The Transfer Application Process
The Transfer Application Process

When choosing colleges to which you wish to transfer, consider how many of the courses you have taken will transfer from your current to your new institution. The system of recognition for work completed at the original institution is called credit transfer, and the policy and procedures for credit transfer vary considerably from institution to institution.

Colleges determine which courses they will recognize on the basis of your transcripts and other information you may be asked to provide about your original institution, course syllabuses, and so on. While schools can usually give you an unofficial estimate at the time they issue your letter of acceptance, often you must wait until you arrive at the college and meet the head of the department to get an official final evaluation of your transfer status.

Students may find that some of the courses taken at their original institutions are "lost" in the transfer process. They often need extra time to graduate or need to take summer school combined with a heavier workload if they wish to graduate on time. In addition, most colleges have a maximum number of credits that can be transferred in from a previous institution. Contact schools directly or use reference material available at your U.S. educational information or advising center for further information on specific transfer policies.

Students are required to take three main types of courses in order to earn a U.S. degree: general education requirements, requirements for the major field of study, and electives (see About Undergraduate Study for further information on these different types of courses). Courses that are transferred from the original institution to the transfer institution must fit into one of these three categories if they are to count toward the requirements for the degree. The following sections explain how this process works in practice.
Transferring Between U.S. Institutions

Because general education requirements are similar at many U.S. colleges, students who transfer from one U.S. institution to another are the most likely to find that their courses are recognized and transfer easily.

Transferring courses you have taken as requirements for a particular major may be more complicated, especially if you are trying to transfer courses for a major that the new college does not offer (for example, trying to transfer business courses into a school that does not offer business courses). Sometimes the courses taken for a certain major may not meet the requirements for the same major at the transfer institution. The transfer institution may even insist that you take all the course requirements for a major at that college. Courses not accepted either as credit toward the major or as general education requirements may be accepted as credit for elective courses. However, if even this is not possible, either no transfer credit will be granted, or the new college may tell you that it will grant transfer credit for these courses, but the credit cannot be applied toward your requirements for graduation. When you are discussing with a college how many transfer credits you will receive, it is important to check and understand the distinction between a general acceptance of credit for transfer purposes, and acceptance of credits to meet the requirements for graduation with a degree in a certain discipline. In the former situation, further clarification is needed, and some credits may be lost between the current and transfer institutions. In the latter situation, you can be sure exactly which courses and credits you can apply from your current institution to meet the course requirements for a certain major (for example, mathematics or history) at the transfer institution.

The College Handbook for Transfer Students offers suggestions for ways that students can maximize their transfer credits. Advice includes:
  • Take any required general education courses during your first two years of study.
  • Take any prerequisites for your major at your original institution, as these will help you get accepted into another college, particularly if your major is highly competitive. Prerequisites are preparatory courses that are required before you can start studying for the major itself.
  • Plan to take the majority of the courses required for your major after you arrive at the transfer institution as these are more difficult to transfer.
  • If you are studying at a community college, work closely with your academic adviser in planning your course schedule and take courses designated as "transfer courses" (see community colleges for further information).
  • You can ask a college to reconsider its decision about transfer credit. Sometimes a transcript or course description provides insufficient information to enable a college to grant credit; further information may allow them to make a decision in your favor.
Transferring From Outside the U.S. Education System

Students transfer every year from other countries into U.S. degree programs and successfully go on to complete their degrees. However, the structure of degrees in other countries rarely matches the structure of U.S. degrees, making the transfer process more complicated. For example, if in your country you study only one subject for your degree, the courses you have taken will not match up with the varied subjects a U.S. undergraduate student takes to meet his or her general education requirements. The types of institutions in other countries also vary from those in the United States, as do other details.

The transfer institution needs to consider a number of factors when granting credit for the courses you have taken at a non-U.S. institution. Pat Parker, assistant director of admissions for international students at Iowa State University, identifies three factors that U.S. universities usually consider:
  • Is your university or college recognized by the ministry of education in your country? U.S. colleges are looking for institutions that are recognized by a ministry of education; however, if some other authority approves your college, it may still be acceptable. Decisions vary from college to college and often depend on what the situation would be for a similar college in the United States.
  • How similar is the nature or character of the courses you have taken to those offered at the transfer institution? U.S. schools usually assess similarity by looking at information from course descriptions, syllabi, or catalogs. If your institution is not well known in the United States, the college may have to do a more detailed evaluation with you when you arrive, and only then decide whether and how to grant transfer credit.
  • How applicable are your courses toward the degree, and in particular the major, that you wish to pursue? This will often involve evaluation of the courses by both the admissions office and the academic department to which you wish to be admitted. They will look at whether courses can be accepted for transfer credit first, and then at whether they can count toward the requirements for a specific major. Again this decision may not take place until after you have arrived, and the decision may vary from college to college. Applying courses toward a particular major is most difficult for professional programs such as engineering, architecture, or journalism, where course requirements are carefully structured and often dictated by accrediting bodies for the profession.
In addition, to make the transfer process run as smoothly as possible, you are advised to:
  • Make sure all academic records provided are official and bear the original stamp or seal of the issuing institution.
  • Submit course descriptions in English for all post-secondary courses taken. They should also include:
    • summaries or outlines of the major topics covered in each course (If an outline is not available, write a summary yourself and have it certified by the school as accurate.);
    • the number of units or hours required in lecture and laboratory for each course on a weekly basis;
    • the length of the term or academic year, and, if it is not given elsewhere, the year in which you took the course.
  • Prepare a list of textbooks used in each course as this will help in any decisions that are made after you arrive at the campus about whether to grant credit for particular courses.
  • Provide information on the total number of courses, credits, or units required for the diploma or degree program from which you are transferring.
Students who transfer into a U.S. institution may also be able to receive credit for their secondary school work if it is considered to be comparable to introductory college-level work in the United States. Ask each college about this.