5 Things to Consider Before Transferring to a U.S. College

Be sure to take the proper exams and seek out financial aid when transferring to a U.S. college.

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International students should check that their credits and major are transferable from a college in their home country.
International students should check that their credits and major are transferable from a college in their home country.

My first year as a college student did not go as well as I had hoped. I felt I was not challenged enough academically, and the college I attended was quite small, meaning there were few clubs and activities I really enjoyed.

So I decided to transfer to a different school. If you feel out of place or find yourself wanting more than what's offered at your current college, you should consider transferring – possibly even to a different country. 

Higher education in America has long been considered prestigious and valuable across the globe, and getting an American college degree can definitely help students stand out during job interviews. 

There are some important tips prospective international students should know about the application and transfer process as they consider transferring to a U.S. college. 

1. Take TOEFL and U.S. college entry exams ASAP: Almost all American universities require students to report their score on the TOEFL, the test of English as a foreign language, when applying. Some schools will also want you to take the SAT, which allows admissions committees to get a better idea of your academic skills. 

Be sure to take these tests as soon as possible. Otherwise, you may have to delay your application to the next semester or school year. 

[Explore ways to prepare for the TOEFL.] 

2. Use rankings wisely: A college's overall ranking can be important to consider, but sorting rankings by major or academic program can be more helpful when choosing a transfer college. As an international student, I was once obsessed with U.S. News' National University rankings, and I know that many of my friends from other countries feel the same way.

Although college rankings can help you narrow down an initial school search, you probably want to focus more on sorting schools according to the major you want to study. If you don't like your current major, you may be able to change your declared major along with your transfer. 

[See which schools draw the most international students.] 

3. Have your academic transcript evaluated: In order to prevent forged grades or inflated GPA scores, many universities are now asking the applicants to have their transcript evaluated or validated by third-party agencies, typically specified by the school. Make sure to check the school's requirement on transcripts before sending them off. 

The evaluation process could take longer than you think. I waited for almost 20 business days for mine, so be sure to do it ahead of time. Also be aware that some of the agencies do not offer translation, and having your transcripts translated properly is important. 

4. Seek out college scholarships and financial aid: As an international student studying in the U.S., you may have to pay higher tuition fees than domestic students. 

While some schools offer a limited amount of scholarships to international students, your best bet is to focus on other types of scholarships, including scholarships from organizations. 

Some may be as small as a few thousand dollars, but that's still money. Some financial institutions are willing to offer student loans to international students. 

[Find out which schools give international students the most aid.] 

5. Don't rule out a short-term exchange program: Still not sure if you should transfer? Try a short-term exchange program first. A lot of American universities offer exchange programs with other universities around the world. The best part of these programs is that you can get credits for the courses you take during the exchange while maintaining student status at your university. 

Such programs can offer you some insight into the American education system before you pursue other options. I have a Chinese friend who originally did an exchange program at our school and fell in love with it after one semester – and successfully transferred. 

And even if you change your mind, you can still learn a lot about the American culture as an exchange student. 

Yao Lu, from China, is a sophomore at the University of Pittsburgh with an intended major in information science.