The Transfer Student’s Guide to Applications and Admissions

Online learning is a completely different methodology than classroom learning, requiring different tools and skills to succeed. Fortunately, transferring to an online school from a traditional brick-and-mortar environment isn't terribly different from typical undergraduate admissions processes. Researching your options, determining deadlines and completing required materials in a timely fashion should ensure a smooth transition into your new school.

Schools will vary somewhat in individual expectations, but most online colleges will expect the following items from students who want to transfer into a degree program:

  • Completion of a short online application. This will generally take no more than 10 minutes. Some schools use the Common Application, a nationwide standardized application; often, schools who request the Common App also have a proprietary application on their school website.
  • An essay of 500 to 1,000 words in length that expresses interest in your major, your motivation to study it, and why you believe you would be a good fit at that particular institution.
  • Original transcripts from all high school and postsecondary education to date. Faxes and copies are often frowned upon; always avoid submitting non-originals.
  • GPA that meets your desired program's requested average.
  • List of classes you intend to use for transfer credit.
  • If English is not your native language, a TOEFL score of at least 500.

Online degree programs don't always require these additional items, but your application may be viewed more favorably if you present:

  • Official SAT or ACT scores
  • Letters of recommendation from faculty members
  • A resume outlining your activities, experience and awards to date

An organized approach is the key for transferring to an online program. Ideally, you should begin researching available programs several months prior to submitting your first batch of applications. Online schools may offer classes concurrently with their brick-and-mortar companion programs, or they may follow a different schedule entirely.

Some exclusively online institutions have rolling admissions policies and start classes at multiple points during the year. In order for you to determine your applications timeline, researching due dates is a necessary first step.

With promising programs identified and due dates obtained, create a master spreadsheet or chart for each program you're interested in. List separately each school and then each item the school requires, along with its due date. Add contact information, a space to record the date you submitted information and a space for pertinent notes. Update this master file as you go through the applications process for each school.

Determining transfer credits could prove to be time-consuming, and so should be the necessary next step. There are some criteria for acceptable transfer credits:

  • Both schools must be accredited equally (regionally accredited schools do not accept credit from nationally accredited schools, and vice versa)
  • Introductory classes are more likely to be granted transfer credit than advanced course work
  • General education classes are more likely to be granted credit than core courses within a major
  • Class work should be relatively recent
  • Individual class grades should be high; some online schools will accept Cs, but classes where you've earned As or Bs are far more likely to be deemed credit-worthy

Working with an admissions counselor is a best practice. A counselor can identify which classes are most likely to be approved and perhaps serve as a liaison between the schools when a class hangs in the balance. An admissions counselor will also evaluate whether or not you can receive any credits for lifetime experience, or whether you qualify for any proficiency examinations that may help you meet degree requirements.

After you've assembled your list of classes for transfer credit (which may vary between schools you're considering), begin to gather the other materials you'll need to apply. If you're planning to submit letters of recommendation, be considerate of your instructor's time and request your letter well before it's due. Begin drafting your entrance essay, tailoring it for each school you plan to approach. If you have a good relationship with a current professor, ask for feedback on your essay. Use this time to craft your resume, as well.

Collecting documentation like transcripts and college board scores requires some effort, so devote an adequate amount of time for each item on your master spreadsheet. Use this file to determine whether your entrance application materials are complete; when you've gathered your documents and finalized your essay, you are ready to submit your application.

Turnaround times on admissions applications vary widely. Some schools, particularly those that run online programs concurrently with campus-based programs, may follow a standard protocol: application for the following fall is due in mid-winter, followed by admission announcements in April. Some online schools, however, may notify you of your acceptance within a week. Pay close attention to details at each school.

While it may seem overwhelming at first, transferring to an online college isn't insurmountable. Staying organized is crucial, particularly when it comes to working with more than one school. Persistence and patience can be helpful traits as you attempt to transfer as many existing credits as possible to your new school.

Start the process as early as you can, but don't panic if your circumstances require you to make a decision quickly—a helpful admissions counselor can be of enormous assistance. Lastly, take advantage of online resources like the Open Education Database (OEDb), a website chock full of articles and resource tools to help you make an informed decision about your future.