How to Be the Ideal Applicant to Online Colleges

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Applying to an online college can be particularly nerve-wracking. It can be difficult to know what your chosen program expects, especially if you don’t know anyone who has “attended” the school.

Some online colleges have relaxed admissions guidelines (i.e. everyone who applies is accepted, assuming they have a high school diploma or its equivalency). Other online programs are very selective and only accept the best of the best.

Most virtual colleges fall somewhere in the middle. They’re looking for students who meet basic benchmarks such as a reasonably high GPA in previous coursework and well-written application essays. Being aware of these benchmarks ahead of time can help you prepare to apply.

What Online Colleges are Looking For in Their Ideal Applicant

  1. A successful academic record. Online colleges want to know that accepted applicants will succeed in their classes, without any face-to-face encouragement. Applicants who have high-grade point averages in previous high school and college-level work show the most promise. Many virtual schools set minimum GPAs for incoming students. If your GPA is particularly low due to unusual circumstances (your aunt died and you adopted her child, mid-semester) make note of it somewhere on your application. Lower GPAs are sometimes overlooked when the applicant demonstrates other strengths.
  2. High test scores. Whether they require the SAT, ACT, GRE, or LSAT, your online program wants to test your current knowledge and your ability to learn. There are many test preparation programs and books available to help you study. If your first score is too low, you may be able to take the exams a second or third time.
  3. Extracurricular and professional activities. Online schools may not offer a vibrant campus life, but they do want students who will make a difference in their own communities. Volunteerism and leadership are particularly important. If you’re a mid-career professional, let the school know about your achievements related to your field of study. Whether you’ve spent your Saturdays at an animal shelter or run a successful internet venture, don’t be afraid to toot your own horn.
  4. Well-written essays. The application essay is your chance to let your personality show through. Online colleges are looking for articulate, thoughtful essays without grammatical mistakes. Let a professional proof-read your essay and offer suggestions. But, don’t let your voice get muted. Admissions officials want to “see” who you are by reading your essay – authenticity counts.
  5. Stellar recommendations. Online colleges also want to know how other people see you. That’s why many programs require several letters of recommendations. When deciding on recommenders, choose people who know you well. Some colleges ask that recommendations remain confidential - if you’re not sure that person will give you an excellent recommendation, don’t ask.

By meeting these basic application benchmarks, you’ll position yourself as the ideal applicant in the eyes of many online colleges. But, don’t forget to check with your chosen college’s applications counselors. Knowing their specific requirements is the best way to ensure that acceptance letter makes it to your mailbox.