What is the US credit transfer system and how does it work?

With the vast amount of resources and almost every field of study available, the United States is an ideal choice to pursue an overseas college education. It has a wide selection of top-ranking Ivy League institutions with specialist fields of study in the areas of law, engineering, arts, and sciences. On top of a rich campus experience, students can also gain a wider worldview through the international exposure.

But one advantage that clearly stands out is the US credit transfer system, allowing students to transfer colleges after one or two years with their academic credits gained from the first school.

It is more common than you think

US president Barack Obama studied in Occidental College (a private liberal arts institution) before transferring to Columbia University, an Ivy-League university.

Famous actress and film producer Lucy Liu, known for her role as one of the Charlie’s Angels, attended the New York University for a year before transferring to the University of Michigan.

Not famous (yet) but still an equally relevant case is an international student who first enrolled in Marymount California University and subsequently transferred successfully to UC Berkeley, a university ranked 20th place nationally in the US and 6th in the world.

More than a third of students in the United States transfer colleges each year, and this includes both domestic and international students. Transferring colleges is common in the US due to the nature of the US college education system.

A brief look at the US university system

In the US, undergraduate degrees require four years of full-time study: the Freshman year, Sophomore year, Junior year and the final Senior year. In the first two years, students will pursue subjects as part of the general education core requirements in the areas of natural sciences, social sciences, humanities, and mathematics. This helps as most students don’t have a clear understanding of what they want to study, and this exposes them to the variety of subjects. Students will then choose a specific area of study in the Junior year and graduate with an undergraduate degree in the Senior year.

Students transfer colleges for several reasons. Some may not have chosen a specific subject of interest, while others may not have gained admission to the US university of their choice.

So why transfer?

Top ranked universities are popular and with limited placement, they require a comprehensive application with exemplary GPA and SAT score, a powerful personal statement, strong letters of recommendation, among others. Universities are ultimately looking for the potential behind each application form, and the probability of rejection exists because students will be competing with students who are just as good. In the competitive pool, international students may inevitably be lost in the application pile.

But all's not lost there. You can take a strategic approach by taking advantage of the US credit transfer system: first by entering a university or college to "clock" the necessary credits at a less stressful or competitive environment (some would even have a smaller class size!), making the most out of the education in the first or first two years, and then applying for a transfer to your preferred college.

The bonus here is that in most cases, you will not need to take the SATs, neither will you need to retake the subjects you’ve completed, because academic credits gained in one year will be transferred to the other in the following year.

What does that mean for me?

When you apply to the college of your choice as a transfer student, the admissions are also slightly more lenient because you have proven yourself in the US, giving yourself a better shot at studying in your university of choice.

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