Students who have enrolled at college and attended classes (even if they then withdraw and/or earn no credits) are generally considered to be transfer students. If a student is in that situation, they should follow the colleges’ instructions for transfer applicants.
Hi Kelly - this is a little bit of a difficult question, and most of us IECs would probably use our standard answer, "it depends." Most colleges would consider a student to be a first-time freshman if they have not been enrolled full-time at another college, either 2-year or 4-year. Many colleges consider students with fewer than 24 or sometimes 30 credits to be first-time freshmen. That is to say, it takes at least 24 or sometimes 30 credits (colleges have differing requirements) to qualify to be a transfer student. Where I live in California, the UCs and CSUs will only admit transfer students who have 60 transferable credits. This answer is probably not specific enough but if you'd like to get a more specific answer that fits your student, feel free to call me or any one of us on this site!
I assume you are not asking about a student with concurrent college credits earned during high school. That student will not be considered a transfer applicant.
On the other hand, a student who has earned thirty credits after graduating from high school will always be considered a transfer applicant.
The uncertainty arises with fewer than 30 credits, and colleges can adopt their own policies to govern those applicants. You or the student can inquire of the transfer counselor in each admissions office, who will tell you whether the student will be considered a freshman or a transfer applicant.
As far as the part of your question that asks “what to do?” I am not sure which next step is the focus of that inquiry.
i suspect there is far more you’d like to know, but I hope this answer is a helpful first step.