No matter how much research and planning you did before choosing a college, university, or other school, you may find that it is not quite right for you. Perhaps the academic program is not what you expected, you are not forming connections with your fellow students, or the school’s geographic location is too cold, too hot, too remote, or something else.
Fortunately, you may be able to transfer to another school. The procedure is fairly simple, and does not require a lot of paperwork.
As an F-1 visa holder, you must start out at the school listed on your I-20. However, if you become dissatisfied with that school, you can change at any time and for any reason.
You must, however, have maintained your student status at your original school. If, for example, your dissatisfaction got to the point that you failed to maintain a full course of study or you dropped out of classes, you will have rendered your F-1 visa invalid, and will not be allowed to transfer schools – at least, not until you have applied for and been granted what is called "reinstatement." This returns you to valid student status.
Unlike some benefits to student visa holders, a school transfer does not require the approval of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). All the paperwork will be handled by the designated student officer (DSO) or foreign student adviser at your current school, together with the DSO at your chosen new school.
Your first step toward a school transfer will be to get accepted by a new, USCIS-recognized school. As you probably know, school application procedures vary from school to school. That means you will need to check in with the schools in which you are interested regarding their requirements and timing.
After you have been accepted by a new school, it will send you a new Form I-20 AB/I-20 ID. You will then need to tell the DSO at your present school of your intent to transfer and show written confirmation of your acceptance at the new school, plus give your DSO the new DSO’s contact information. (You might want to talk to your DSO even before this, to see if he or she can be of any assistance -- but this is the point at which you absolutely must tell the DSO.) The two of you will work out the timing of your transfer. Your current DSO must also transfer your SEVIS file to the new school.
Assuming that your transfer doesn’t happen right away, be sure to maintain valid student status right up to the transfer date. Otherwise you will fall out of status and the transfer will be invalid.
The next step is for you to actually transfer to your new school, which you are expected to do 15 days before the program start date. Within those 15 days, you must sign and give your new I-20 to the DSO at your new school, and tell him or her your new address. The new DSO then has 30 days in which to take care of advising your old DSO as well as USCIS (using the SEVIS system) that you have indeed transferred. The new DSO will send you your new I-20 ID copy.
If you had a work permit (employment authorization document or EAD) at your first school, it will automatically be cancelled by your transfer. You’ll need to apply for a new work permit if you become eligible to work again. For information on receiving work permits as a student, see Can an F-1 Student Legally Work In The U.S.?