Transfer from the UK to the US Watch

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Mirame
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Hello,

I am currently enrolled in the university in Scotland, about to go into my second year. However, I would very much want to transfer to the university in the US after my second year.
Has anybody here done that, particularly in the humanities department? Is it possible to do so, even when you have no financial resources (I know, some of the universities have a need-blind admission process). How should I go about it? Thanks!
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the artful lounger
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The short answer is yes.

The long answer is:

In general, the US university system is a lot more "open" than the UK (inc Scotland) system(s). When you apply to university in the US, you just apply to the university, you don't typically apply to a specific degree program (or major) at that university (there are a few engineering programmes where this is an exception).

In theory at US universities, anyone can take any course in any department, subject to prerequisites etc. Thus you could get an English lit student taking random courses in psychology in their third or fourth years. The downside is some courses are routinely oversubscribed and can be hard to get into and/or have multiple sections as a result. This can be a problem if you're say a fourth year student trying to get into a course required for graduation (e.g. a gen ed requirement) that's full and only offered once a year. A corollary of this is you need to plan your education in advance to some degree; picking and choosing your courses on a term by term basis could well cause you to have to take an extra year to graduate if you don't start certain major sequence courses at the right time or whatever (this is normally more for STEM subjects).

As a result however, since programmes are much more flexible, it's easier for students to move between universities, and as a result US universities are generally used to students doing so and set up e.g. transfer course equivalencies etc. So basically, it's a fairly well integrated part of the US higher education system.

Naturally, international transfers do occur. However, they're rarer for a variety of reasons, the foremost of which is financial. In general, universities in the US fall into two categories: private and state. Under the US system, all standard UK universities would be state universities, as they're government funded and/or subsidized. There are only a few private universities in the UK (e.g. the Architectural Association School of Architecture and I believe Cranfield University). UK course fees are to all intents and purposes 100% covered by the government in some way or form (loans, bursaries/grants for students from lower economic backgrounds; both tuition and maintenance, although ofc there is debate regarding maintenance loans and how much is charged for uition).

This is simply not the case in the US. A bachelors from a state university in the US will cost broadly speaking the same as a UK bachelors degree for in state students. However, they probably won't have 100% coverage of costs through FAFSA (the US equivalent of SFE) and will have some costs coming out of pocket or have to take out additional loans, either themselves or through/by their parents. However it's not uncommon for state universities to have lucrative scholarship programs for the top in state high school students (often to the tune of a free ride plus a laptop or whatever).

Conversely a private university is not subsidized by the government; it is wholly funded by it's endowment (which is typically a combination of the original funds set aside when creating the university and continued funding from alumni donations, which can be sizeable for places like Harvard, and sports funding). As a result, there is no subsidized "in state" tuition; they pay face value for the degree, which is broadly equivalent to the fees paid by international students in the UK. They are still eligible for FAFSA funding but remember that this didn't typically cover the full cost of a state school tuition. There are some merit based scholarships however these aren't that common, and most colleges (private) outside of the the top 5 elite or so don't offer significant financial assistance to any students, including those from lower economic backgrounds.

To put things in perspective, private university tuition will routinely run $30k-$50k, and this does not include any living costs. Additionally universities in the US are largely campus based and it's not unusual for students to live on campus (i.e. in halls) for the entirety of their undergraduate education. Typically these are equivalent to "catered halls", or at the least do not have the facilities for students to prepare their own meals or store food beyond random snacks kept in small fridges potentially. The cost of living in such dorms and taking out a "meal plan" or similar at a university is usually $10k+ depending on university. As a result total cost of university in the US at a private university, including room and board, will typically be ~$50k per year.

As an international student, you will have zero funding from FAFSA. Additionally you typically aren't eligible for any national merit scholarships, and some insitutional merit scholarships may be for domestic students only. Plus, you normally can only work a specified limit of hours per week under your visa terms. Thus you will be more or less wholly relying on your personal savings and/or any internationally available (merit) scholarhips available. As you can imagine, competition for such scholarships is fierce.

Need blind admission just means they don't look at your funding before saying "Yes, you can attend". You still have to pay for tuition etc as normal, they just can't discriminate based on income.

Now, in hypothetical world where you can pay for all the relevant costs, and you get in, then you'll need to arrange for a course audit type thing (there are a few companies that do them, and yes you need to pay for this) to submit to the university so they can determine your transfer credits. Once you've done so you'll probably need to spend the first couple terms catching up on gen ed requirements (typically general education programmes require 1-2 courses in each of mathematics/quantitative studies, sciences, social sciences, humanities, and arts. Often there are "soft options" in the first two areas so you don't have to take a standard first year calculus and/or physics sequence which are otherwise irrelevant to your studies. Interestingly the converse is not true.). After that, you'll take the various courses required for your major, you'll probably have some elective credits left to fill with whatever you want (these can be basically anything you can take for a letter grade typically). Then hey presto, you have a degree!

The long and short of the above is essentially that, it's not worth pursuing a degree in the US as an international student unless you're going to a top tier university (think the upper half of the Ivy league and similar) and/or a studying a subject which has clear long term career benefits. Particularly for humanities subjects, they're reading the same books as you and with the low contact hours of humanities courses generally, shelling out an extra £20k+ a year to read them is ridiculous unless it's near guaranteed to get you a job at a top tier IBank or a spot in a top tier law/med school. Even in the sciences, the textbooks they use at Harvard are the same as those at Ohio State University which are the same as the University of Southampton. While the former may have better teaching (this is actually not even necessarily true) what you get out of the degree depends significantly on you.

While a Harvard degree with a good GPA in anything will set you ahead of other applicants for stuff like IBanking and some postgrad programmes, for anything else it's not going to do anything for you. Particularly in the long term, after 2 years on the job the guy from Harvard and the guy from OSU will have learned the same stuff in their on the job training and anything else will be down to the individual temperaments of the people.

A small note should be made regarding medical school in the US, which is (almost) always studied as a postgraduate student, and requires you to take certain courses during your undergrad. If this is your long term aim then it may be arguably worth it, however there are a number of postbaccalaureate-premedical programmes where, while you pay similar tuition levels per credit, you take all the courses over 1-2 years without other requirements and many have linkage programmes where you're guaranteed a spot in the medical school of that uni (or of nearby unis) afterwards.

Thus, it's theoretically possible but has significant financial implications. Implications such that even myself, as a US citizen (and UK permanent resident), cannot afford to transfer to a US university from a UK one because I simply don't have the financial backing to afford it, whereas my UK undergrad is wholly covered by government subsidized tuition loans from SFE with maintenance loans to cover the costs of living. The opportunity cost is just not worth it. I recommend you consider if the opportunity cost of studying in the US is worth it for yourself; why do you want to study there? What can you do in a US university that you cannot in a UK one?
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Craig1981
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#3
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(Original post by the artful lounger)
The short answer is yes.

The long answer is:

In general, the US university system is a lot more "open" than the UK (inc Scotland) system(s). When you apply to university in the US, you just apply to the university, you don't typically apply to a specific degree program (or major) at that university (there are a few engineering programmes where this is an exception).

In theory at US universities, anyone can take any course in any department, subject to prerequisites etc. Thus you could get an English lit student taking random courses in psychology in their third or fourth years. The downside is some courses are routinely oversubscribed and can be hard to get into and/or have multiple sections as a result. This can be a problem if you're say a fourth year student trying to get into a course required for graduation (e.g. a gen ed requirement) that's full and only offered once a year. A corollary of this is you need to plan your education in advance to some degree; picking and choosing your courses on a term by term basis could well cause you to have to take an extra year to graduate if you don't start certain major sequence courses at the right time or whatever (this is normally more for STEM subjects).

As a result however, since programmes are much more flexible, it's easier for students to move between universities, and as a result US universities are generally used to students doing so and set up e.g. transfer course equivalencies etc. So basically, it's a fairly well integrated part of the US higher education system.

Naturally, international transfers do occur. However, they're rarer for a variety of reasons, the foremost of which is financial. In general, universities in the US fall into two categories: private and state. Under the US system, all standard UK universities would be state universities, as they're government funded and/or subsidized. There are only a few private universities in the UK (e.g. the Architectural Association School of Architecture and I believe Cranfield University). UK course fees are to all intents and purposes 100% covered by the government in some way or form (loans, bursaries/grants for students from lower economic backgrounds; both tuition and maintenance, although ofc there is debate regarding maintenance loans and how much is charged for uition).

This is simply not the case in the US. A bachelors from a state university in the US will cost broadly speaking the same as a UK bachelors degree for in state students. However, they probably won't have 100% coverage of costs through FAFSA (the US equivalent of SFE) and will have some costs coming out of pocket or have to take out additional loans, either themselves or through/by their parents. However it's not uncommon for state universities to have lucrative scholarship programs for the top in state high school students (often to the tune of a free ride plus a laptop or whatever).

Conversely a private university is not subsidized by the government; it is wholly funded by it's endowment (which is typically a combination of the original funds set aside when creating the university and continued funding from alumni donations, which can be sizeable for places like Harvard, and sports funding). As a result, there is no subsidized "in state" tuition; they pay face value for the degree, which is broadly equivalent to the fees paid by international students in the UK. They are still eligible for FAFSA funding but remember that this didn't typically cover the full cost of a state school tuition. There are some merit based scholarships however these aren't that common, and most colleges (private) outside of the the top 5 elite or so don't offer significant financial assistance to any students, including those from lower economic backgrounds.

To put things in perspective, private university tuition will routinely run $30k-$50k, and this does not include any living costs. Additionally universities in the US are largely campus based and it's not unusual for students to live on campus (i.e. in halls) for the entirety of their undergraduate education. Typically these are equivalent to "catered halls", or at the least do not have the facilities for students to prepare their own meals or store food beyond random snacks kept in small fridges potentially. The cost of living in such dorms and taking out a "meal plan" or similar at a university is usually $10k+ depending on university. As a result total cost of university in the US at a private university, including room and board, will typically be ~$50k per year.

As an international student, you will have zero funding from FAFSA. Additionally you typically aren't eligible for any national merit scholarships, and some insitutional merit scholarships may be for domestic students only. Plus, you normally can only work a specified limit of hours per week under your visa terms. Thus you will be more or less wholly relying on your personal savings and/or any internationally available (merit) scholarhips available. As you can imagine, competition for such scholarships is fierce.

Need blind admission just means they don't look at your funding before saying "Yes, you can attend". You still have to pay for tuition etc as normal, they just can't discriminate based on income.

Now, in hypothetical world where you can pay for all the relevant costs, and you get in, then you'll need to arrange for a course audit type thing (there are a few companies that do them, and yes you need to pay for this) to submit to the university so they can determine your transfer credits. Once you've done so you'll probably need to spend the first couple terms catching up on gen ed requirements (typically general education programmes require 1-2 courses in each of mathematics/quantitative studies, sciences, social sciences, humanities, and arts. Often there are "soft options" in the first two areas so you don't have to take a standard first year calculus and/or physics sequence which are otherwise irrelevant to your studies. Interestingly the converse is not true.). After that, you'll take the various courses required for your major, you'll probably have some elective credits left to fill with whatever you want (these can be basically anything you can take for a letter grade typically). Then hey presto, you have a degree!

The long and short of the above is essentially that, it's not worth pursuing a degree in the US as an international student unless you're going to a top tier university (think the upper half of the Ivy league and similar) and/or a studying a subject which has clear long term career benefits. Particularly for humanities subjects, they're reading the same books as you and with the low contact hours of humanities courses generally, shelling out an extra £20k+ a year to read them is ridiculous unless it's near guaranteed to get you a job at a top tier IBank or a spot in a top tier law/med school. Even in the sciences, the textbooks they use at Harvard are the same as those at Ohio State University which are the same as the University of Southampton. While the former may have better teaching (this is actually not even necessarily true) what you get out of the degree depends significantly on you.

While a Harvard degree with a good GPA in anything will set you ahead of other applicants for stuff like IBanking and some postgrad programmes, for anything else it's not going to do anything for you. Particularly in the long term, after 2 years on the job the guy from Harvard and the guy from OSU will have learned the same stuff in their on the job training and anything else will be down to the individual temperaments of the people.

A small note should be made regarding medical school in the US, which is (almost) always studied as a postgraduate student, and requires you to take certain courses during your undergrad. If this is your long term aim then it may be arguably worth it, however there are a number of postbaccalaureate-premedical programmes where, while you pay similar tuition levels per credit, you take all the courses over 1-2 years without other requirements and many have linkage programmes where you're guaranteed a spot in the medical school of that uni (or of nearby unis) afterwards.

Thus, it's theoretically possible but has significant financial implications. Implications such that even myself, as a US citizen (and UK permanent resident), cannot afford to transfer to a US university from a UK one because I simply don't have the financial backing to afford it, whereas my UK undergrad is wholly covered by government subsidized tuition loans from SFE with maintenance loans to cover the costs of living. The opportunity cost is just not worth it. I recommend you consider if the opportunity cost of studying in the US is worth it for yourself; why do you want to study there? What can you do in a US university that you cannot in a UK one?
I've just came across your answer from 3 years ago after having the same question myself. Thank you for the information that you gave. It was very thorough and it certainly helped me decide to stay studying in the UK for now.

I'm hoping to possibly look at postgrad study in the US but again cost would probably be an issue. You can get sfe funding here for postgrad now but I doubt I would get that in the US.
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shughesd
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Whilst much of the above is true (would love to know the origin of your 'expertise' Craig1981), it contains some flaws and too many opinions.

There are many private schools that do offer substantial merit and need-based funding. My daughter is there from the UK and has a nearly full-ride at an otherwise cost-prohibitive institution. She was offered the same at 2 others.

There are many reasons to study in the US. But my top reason is breadth over depth at the age of 18-22 when the vast majority of young adults really have no idea what they are interested/passionate about. Cutting out so many subject areas to dive deep at 16 is purely absurd.
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