The Ultimate Guide to Preparing Online Students for College

10 min to read
A high school student is researching tips for getting ready for college

Approximately 63 percent of high school students immediately enroll in college after their graduation, but the process of applying to college and getting ready for the experience practically, financially, and emotionally can feel overwhelming. How do you prepare for college in high school? What do you need for the application process? How do you figure out your finances and living situation? How do you choose your classes? How do you make the transition from high school to college?   

Fear not, for this ultimate guide will show you how to prepare for college in high school and what to do to prepare for college life. 

How to Choose the Right College for You

There are several factors that go into choosing the right school for you. Ask yourself: 

  • What is my dream career and what programs will help me to achieve that career? 
  • How much does a school’s reputation matter? 
  • What distance away from home is acceptable? 
  • What kind of environment (rural, urban, cold, warm, etc.) do I want to be in? 
  • What is my budget and how much debt am I willing to take on? 
  • What factors are most important to me in a school?   

After you answer these questions and discuss them with your family, you will need to do some research. U.S. News & World Report publishes a “Best Colleges” ranking that will help you to explore schools’ rankings, programs, amenities, and values. You can also read student reviews of schools. Look for schools that best answer the above questions. Book a campus visit if possible.   

When choosing a school, also research the available housing options, recreational offers, and the safety of the surrounding area.   

Choose 4–12 schools to apply to and break them down into your reach schools, target schools, and safety schools. Be realistic about the colleges’ acceptance rates and what you bring to the table. 

An online student happily thinking about their future in college

How to Prepare and Submit Your College Application Materials

Once you have chosen your desired colleges, research the schools’ application requirements and fees. Make sure to answer the following: 

  • What test scores do they require and by what date do they need them? 
  • When do the schools need your transcripts and where can you obtain your official transcripts? 
  • What GPA range is acceptable? How many letters of recommendation are required? 
  • What college application essays are required? 
  • Do you want to apply for the school’s honors program?   

Keep all of this information in one place, such as a notebook or folder, so that you can easily reference it in the future. Write down the deadlines for each schools’ application materials and financial aid options. 

Study for and Take Standardized Tests

Although some schools are deemphasizing standardized testing, many still require the scores in application materials. Check to see if your chosen schools require the tests. If they do, then it’s time to get studying.   

Studying for the SAT or ACT can be difficult and time-consuming, so leave yourself plenty of time (at least one month) to study for these tests. Some companies that offer test prep include Barron’s, The Princeton Review, and Kaplan. There are also free study materials online

Request Letters of Recommendation

Most schools ask for two or three letters of recommendation. Oftentimes, students ask their teachers, coaches, or advisors. You should ask someone who knows you well, has taught or interacted with you within the last year or two, and who is not related to you.   

Once the person you have selected has agreed to write you a letter, provide them with a list of schools that you are applying to, a resume listing your accomplishments and skills (you can draft this using your college portfolio), and a thank-you note.   

Approximately one week before the deadline, send those who offered to write you a recommendation letter a gentle reminder email.

Apply for Financial Aid

Complete a Federal Student Aid (FASFA) form, which allows you to demonstrate financial need. Many scholarships and other forms of financial aid require a FASFA to be on file. You will likely need to work with your family to fill out this form. After this, you will receive a link to your Student Aid Report (SAR). Review it and ensure that all the information is correct.   

You can check on the status of your application and whether or not you are missing any materials by calling each school’s admissions and records department. 

An online student preparing for college.

You’ve Been Accepted to College! Now What?

There are a few tasks that you should complete, as well as skills that you should learn, in order to prepare for your freshman year of college. 

Pick Your Classes

While the course catalogue may feel awe-inspiring, keep in mind several considerations when selecting your courses, including: 

Choosing a manageable courseload.

Part of college preparation is looking at how many classes you have/can handle each day and the number of necessary credits (aim for how many credits qualify you as a full-time student, which is usually 12–15 credits; you can always add more credits to later semesters). 

Getting the core requirements out of the way.

These usually entail 100-level classes. About two or three months before classes begin, call your school’s English and math departments to see if there are any options to test out of the basic classes. Some schools accept College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) exams, AP®* credits, or have their own procedures for how students can test out of core classes. 

* AP® and Advanced Placement® are registered trademarks of the College Board. Used with permission. 

Taking a class that interests you.

Part of the college experience is exploration, and you may find a passion or talent you never knew you had. 

Meeting with an advisor for help and guidance on what to do to prepare for college classes.  

You can often make an appointment with a college advisor for guidance on choosing classes. They can also provide you with worksheets for each major to show what courses you will need to take throughout your college career and when you should take them.

Explore the School’s Amenities

Colleges often offer students resources such as tutoring services, disability resource centers, career service centers, counseling centers, libraries, gyms, and other valuable (or even fun) options. Explore your school’s resources either via a campus visit or through the school’s website.

Decide Your Finances

College tuition is not the only financial consideration that you will have. Keep in mind the following and decide how much you are going to budget for each item: 

  • Housing 
  • Parking 
  • Transportation and/or travel expenses 
  • Food 
  • Fees 
  • Books 
  • School supplies (such as paper, pens, computer programs, etc.) 

Acquire Basic Living Skills

There are some basic skills that you should learn to help prepare for college life, including: 

  • Knowing five or more easy and cheap meals that you can make with the allowed cooking tools 
  • Shopping for groceries 
  • Doing laundry (washing, ironing, and folding) 
  • Being on time Writing professional emails 
  • Managing your money and sticking to a budget 
  • Organizing and keeping track of your work and deadlines (planners and phone calendars are great for this) 

Consider Familial Responsibilities

If you are living at home, then discuss with your family what the expectations are regarding expenses (such as rent), curfews, and chore responsibilities.   

If you are not living at home, then prepare for college life by discussing with your family how you will stay connected, when you will call or video chat with them, how often you will come home to visit, and your holiday plans. Be honest with your family, and be prepared for homesickness, as this is often a natural and prevalent feeling among those living away from home for the first time. 

Use the checklist below to ensure that you are prepared for college. 

E-guide for Connections Academy with a green background and a graphic of a laptop with the purple eGuide.

Ready to Learn More

About Connections Academy?

Explore the benefits of attending Connections Academy, a tuition-free, accredited online public school that’s passionate about helping your child thrive.  

Get Your Free eGuide


Related Posts