Posted in HS4CC

Is She a College Freshman or a Transfer Student?

HELP! Is my teen is applying to college soon, and I’m not sure if she should apply using the freshman application or 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!   In the first place, you probably won’t have a choice- they will likely be a freshman whether you like it or not.   “Freshman” has two different meanings, 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

This is what parents generally mean when they ask about college applications.  They want to know if their teen should apply as a freshman or as a transfer student.   While it is true that a college may impose its own requirements, colleges tend to follow the US Department of Education guidelines when it comes to sorting people into the category “freshman” or “transfer” student – and your teen will likely be classified as a freshman applicant according to the normal protocol.

The reason people sometimes get this wrong is that college credit earned DURING high school is exempt from being “counted” toward transfer credit status by the US Department of Education and our Federal Financial Aid system.  It’s true that college credit earned AFTER high school does add up, and can bump you to transfer status, but this small nuance isn’t well known, and likely why admissions counselors or the general public often get it wrong.

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.”

This is simply untrue.  It is possible to earn college credit in high school, and in some cases, even a full degree, yet apply to college as a freshman applicant.  The test is usually whether the college credit was earned during high school or after.

It’s worth noting that some colleges treat everyone the same – meaning there is no distinction (advantage/disadvantage) between a transfer student or freshman – 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.

If you have questions about transfer credit, you should always ask the college’s Registrar. They’ll understand exactly what you’re asking! 

While it is true that there are sometimes advantages to being admitted as a freshman, there are also advantages to being admitted as a transfer student.  You should know that it’s HARD to have a traditionally aged high school graduate with lots of college credit reclassified as a transfer student, but for some families, that’s exactly what they want to do.  As such, if your teen is assigned an application status differently than you expected or want,  it’s ok to ask the college to make an exception.

Determine Your Status:  4 Questions

square(1)  My student is in high school now and taking college classes

Your teen is not earning transfer credit while they are in high school.  The credit they are earning now won’t “count” against their freshman admission status.  They will still get to transfer it in, but they won’t experience a bump in level until they’re enrolled and the credit is applied to their college record. Apply as a freshman.

square(2) My student will be under age 21 when they apply

Most universities consider students under age 21 to be traditional age.  If your teen is under 21, they should apply as a freshman unless they meet other criteria that would bump them into the transfer category.

square(3) My student has earned more than 24 college credits

Not all credits will count toward the 24 credit limit for admissions.  Do not count any credit by exam (CLEP, DSST, AP, UExcel, or TECEP) in this number, and do not count any credit earned before high school graduation.  If that number is less than 24, apply as a freshman.  If that number is over 24 (or the number they provide on their website) then you’ll likely apply as a transfer student.

square(4) My student has a college 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 likely 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

Your year in school/level/number of credits earned

This is the “other” type of freshman – the student with less than 30 college credits.  In this case, it’s nothing more than assigning a year in school, or level, to your student.  This assignment tells you how many credits your teen has and how close they are to earning their degree.

  • 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 students could have 0 college credits when they apply  (an applicant over age 24 could be an example of this) or 90 college credits (high school students sometimes earn 90 college credits)  so their designation here 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.

Whether or not your teen applies as a freshman or transfer student,  the ultimate goal is to get out of college – and the only way to do that is to start earning college credit!

You might also like:

Dual Enrollment Advice from Parents

Get Homeschooling for College Credit


Site Owner, Homeschooling for College Credit