College Application Tips for Students Taking Virtual Classes

Oct 30, 2023
College application tips Edmentum article

While most high school students now have some experience taking classes online, virtual courses still have some stigma attached. For some students, this translates to concerns about whether their online courses will impact getting into the college or university of their choice. Rather than worry, students can check lists of college application tips for help, like this one!

Six College Application Tips for Virtual High School Students

If the same thoughtful schedule planning and effort are put into virtual classes as required for traditional classes, virtual students can actually be at an advantage. Here are six tips to share with your virtual high school students as they go through the college application process:

1. Know the courses that colleges want to see

First and foremost, students should be taking a college-preparatory schedule. This comprises a broad range of core courses, including three to four years of math, English language arts, sciences, and social studies.

Every college or university has unique requirements for exactly which courses it prefers applicants to have completed—some look for math up through calculus, and others require chemistry or physics, two years of a single foreign language, or one to two years of arts, including studio art, music, or drama.

Be sure that students do some research on their top schools. In general, this information can be found on schools’ “admissions” webpages. It is typical for senior, and maybe even junior, years to be used as a college transition in terms of the courses taken.

2. Enroll in Advanced Placement® and accelerated courses

No matter where students are coming from, colleges and universities first and foremost want to see that prospective students are dedicated to their academics and have done what they can to prepare for the rigors of college-level coursework.

So, if an online program offers Advanced Placement courses or any other kind of accelerated or “honors” options, make sure that your students take advantage. Whether via virtual classes or through a traditional brick-and-mortar school, having these courses on students’ transcripts shows drive and initiative that college admissions counselors are looking for.

Students may even be able to enter college with some credits already completed!

3. Take advantage of the flexibility of virtual classes to deeply pursue unique interests

Yes, a rigorous academic background is a priority for college admissions counselors—but being well-rounded is just as important. And one of the best things about virtual courses is the ability they offer students to spend time pursuing other interests.

Are students outstanding athletes? Virtual courses allow more time to practice or participate in elite competition. Serious performing artists? Virtual courses enable those students to make it to every rehearsal and performance.

Or, for students who simply prefer the flexibility of online learning, those extra hours offer an opportunity to take up a hobby, travel with family, or gain experience in the working world. No matter what virtual students choose to spend their time on, college admissions counselors will appreciate unique experiences outside of the classroom.

4. Build relationships with online teachers and outside mentors, and ask them for letters of recommendation

Many colleges and universities require letters of recommendation from prospective students’ teachers or mentors. The traditional classroom and school building are where the connections that lead to great recommendations are often built, but students in virtual courses may not have the same opportunity to easily and naturally develop those relationships.

Being proactive is key. Encourage students to reach out to their virtual teachers and ask them questions—teachers really do want to get to know their online students, and it’s very possible to build a strong connection virtually!

Also, be sure that virtual students know that they can also focus on other in-person relationships traditional students may not have—for instance, with a virtual lab coordinator, an assigned virtual learning mentor, or a tutor.

Virtual students should also work to identify and cultivate mentoring relationships outside of their classes, such as with relatives, family friends, work or internship supervisors, coaches, or arts instructors. These individuals can all be great candidates to provide students with an outstanding letter of recommendation and make the college transition a little easier.

5. Highlight the self-directedness, motivation, and time-management skills online high school courses demonstrate

Virtual courses are not an easy way out—on the contrary, they require a much greater level of commitment, focus, and self-management than traditional courses. Be sure that your virtual students talk about this when they’re working on college applications.

Encourage students to describe their motivations for taking online courses and the goals (academic or otherwise) those courses have helped them reach. Students should call out their ability to manage their own time and stay organized, even without a lot of direction.

These are skills that are critical for success at the college level, and admissions counselors will appreciate the solid foundation virtual students have already developed.

6. Don’t forget about the ACT® and SAT® tests

Just as a rigorous class schedule is equally important for virtual students as it is for traditional students, taking either (or both) the ACT or SAT college entrance exam can also be important to college acceptance.

Some colleges and universities no longer require ACT and/or SAT scores from high school graduates for admission, so it’s important to ensure that you are up to date with the latest requirements wherever students are applying. Although some colleges no longer require these tests, high scores can still give students an advantage.

Make sure that your students do the research to know which test their preferred schools require applicants to submit scores from (if any) and what the average scores of accepted applicants are.

Then, encourage them to sign up for the ACT and/or SAT tests no later than spring of their junior year in order to have the opportunity to retake the exams before applications need to be submitted.

Looking for more tips to prepare for college admissions success? Explore insightful strategies for simplifying the application process and leveling the playing field.

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