any transfer options, experts suggest international students take English proficiency tests, such as the TOEFL test, and any required college admissions exams. Students should check with the institution they are planning to transfer to regarding specific requirements.
Here are three transfer options for international students to consider:
- Transferring from a university in the home country.
- Transferring from a U.S. two-year community college.
- Transferring from a U.S. four-year university to another U.S. school.
Transferring From a University in the Home Country
Prospective international students may feel more comfortable first taking courses at a school in their home country and then transferring to a U.S. university.
"If you plan to transfer from a university in your home country to a U.S. university, it's important to start the process early because you will likely need to obtain an evaluation of the classes you have taken back home," says Christina Khan, director of UCF Global at the University of Central Florida.
Khan says the course evaluations can take several weeks, so it's important to start early to avoid missing admissions deadlines. And she says due to differences in academic systems, "some credits may or may not transfer to your new school in the U.S. and your GPA may be calculated differently."
Experts recommend applying months in advance to ensure students have enough time to prepare for application requirements and to also be aware that deadlines may be different than the ones for first-year applicants. They suggest that international students contact individual universities to which they plan to apply for their transfer policy.
Transferring From a U.S. Two-Year Community College
Prospective international students who are not yet ready for a four-year university or need time to work on their GPA can consider starting at a U.S. community college and then transferring to a university, typically to begin their junior year.
"Students seeking an education from a U.S. university are well served to start at a community college. It is a strategic move that will preserve their funds, afford them better initial classroom experiences and cement relationships with a community," says Heidi Russell-Kalkofen, international student coordinator at Montgomery College in Maryland.
Experts say students should be sure they take classes that transfer over and should regularly meet with their counselor to help them stay on track with meeting transfer requirements.
A community college can be a good option as it can provide access to more competitive four-year institutions as a third-year transfer student, and "allows students to bypass the larger and more competitive pool of first-year applicants," says Syedur Rahman, associate vice president in the Office of International Education and Sponsored Programs at Northern Virginia Community College.
Russell-Kalkofen says when students transfer from a community college, they have already proven themselves in U.S. higher education. "In Maryland, for example, most institutions do not require any standardized test scores from a student who completed an associate degree from a Maryland community college," she says.
Thai says this aspect of transferring from a community college was appealing to her. "Georgia Tech did not require an SAT score and essays from transfer applicants," she says.
Rahman says although most community colleges in the U.S. do not offer financial aid or scholarships to international students, they provide the same general education classes required as part of a bachelor's degree at almost half to a third of the cost they would be charged at a four-year institution.
NOVA currently enrolls approximately 1,100 students on either an F-1 student visa or J-1 exchange visitor visa across its six campuses, and the school's students represent 121 countries, he says. The Office of International Student Services has started holding its own international student transfer fairs, apart from the school's college transfer fair for all students.
"We have also seen an increasing number of international students being offered scholarships as part of a transfer package, and in some cases universities are offering specific international student transfer scholarships," Rahman says.
Transferring From a U.S. Four-Year University to Another U.S. School
International students who find that the U.S. school they chose to attend isn't quite what they expected have the option to transfer to another U.S. university that's a better fit.
"It's important to understand that there are two transfer processes: the academic transfer, which includes admission and an evaluation of which credits will transfer to your new school, and the immigration transfer of your Student and Exchange Visitor Information System record to your new school," Khan says. SEVIS is used by the U.S. government to maintain information on international students.
She says the academic transfer has to happen first. Once a student is admitted to the new school, he or she can request the current school to transfer the SEVIS record so the new school can issue an I-20, a form that certifies the student is eligible for F-1 academic student or M-1 vocational student status.
"International students typically work with the international student services office to complete their immigration transfer," Khan says, particularly with the designated school official, or DSO, who helps them maintain their legal status to study in the U.S.
The transfer release date is the date the student's SEVIS record is electronically released to the new school. "It is important for international students to carefully choose their requested SEVIS release date and work with their designated school official if they are unsure which date to select. If transferring in the middle of a semester, students have to continue attending classes at the transfer-out school until the SEVIS release date," Khan says.
She says students continue to maintain legal immigration status during the transfer process and should make sure to follow instructions from their DSO at the transfer-in school for the timely issuance of their I-20.
As someone who took the path of transferring from a U.S. community college, Thai feels she made the right choice. She is currently working full time at Delta Air Lines and has been enrolled part time in Georgia Tech's Online Master of Science in Analytics program since January.
The transfer option, she says, "put me ahead of others in terms of time and gave me more exposure to different fields."
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