How to Apply for College – A Guide for Online Students

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The college admissions process  can be daunting for high school students and their families, especially for students going from homeschool to college. Read this guide to help online students learn how to apply for college.

What Paperwork Do Online Students Need for Applying to College?

Much of the paperwork needed for applying to college is the same for students in online school as it is for students in brick-and-mortar schools. 

You should have the following paperwork ready for the college admissions process:

How Many Schools Should Online High School Students Apply To?

There’s no hard and fast number for how many colleges you should apply to, but The College Board recommends submitting between 5 and 8 college applications. These applications should span “safety,” “match,” and “reach” schools.

When Should Online Students Apply for College?

The straightforward answer of when to apply for college is, before the application deadline! Each college’s admission deadline may vary, so it’s crucial to review the application requirements of each school you are considering.

How to Apply for College for Online High School Students

To help you feel prepared and confident in applying to college, check out this list of steps to follow:

1. Make your initial list of schools to apply to

When: At least 1 year before application deadlines

The first thing you should do is make a list of schools that interest you. It can be a long list; don’t put too much pressure on yourself to be specific or strategic. This step in the process is meant to allow you to dream big and get all your options on the table. Learn more about how to choose colleges that are right for you in this guide.

2. Review application requirements and deadlines

When: At least 6 months before application deadlines

Once you’ve made your initial or secondary list of schools you are interested in, go deeper into researching each school and their programs—and note their application deadlines. This is a crucial step that you’ll be happy you took this early in the process!

3. Start writing your personal statement and other essays

When: At least 4 months before application deadlines

At least 4 months before the application deadlines you have recorded, you should start writing your personal statement. Almost every college will require some sort of written essay or personal statement, if not multiple essays, so you should start writing these drafts early to give yourself time to get feedback, revise, and finalize. Learn more about how to write a college application essay here.

A student writing a college application essay

4. Gather all application materials

When: At least 4 months before application deadlines

Application materials are the core element of your college application, so it’s important to make sure you are covering all your bases. This should include not only your academic information but also your family’s financial information to apply for any grants and/or scholarships.

5. Take necessary standardized tests

When: 6–12 months before application deadlines

When it comes to standardized tests, it’s best to start early. That way you allow yourself time to take the test two, even three or more, times if you feel like there is an opportunity to improve your scores.

6. Ask for letters of recommendation

When: 68 months before application deadlines

Another aspect of the college admissions process you don’t want to procrastinate on is asking for letters of recommendation. Many students like to ask their favorite teachers, coaches, and other academic mentors, so it’s likely you will be one of multiple students asking your chosen advocates for their recommendation. By asking early, you can be sure to give your letter writer plenty of time to highlight your character and achievements.

7. Submit your transcripts

When: 3–6 months before application deadlines

Transcripts are a necessary part of submitting your college application, but the nice thing about this step is that it’s fairly easy. Consult the requirements of each school you are applying for to make sure your online school transcript is in-line with what they are asking for.

8. Look into financial aid

When: 69 months before application deadlines

It’s never too early to research financial aid options for college. Certain schools you are considering may offer scholarships or other forms of financial support. Do your research and do it early!

9. Start filling out applications

When: 34 months before application deadlines

Be sure to allow yourself time to fill out college applications. Don’t assume you can just populate and submit them the day before the deadline. Start filling out these applications early and give yourself lots of buffer time. It’s best to review all applications in full at least three months before the application deadline so you can catch any specific short-answer questions or additional information each application may be asking for.

10. Submit applications before the deadline

Finally, submit your application before the deadline! Be sure to review and double-check the application. Better yet, get a second or third pair of eyes on it before submitting. 

Looking for more resources to help guide you and your online student through the college application process? Check out this 4-year checklist for high school students.

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