Veterans & Active Service Members, Are You Unsure Whether to Apply to 4-Year Universities as a Freshman or Transfer?

Applying to college is a time-consuming task, and you’re at the very best place to help guide you in that decision. First, you must consider if you want to apply as a freshman or if you want to apply as a transfer student. Depending on your academic history, you may not always have that choice, but we’ll lay out some general information below.

If you have 12+ college credits, whether they are before your military service or not, you may have to apply as a transfer student. We encourage you to research your prospective universities’ policies, as they will vary.

If you qualify as a freshman for the universities in which you are interested, you must decide: Do you want to apply as a freshman now or take community college and/or online classes first?

First: Understanding Differences & Factors

The main difference: As a freshman applicant, you are applying to begin your college career at that prospective university from scratch. As a transfer applicant, you are applying with credits from a separate institution (community college or 4-year), hoping that your intended university not only admits you as a student, but also accepts your transfer credits, thus inviting you to begin their curriculum as a sophomore or junior.

The following are factors that you must consider in your decision to apply as either a freshman or as a transfer. Again, you may have to apply as a transfer if you have 12+ college credits from either before, during, or after your military career (check with your prospective universities).

You may want to apply as a
freshman if…
You may want to apply as a
transfer if…
• You have fewer than 12 college credits (depends on the university)• You have more than 12 college credits (depends on the university)
• You have a decent/solid academic history (high school or very minimal college before your enlistment)• You have a rocky academic past, whether this be in high school or college before you joined the military.
• You earn a solid standardized test score (See: Standardized Test (SAT & ACT) Insight & Preparation)• You wish to pay for community college out of pocket and save at least part of your GI Bill for graduate school (see more information below)
• You are confident in your ability to crush the admissions essays (See: Crafting Your Personal Statement)• You wish to restart your academic career at a potentially less challenging institution in order to transfer at a later time (think: beginning your studies at community college in order to dominate your new GPA, then applying as a transfer student to more challenging 4-years [think big!])

Here are a handful of our associates who gained admission to some of the nation’s top universities. Some applied as freshman; some applied as transfers. All are eager to help you out.
Lyndsea Warkenthien
  • Admitted to Stanford as a transfer student.
  • Transferred from University of Florida (online) where she first gained admission as a freshman.
Sam Fendler
  • Admitted to Princeton as a transfer student.
  • Transferred from Penn State University, where he first gained admission as a freshman.
Kaedy Puckett
  • Admitted to the University of Chicago as a freshman (POSSE scholar).
  • Transferred from Oakton Community College in Des Plaines, Illinois.
Joe Jackowski
  • Admitted to the University of Michigan as a transfer student.
  • Transferred from Harper Community College in Palatine, Illinois.

Major Consideration: Using your Veteran Education Benefits Efficiently

Applying as a freshman:

If you elect to apply as a freshman, you will most likely be using your Veteran Education Benefits from the start. This is great, and they are amazing resources. However, you will probably use the entirety of your benefits on your undergraduate degree. Therefore, if you wish to continue your studies with post-graduate school (i.e. MBA, JD, MPP), you will likely have to pay out of pocket or absorb student loans (unless you later qualify for further financial assistance such as Vocational Rehab, but nothing is guaranteed). If you only intend on pursuing a bachelors degree, this may be the right move for you.

Applying as a transfer:

If you decide to first attend community college (CC) and then later apply as a transfer student, you will likely be able to pay for your CC tuition out of pocket, as CC tuition is rather inexpensive (especially in-state). This means that you may be able to save your Veteran Educational Benefits for once you transfer, thus saving part (or sometimes all) of your benefits for post-graduate school and beyond.

Your state may have its own veteran educational benefits, such as the California College Promise Grant, which grants veterans who are California residents free community college tuition. I (Jake) used this myself at Saddleback College, and I didn’t pay a cent of tuition. The veterans office and/or financial aid office at your community college will help you with this process! (Very, very simple.)

However, this also means that you will not be receiving the BAH (housing allowance) that the veteran educational benefits offer when you’re actively using one of the programs (GI Bill/ Vocational Rehab). Therefore, you may have to move back home and/or gain employment throughout your time at CC. However, if you are interested in graduate school, this may be your preferred route.

Graduate school is expensive—real expensive. Not only is it financially intimidating at its current state, but the price of (most) programs are rising as well. So, as you make your decision to pursue your 4-year university applications as either a freshman now or as a community college transfer student later, ask yourself: would you rather spend your veteran educational benefits exclusively on your undergraduate degree, or would you rather pay $2k toward community college tuition in order to later apply some of those benefits toward the $100k+ graduate school tuition? Of course, this is only applies if you are indeed focused on post-graduate education, but it is a factor that you must consider.

Now that we’ve hopefully cleared the air, which route do you plan to take?

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