Have you spent some time narrowing down the schools that you’d like to attend? If not, check out one of my recent articles on just how to narrow this down to one or a small handful. Some students take their top choices and apply to all of them because there may be times when you are not accepted to your school of choice. If you have selected online colleges with open enrollment you will just have to make sure you meet the prerequisite requirements.

Now that you have a handful of schools that you plan on applying to, what do you need to do to apply? Well, basically you are going to be submitting some required documents to the schools. You’ll start out by letting them know (either via an online form or by mailing in papers) who you are. You’ll be giving them your basic information like your email address, your mailing address, telephone and perhaps some emergency contacts (less likely for online schools). You’ll share with them your demographic info such as your ethnicity. They’ll want to know what you plan on focusing on while at their university as well as what previous education you have received.

Because many brick and mortar schools now offer online programs you may be asked about your interest in their extracurricular programs. They may have a slightly modified application for online only students. If this is not the case you may speak with an academic advisor or application officer before submitting your paperwork and let them know you are not planning on participating in these (if this is the case, you may still find a sense of school spirit in online school clubs and forums).

Sending your Transcripts. When asked to provide your past educational experience you do this by requesting a transcript from your past school be sent to the school you are planning on attending. There should be instructions on how to do this from your institution of choice. If this isn’t the case, just call both schools and ask them the specifics like who the transcripts need to be sent to and such. Start by contacting the college you’re planning on attending. They can put your feet on the right path. Transcripts are often essential before you are accepted, but make sure to ask. They may let you provide a temporary copy until an “official” record is received from your past school.

Polishing up Your Resume. If you are applying to a graduate program they may wish to see what kind of work experience you have had and see whether it’s related to the degree you’re pursuing. If you are taking a different direction in your life and career this may not be as important, but it’s good to make your intentions known and that they see you have been diligent in your time in the workforce. You will also likely be asked to provide references or letters of recommendation, especially if you are applying to a grad school online.

Financial Aid Documents. I will speak of my opinion of financial aid in another article, but if you are planning on getting funding to help you with your education, now is the time to put it forward or speak with someone to get the ball rolling. Typically, if you have waited until school starts, it’s too late. Financial aid paperwork needs time to process and work through the system. It’ll take much more than a week to take care of.

Paying Fees. A school may waive application fees, but maybe not. They have to pay people to enter your information in their computers (I’d ask about the fee if you’re doing it all online) and push it along to the next person on the application assembly line.

These are the basics, if you’d like more detail on the personal essay, letters of recommendation, test scores and due dates, etc. watch out for the next couple of days for details.

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