Posted in HS4CC

Am I a College Freshman or a Transfer Student?

HELP! Is my teen is applying to college soon, and I’m not sure if she should select the box for a   freshman application or for the transfer student application?

Earning college credit in high school can lead you to wonder if your teen is an incoming freshman or a transfer student- good question!   Your student is a freshman as long as their college credit was earned in high school and not after. Yes, that might even include students who earned a college degree in high school! It can be confusing, so let’s break it down.

“College Freshman” has two different meanings in “college-speak”, so let’s start there.

Definition 1)  The college application category – a “freshman applicant.”

Definition 2) The year in school /number of credits earned less than 30 – “a freshman.”


Application Category: Freshman

This is what parents generally mean when they ask about college admissions applications.  They want to know if their soon to graduate high school teen should apply as a freshman or as a transfer student.

Earning college credit in high school does not change your college application category 

The reason people sometimes get this wrong (or are told incorrect information from the college admissions people) is that college credit earned DURING high school is handled differently than the kind of college credit one earns AFTER high school.

The reason for this is not specifically because any one college has made a decision to exclude this credit, it is because of reporting requirements enforced by the government.  IPEDS Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System is our system that collects educational data.   Colleges might not choose to participate if it weren’t for the fact that they would be banned from participating in federal financial aid programs, so as such, colleges play ball.  Colleges are required to report graduation rates, and they do this based on how long a student attends a college.  As such, colleges don’t get to call a student a “first time freshman applicant” unless they meet specific criteria.  Note that it is in the college’s BEST INTEREST to classify as many students as first time freshman as possible because that gives them the most time to get them graduated before they have to be counted!  Colleges WANT your teen to be a freshman!

“Also known as the “Student Right-to-Know and Campus Security Act” (P.L. 101-542), which was passed by Congress November 9, 1990. Title I, Section 103, requires institutions eligible for Title IV funding to calculate completion or graduation rates of certificate- or degree-seeking, full-time students entering that institution, and to disclose these rates to all students and prospective students.”

What is a “first-time” student?

According to the IPEDS Glossary, a first-time student is “A student who has no prior postsecondary experience attending any institution for the first time at the undergraduate level.” This means that the student is first-time in terms of postsecondary education (or the student is not known to have attended another postsecondary institution). There are two exceptions: (1) students who attended any institution for the first time the summer prior to entering your institution in the fall term are to be counted as “first-time”, as are (2) students who entered with advanced standing (college credits earned before graduation from high school).

Sometimes people will warn “be careful not to earn too much college credit in high school or your teen won’t be eligible for freshman scholarships.”

While it is true that earning college credit can change your eligibility for certain things, including scholarships, if a scholarship is open to incoming freshman- your teen can apply.

It’s worth noting that some colleges treat everyone the same – meaning there is no distinction (advantage/disadvantage) between a transfer applicant or freshman applicant – before worrying too much about it, check the websites of your target schools to see if they have different application processes for different types of applicants. If they don’t, then you have nothing to worry about.

square My student is in high school now and taking college classes

The credit they are earning now won’t “count” against their freshman admission status because they are still in high school. Apply as a first time incoming freshman for college applications and financial aid.

squareMy student earned college credit after high school.  Are they a transfer student?

Only college credit earned through a college “counts” in terms of application.  Subtract all non-college-earned college credits from your total.  Exclude all credit by exam (CLEP, DSST, AP, UExcel, or TECEP) and exclude all college credit taken through a business (Studycom, Sophia, Straighterline, Saylor, ALEKS, ACE, NCCRS) and now recalculate the number of college credit earned after high school. Your target college will give criteria for you to use (example may be a student who has more than 24 college credits) use the newly calculated number to determine which application category to use.

squareMy student has an associate degree 

This can go either way.  In many states, earning an associate degree in high school does not change an applicant’s admission status- you’ll still apply as a freshman.  However, this is not universal, so if your teen is on track to earn their degree either during high school or shortly after graduation, contact the college directly for clarification.

For teens that hold a bachelor’s degree, and are applying for a SECOND bachelor’s degree, they will apply as a transfer student.

If your teen has a bachelor’s degree and is applying for a master’s or doctorate degree, they will not apply as a freshman or a transfer student- check the college’s website for instructions about applying as a “graduate” student.

Why does it matter?

Freshman applicants

  • typically have to have specific high school courses on their transcript.
  • must submit SAT or ACT scores
  • must live on campus
  • are eligible for “freshman” scholarships
  • compete for spots against other freshmen

Transfer applicants

  • are exempt from meeting high school course requirements
  • are exempt from submitting SAT or ACT scores
  • may live anywhere
  • are eligible for “transfer student” scholarships
  • are subject to transfer admissions guidelines

RANK: Freshman

This is the “other” type of freshman – the student with 0-30 college credits.  In this case, it’s nothing more than assigning a year in school, or rank, to your student.  This assignment tells you how many credits your teen has and how close they are to earning their degree.  Rank is calculated after your teen has matriculated (enrolled as degree seeking) and done by the college for all students.

  • FRESHMAN — 0 to 29 credit hours of earned credit
  • SOPHOMORE — 30 to 59 credit hours of earned credit
  • JUNIOR — 60 to 89 credit hours of earned credit
  • SENIOR — 90 credit hours to graduation

Note that both freshman applicants and transfer applicants could both have 0 college credits when they apply or they cold both have 90 college credits when they apply.  Their rank has nothing to do with their application status.

It is typical that after matriculation (becoming an official student) your teen’s record will be updated with everything they’re bringing to the college.  This will include the evaluation of their prior credit, degree, exams, etc. and then an adjustment of their level will take place.  This might be a “bump” in their status after their first or second semester.


Executive Director of Homeschooling for College Credit