college graduate

Are you even a transfer student?

Having transferable college credits is NOT the same as being a transfer student.

If you are applying to college and you have already enrolled in a few college classes, you may be asking yourself, “Am I a transfer student?”

The answer is, “It depends.”

Why can’t anything in transfer be straightforward? I know, I know. As with most aspects of college transfer, there is a big gray area. It’s entirely possible that you could be classified as a transfer at one university, and be considered a first-year applicant at another.

So, let’s dig in.

Are you even a transfer student?

When did you enroll in these classes?

If ALL of your college experiences took place before you graduated from high school, you are almost certainly a first-year applicant. Most universities consider those kinds of dual enrollment credits as part of your high school experience. Some might not even allow you to transfer those credits because they were taken during high school.

How many credits have you earned since high school graduation?

If you have officially graduated from high school, enrolled in a college, and earned at least 24 semester units, you are almost certainly a transfer student. Even if you only have 12 units, or are in the process of completing 12 units, you are probably considered a transfer student at most colleges. Each college has its own policy on how many post-HS credits define a student as a transfer applicant.

What if you enrolled, but didn’t actually earn any credits?

You might still be a transfer student! Many colleges define a transfer as anyone who has enrolled in a college since graduating from high school, even if they earned no transferable credits. Maybe you enrolled, but then withdrew. Maybe you failed some classes, so didn’t actually earn the credits. In cases like these, you probably want to lean into the transfer label and attend an open-access community college to build up your GPA before applying to transfer to a 4-year university. It’s difficult to gain admission to a 4-year university with only Ws and Fs on your transcript.

Can you apply to college as a first-year student if you just don’t tell the college about your records?

Nope. The application for admission will explicitly ask you about any prior college record. Then, at the end of the application, you verify that you have provided all true and correct information. Colleges have access to a national database where they can check previous college enrollment records. They will discover that you DO have a prior college transcript, and you will be found guilty of academic dishonesty. In this situation, one of these things will happen:

  1. You will not be admitted
  2. Your offer of admission will be rescinded
  3. You will begin attending, but then get kicked out with a disciplinary record you cannot hide

Please don’t try this! It is not worth it!

Is it possible to be neither a transfer nor first year?

Yup. It is common for colleges to have a minimum unit requirement for transfer applicants. If you have too many college credits to apply as a first-year, but not enough credits to be eligible for transfer, you might be in limbo. Don’t worry – it’s temporary, and it’s not the rule at every university. Just be aware of the possibility, and plan to keep building up your transcript at your current school or a community college and then apply for transfer when you become eligible.

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Jaime Smith Certified Educational Planner
Jaime Smith, M.A., MS.Ed., is a Certified Educational Planner with 25 years of experience working in education. As a college counselor, Jaime specializes in transfer admissions, homeschoolers, neurodiverse learners, and other non-traditional applicants. In 2023, she completed a Post-Master's Certificate in Transfer Leadership and Practice at the University of North Georgia in collaboration with the National Institute for the Study of Transfer Students. A California native and former homeschooling mom, Jaime now lives the empty nest life in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and pet rabbit.

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