You’ve thought about signing up for an online school to get a degree. Or maybe you’re looking to go to online school to finish your education after starting it some time back. Either way, congrats! I’m so excited for you to begin your journey.
But even though the hard part is over, there’s still a lot to think about so you can get started in school the right way. This is especially true if you’ve already been to school once and want to finish things all the way this time.
Trust me, I’ve been there. But the good news is that there are lots of tips you can follow to get started in school with a minimum of fuss or mistakes. Let me explain a step-by-step process that you can use to get started in school in no time.
Step One: Researching Your Schools
The first thing you need to do is research all the available online programs in universities you might consider attending. These days, there are literally hundreds of different online universities you can check out, and many of them have some of the most popular online programs available.
Popular online programs include:
- Computer science
- Health and nursing
- Social work and human resources
- Psychology and counseling
- And more
Suffice it to say that you’ll definitely be able to find an excellent school and program for your interests or career goals.
But you should do a lot of research ahead of time precisely because there are tons of programs out there. Don’t stick with the first online school you find that checks all the boxes or that happens to have a program apparently tailored to your interests.
Instead, find all the extra online schools that seem to have excellent programs and compare them against one another. That’s what I did, and it helped me go to a university that was both affordable and that had a great program I could enjoy.
Step Two: Examining Program Requirements
I’d also recommend examining individual program requirements. Different programs will have different requirements based on their academic difficulty or the knowledge you might need beforehand to complete some of the classes.
Here are a few examples of different program requirements to keep in mind:
- GPA, or grade point average. Most college degree programs will include GPA minimums, often around 2.0 to 3.0 depending on how difficult they are. Programs with higher GPA requirements will be more competitive but may also have more interesting subject material or be necessary for more complex degrees
- Class prerequisites. Certain degrees may need you to take a variety of prerequisites before you can apply for the program. Many of these can be taken during your undergrad years or piecemeal (one at a time) if you only need one or two to qualify. For example, computer science programs often require you to have a few higher math classes as prerequisites so you understand the material
- Letters of recommendation. Many excellent online degree programs will require letters of recommendation from managers or former teachers, especially at the graduate level
- Work experience. Some (rare) degree programs might require you to have some work experience in the industry before you can attend
All in all, just be sure that you check out everything a program needs from your application to see if you’re qualified. If your heart is set on a particular program but you don’t have all the prerequisites, you can always earn those prerequisites before applying and attend next semester or next year.
Step Three: Buffing Up Your Application
If you qualify for the program of your dreams, take some time to buff up your application and make it as excellent as possible. This may include taking a few extra classes to shore up any weak spots that you might have, particularly for graduate programs (i.e. master’s and doctoral-level degrees).
But take it from someone who already went to school – your application letter can make a big difference in whether or not you get accepted to a given university. Spend some significant time on your application letter, explaining why you want to attend your university and what you plan to do with the degree once you have it.
The application letters are often all that separates people who get into school versus those who don’t, especially if program requirements are pretty basic. Adding some extra letters of recommendation from any applicable mentors or managers can’t hurt either.
Step Four: Submitting Your Application
The next step to get started in school is, of course, to submit your application! Once all of your ducks are in a row, go ahead and apply and be sure to pay any necessary application fees. Certain online schools don’t have any application fees, making them great choices if you’re really strapped for cash.
However, you should also pay attention to application deadlines and windows. Some universities only allow you to submit applications for a few weeks out of the year. So be sure your application is ready to go by this deadline if you want the best chance of getting accepted!
Step Five: Getting Ready to Attend
You’ve been accepted to an online university! Great! Now you just have to get ready to attend.
Specifically, I’d recommend getting all the necessary materials and stuff you might need for general college classes. Your specific programs and classes will also outline any special things you need to buy, like books. But every college student at least needs:
- Plenty of writing paper and pens or pencils
- A workable computer – this is a no-brainer, especially for online classes! Laptops are great for their portability but are often more expensive than desktops
- A place to study and work. This could be a desk or even a spot at your kitchen table. Just find a place where you can buckle down and do some work for a few hours when necessary
Then pay attention to the start dates for your classes, watch the email you provided to your university, and get ready for an email to announce start dates, login information for your online school platform, and more.
How to Get Started with Specific Degrees
Getting started in school is pretty straightforward in general. But different degree programs will have different requirements or starting needs because of their specific subject matter or other factors. Let me give you a few examples.
Many nursing degrees also include a practical component, meaning you’ll need to complete a certain number of clinical practice hours before receiving your degree. If you attend nursing school online, you’ll need to finish those clinical practice hours at local hospitals or medical centers.
That means it’s a good idea to look up close clinics and medical centers before your semester starts. You’ll be able to contact your professor or department head and make plans to complete your hours at clinics that are convenient based on where you live.
Many business degrees may include certain requirements before you get accepted, like work experience or extra letters of recommendation from your managers. Take some time to get started for a business degree by buffing up your resume even further and getting some extra letters of recommendation.
If you’re pursuing a marketing degree online, you might be asked to show examples of your work or come up with a portfolio. This is extra true if you’re attending art school or any art program. Getting started with these programs often means having a little experience in the industry before applying, though not always.
Computer Science Degrees
Want to pursue a computer science degree online? That’s a great idea! But you may also be asked to provide some examples of your work if your degree is graduate level or higher, or industry experience. If you’re just pursuing a basic entry-level computer science degree, then you’ll just need to make sure that your mathematics class prerequisites are met so you can keep up with the rest of your students.
Other Things to Consider When Getting Started in School
Getting started an online school can be tricky, whether you’re going to college for the first time or returning after some time away. Here are some top lessons I learned in my time with online college.
Start and Finish Strong
It’s all too easy to slack off, both at the beginning and end of the semester. But my recommendation is to start off strong and finish just as powerfully. Don’t slack on assignments ever (it starts bad habits that are difficult to quit) and don’t brush off the last test since you’ve done so well so far – in many cases, classes have their final exams weighted so that they count for a majority of your grade!
Even online and at great distances, college is an exceptional time to network, both with your fellow students and your professors. Be friendly and try to get everyone’s contact information.
Your fellow students can help you study for important assignments or help you with collaborative projects. Be sure to network with your professors, as well, to get those extra letters of recommendation later down the road if you decide to continue your school.
Ask for Questions, Especially in the Beginning
Professors are there to help you learn. Don’t hesitate to ask as many questions as you feel are necessary, especially if you need help getting used to the online format.
Why, “especially in the beginning”? Because professors are more likely to give extra help to students who look like they’re trying their best to succeed. If you don’t ask your professor for help the entire semester, only to barrage them with emails on the last few days of school, they’re much less likely to actually give you assistance or listen to your pleas for an extension on your last essay.
All in all, getting started in school is simple. Be sure to read any requirements or admissions limits carefully beforehand, then make sure that you submit everything necessary before the deadlines. Then make sure you have all the stuff you need to succeed and get cracking!
It can be tough going back to school – I can definitely vouch for that! But it’s so worthwhile in the end.
Want to look for some of the best online degrees, or do you have more questions about going back to school as an adult? Check out ConsiderSchool.com for more information and helpful guides!