I had initially moved to the U.S. to advance my career in ballet. I decided to enroll at Miami Dade College, a community college, in order to extricate myself from my nonacademic background and live the life of books, caffeine and countless research papers. Miami Dade offered the flexibility I needed for a smooth and enjoyable transition from the world of ballet to the world of politics.
However, there are some quirks about community college that may grow into pitfalls at the end of your community college years, particularly if you are an international student attempting to transfer. Take note of the pitfalls below – some of which I wish I had foreseen much earlier on the way – and learn how to either avert or rectify them.
1. Financial aid for international transfer students is limited. International students do not qualify to receive financial assistance from the U.S. government. Only university-based aid, or institutional aid, can alleviate the cost of attendance at your new university.
However, many universities only offer institutional aid to international students entering their first year. New York University, Northwestern University, Lehigh University, the University of Chicago and Rice University are just a few examples. While there are some scholarships targeted for transfer students, such as the Phi Theta Kappa scholarship engine or Jack Kent Cooke Foundation scholarships that international students qualify for, many are small and they are typically competitive to get.
Despite being often very selective, universities that fully meet a student’s need evaluate the financial circumstances of the applicant’s household and offer an aid package that suits the applicant’s financial situation, if admitted. Learn the differences between financial aid policies, and ask universities which types they offer international transfer students.
2. Credits from U.S. community colleges may not transfer back home. Your community college course work may or may not equate to the university curricula in your home country. Before being offered admission to Tufts University, I was unable to afford the colleges I had been admitted to. The worst part was not having the option to continue my undergraduate work back home in Brazil, because its university system was unfamiliar with the concept of U.S. community colleges.
To avoid this pitfall: Get familiar with your home country’s university selection process before making a community college commitment.
Many international students rule out their home country university entrance requirements when making plans to study in the U.S. Do have a safety plan on the occasion you are forced to return home for any unexpected reason, be it for financial, family, immigration or other issues, including if something goes wrong in the transfer process.
3. Taking just any class might put you at a financial disadvantage. The topics of community college classes tend to vary. While this is one of their greatest advantages, a class with unique content may not find an equivalent at a transfer university.
Avoid taking classes that have a small likelihood of transferring. Fewer classes transferred means taking more classes at your new school to repeat courses. Repeating courses means paying more money.
Though U.S. students need to be wary of this pitfall too, planning is particularly crucial for international students. As they do not receive financial aid from the U.S. government and are not guaranteed to receive outside scholarships, out-of-pocket money is generally the primary source of funding university tuition.
To avoid this pitfall: Plan, plan and plan. Contact potential universities to see which courses are more likely to receive transfer credit. Then, take full advantage of community college staff members who can help you plan your associate degree accordingly.
For instance, I have seen business courses not transferring out, and they happen to be among the more expensive classes at my two-year school because of laboratory fees. Or, if there are specific classes that you are excited about nonetheless, plan to balance them with basic general courses such as chemistry, humanities and economics, so that you can slip that “Physics for Poets” class in your schedule without guilt.
Essentially, planning in advance is the best thing that international students can do to fully benefit from their investment in studying in the U.S. Reach out to admissions staff should any sort of questions arise. It is mutually beneficial for you and the college in question to make your transition into their four-year track financially viable.