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10+ Things to Do Before Applying to an Online College

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If you’re considering enrolling in an online college, take the time to prepare. These 10 tasks can help you choose the right program, balance school with your other responsibilities, and have a successful online college experience.

1. Know your options.

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Before focusing on distance learning exclusively, take the opportunity to consider all of your options. If you’re interested in distance learning because of the flexibility, you may want to also consider night and weekend programs at traditional schools. If you’re interested in distance learning because of the opportunity to work independently, you may want to check into blended learning courses at local colleges. Get to know all of your options before committing.

2. Decide if distance learning is right for you.

Online college is a perfect fit for some students. But, it’s not for everyone. Take a look at the 5 Traits of Successful Distance Learners. If you share these qualities, you may thrive in an online college environment. If not, you may want to reconsider online learning.

3. Set a career goal.

One of the most important things you can do when beginning college is to determine what you what to do with your education. The degree you seek and the courses you take should be chosen with the intention of making your goal a reality. It’s true that many people change their career course as they get older. However, setting a goal now can help you make more focused decisions.

4. Set an educational goal.

Do you want to earn certification? Prepare for a PhD program? Making these decisions now can help you stay on track. Your educational goal should be directly connected to your career goal. For example, if your career goal is to teach elementary school, your educational goal might be to earn an elementary education bachelor’s degree and to get proper certification from the state.

5. Research potential online colleges.

When choosing an online college, you’ll want to consider each program’s accreditation and reputation. Select an online college that will help you reach your educational and career goals. For example, future elementary school teachers will need to select a program that helps students complete their state’s credentialing requirements. Not all online colleges offer this opportunity. Keep an eye out for programs that compliment your learning style and your schedule.

6. Discuss credit transfer options with an online college counselor.

If you’ve completed any college coursework or AP high school classes, make sure to talk to a counselor. Some online colleges have generous transfer policies that allow students to heavily reduce the amount of coursework that must be completed. Others accept few, if any, previously completed courses.

7. Discuss life experience options with an online college counselor.

If you have experience in a career, you may be able to get college credit by completing a portfolio, taking an exam, or presenting a letter from your employer. Ask a counselor about the possibility of reducing your coursework by proving what you already know.

8. Make a plan for paying tuition with a financial aid adviser.

Don’t be stuck with a hefty tuition bill; talk to a financial aid adviser before enrolling. By filling out the FAFSA form you may be able to receive a federal grand, subsidized student loan, or unsubsidized student loan. You may also be eligible for school-based scholarships or payment programs.

9. Talk to your employer about work / school balance.

Even if you don’t expect your studies to interfere with your employment, it’s usually a good idea to give your employer a heads-up before beginning online college. You may need to request time off for pre-scheduled exams or in-person events. Your employer may be able to provide a more flexible schedule or may be even be willing to pay for a portion of your expenses through a company tuition reimbursement program.

10. Talk to your family about home / school balance.

Online college can take a toll on anyone, especially those with family responsibilities. However, your coursework will more manageable if you have the support of those around you. Before enrolling, take the time to discuss your endeavor with the family members in your home. Let them know what they can expect in the coming months. You may want to set up ground rules, giving yourself several hours of undisturbed study time each day.

11. Commit to sticking with it.

Studying through an online college can be a major adjustment. You’ll probably experience some confusion and frustration during the first few weeks. But, don’t give up. Stick with it and you’ll soon make your goals a reality.
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