us flag
Want to study in the USA? Get our course on US College Admissions & Applications now →
us flag
Interside mobile menu

How can international students transfer universities in the US

interstride logo by Interstride
February 15, 2024

If you are unhappy with your current US university or want to switch schools for another reason, you may wonder, can I change schools on an F-1 visa? Transferring to a different school on an F-1 visa is a different process than a domestic student transfer, so it’s important to do your research before applying to new schools. 

In the US, transferring schools means applying to and enrolling in a college or university while you are currently attending a different college or university. It’s most common for students to transfer after their first or second year of school. Usually, all or most of the college credits you already earned can be transferred to the new school upon enrollment. You can pursue a new degree or the same one you were working towards at your first school. 

There are many different, valid reasons for international students to transfer schools:

  • You didn’t get accepted into your top-choice school and want another chance
  • You are looking to change your field of study
  • You want to attend a less expensive school for general education courses to save money
  • You are unhappy with your current school or academic program

What are the different transfer options for international students?

There are two common types of transfers in the US – community college to a 4-year institution and 4-year institution to another 4-year institution. Consider your reasons for transferring and your academic and professional goals when choosing which type of transfer is best for you.

Upward transfer from community college to a 4-year institution

Many community colleges accept international students and are often more affordable than 4-year institutions. They may also accept students with lower GPAs and test scores. Most credits from community college are transferable to a 4-year institution. You can earn an associate degree and a bachelor’s degree in four years for less cost by attending a community college for two years and then transferring to a 4-year school for two years. 

This is also a good option for students who are still deciding what major they want to choose. International students can explore different subjects at a community college before committing to a 4-year program in the US. Some universities also have partnerships with local community colleges to make transferring easier.

Lateral transfer from a 4-year institution to another 4-year institution

International students already at 4-year colleges and universities can transfer schools as well. Some colleges are very specialized and offer limited academic programs. Students at these schools who want to change their focus may need to apply to a different type of school to finish their bachelor’s degree. Other students may find that a school’s culture simply isn’t a good fit for them. After exhausting various school resources, you may decide that transferring may improve your overall college experience and/or career preparedness. 

Interstride Tip! Applying as an international transfer student may affect your eligibility for financial aid. Some colleges and universities give financial aid to international students only if they’re first-year applicants, not transfer applicants (i.e., Northwestern University). On the other hand, some schools offer scholarships specifically to international transfer students (i.e., Boise State University). Check each school’s financial aid webpage to confirm eligibility.

How to transfer from one university to another as an international student

The exact requirements and transfer process for international students vary by school and sometimes by academic program. Some schools allow students to transfer anytime whether it’s after three years of study or only one semester. Others only allow transfer students who have completed 1-2 years of study. 

Transfer students may also have different admissions requirements, application deadlines, and decision notification dates than first-time applicants. For example, the school you are transferring to may have different English proficiency requirements for international student admissions than your current school. To get the most accurate and up-to-date information, contact each school’s international student services office for details on how to transfer to or from their institution.

Here are the basic steps on how to transfer universities as an F-1 student:

  1. Apply to new colleges and/or universities in the US as a transfer international student
  2. Accept admission to one school
  3. Ask your current school’s Designated School Official (DSO) at the International Student Services Office (ISSS) to transfer your SEVIS record to your new school
  4. Provide the DSO with any required paperwork such as your acceptance letter or contact information for your new school
  5. Request a new I-20 form from your new school’s DSO
  6. Register for classes at your new school within 15 days of the program start date listed on your new I-20

Some universities also accept international graduate transfer students on a case-by-case basis. However, it’s less likely that all your credits will transfer to your new graduate program because coursework for graduate school is more specialized than undergrad. If you are a graduate student interested in transferring, you can use the same steps listed above. 

Additional considerations for international transfer students

Be cautious if planning to travel outside of the US in between transferring schools. If your transfer release date from your original school happens while you are out of the country, then you cannot re-enter the US without an updated Initial Form I-20 from your new school. According to USCIS, it’s best to avoid travel outside the country during the transfer process.

Also, any student work authorization (such as OPT or CPT) that you have through your original school will be canceled on your transfer release date. If you have already gotten authorization for a summer internship through your original school, make sure your transfer release date is not until after the internship ends.

Lastly, keep in mind that transferring will not extend your allotted OPT time. You only get 12 months of OPT work authorization per degree level regardless of the school you are attending. Even if you switch majors when transferring, you will not receive additional OPT time. To gain work experience while at your new school, consider a school with programs you are interested in that have an internship component so that you can use CPT.


Most US colleges and universities accept international transfer students, which is a benefit of studying in the US. If you do not like the school you are studying at, you can transfer to another school without losing the credits you have already earned. While international students need to take a few extra steps and precautions to successfully transfer schools, it is a very approachable process.