The High Schooler’s Guide to Applications and Admissions

Today, online schools are continuing to raise their profile alongside their more established brick-and-mortar counterparts. As a result, more graduating high school seniors are putting serious thought toward pursuing a college degree online. Web-based schools vary in several ways from traditional colleges and universities, but they also share some similarities. One example is the rigor of admissions standards and policies maintained by accredited online schools—a fact that college applicants often overlook.

The majority of accredited online colleges now require applicants to submit transcripts, SAT test scores, personal statements, and letters of recommendation, just like traditional universities. As with traditional colleges, GPAs and test scores are usually weighted most heavily in admissions decisions. And as online schools continue to grow in popularity among recent high school graduates, gaining entrance into the most esteemed programs will only become more difficult.

Like the admissions process for many traditional colleges and universities, online schools tend to have strict application deadlines that students must meet in order to be considered for both admission and financial aid. Most online schools follow either semester or quarterly course schedules, and applications are usually due weeks (if not months) before the next round of classes is scheduled to begin. Submitting your application late or incomplete will seriously damage your chances of being accepted to your first choice school, whether it's online or not.

Here is a checklist of "must-dos" that you should consider as you begin to prepare for online college admissions:

  • Take the SAT and/or ACT: Most colleges and universities require students to take these tests before he or she can even be considered for admission. The same holds true for many online schools. Be sure to check the requirements of each program you'll be applying to and register for these tests (or the SAT at minimum) three to six months before your application deadline. This will ensure that you have time to not only receive and submit your test results, but also schedule a retake if you aren't satisfied with your initial scores.
  • Request letters of recommendation and transcripts: Letters of recommendation from teachers and others who are familiar with your academic and professional performance are essential for your online school application packet. Providing transcripts that reflect your high school performance are also important, if not necessary, for you to include. Be sure to request all letters and transcripts well in advance. Two months is a good rule-of-thumb — you don't want to be harassing your school office and faculty days before the deadline.
  • Keep working on your personal statement: Sometimes applying to an online school can be a very competitive experience. A personal statement is often the only document in your application packet that can set you apart from the rest. Be sure you commit a good chunk of time to perfecting your personal statement — even if it means completing multiple drafts to get there.
  • Get required courses out of the way first: Several degree programs require that students complete courses or have a certain level of knowledge prior to entering a degree program. These can be courses in a foreign language, as well as in certain areas of math and science. Make sure that you are aware of all program prerequisites at least a semester before you enroll. That way, you can talk to admissions counselors about the possibility of transferring credits from your advanced high school or summer courses. Taking care of these basic requirements early will save you time and money in the long run.

Below are some additional resources you can take access as you prepare to take the plunge into an online degree program.

  • Stay organized: There are several web and mobile apps available to help you organize the time you spend preparing for online school admissions. One great app is Evernote, which provides a suite of organizational and note-taking tools you can use, all at no cost. Any.Do is a great app for creating reminders and to-do lists.
  • Check the FAQs: Most online colleges offer a robust list of frequently asked questions that relate to admissions. Reviewing FAQs for a wide variety of online schools is a great way to familiarize yourself with admissions requirements and processes. These resources are also great for students who unsure which questions they should be asking of their prospective schools. For instance, this list of frequently asked questions provided by Walden University provides a nice overview of the questions and concerns of students typically have during the application process.
  • Get Advice: In addition to your own school guidance counsellor, ApplyWise has proven to be an excellent resource for college applicants. For over 10 years, Dr. Kat Cohen and her team have been providing valuable advice for students as they begin their stressful journey through the college admissions process. Some features of the site include various organizational tools, online lessons, and a dedicated team of college admissions experts.

Choosing to pursue a degree may turn out to be the most important decision of your professional life. And the only way to improve your chances of winning both admission and aid from your first choice school is to put your best foot forward during the application process. You want to build a profile of yourself that best reflects your interests, abilities and achievements. And more than that, you want to find and choose a school that can foster them. We think the resources you find here on OEDb can help you do just that.