Will I still be able to get into a college if I go to an online school?

This is a very common question we hear from students and parents, and it’s a valid question. After all, online school is still something many people haven’t heard of, or don’t fully understand. Parents and students are sometimes concerned that attending an online school might hurt their chances of being accepted into college.

In fact, rather than being at a disadvantage when it comes to applying for college, online students frequently have strengths that make them very appealing to college admissions officers. Studies have shown that home-educated students tend to outperform their traditionally educated peers academically, and that they are more independent, making the transition to college easier.

Online school and homeschool are not the same, but online students and homeschoolers often have similar strengths that can help them be successful in the college environment, and K12 students have gone on to attend some of the best colleges in the country.

Recently I sat down with two K12 staff members, Laurel Barrette, Director of Guidance Counselor Services, and Brittany Riner, High School Product Manager, to talk about why online students do well in college. Both women have a great deal of experience working with high school students and part of their job includes conducting workshops for K12 high school students all about preparing for, applying to, and succeeding in college. While much of the process for online students applying to college is the same as traditional students, there are a few unique aspects that differ, and that students should take into consideration.

They shared their perspective on the online high school experience, how it helps students, and what students can do to improve their chances of getting into college.

Online students: initiative and independence

You are really required to have a lot independence, to schedule yourself and be self-motivated, said Laurel. You have a level of control over your day that you simply don’t have in a brick and mortar school. In an online school, you tell you to go from class to class, not the bell.

Online students must schedule their day themselves, initiate tasks themselves, and decide how much time they will spend on each subject. They have to be comfortable directing their own learning, a skill that many high school students lack when they get to college.

They also need to show initiative in reaching out to their teachers for help when they need it. As Laurel pointed out, this is more similar to the college professor-student relationship than it is like the traditional high school teacher-student dynamic. Online teachers often have office hours as well, which students must take into account, just like a college professor.

Out-of-the-ordinary interests

Most schools offer the same activities on campus for students to choose from: the usual things like drama, band, and team sports. Online students, on the other hand, often have extremely unique and varied interests that they wouldn’t have time to pursue in a traditional school. From BMX riding, to competitive gymnastics, to acting and equestrian competition, these students show drive, passion, and independence through their pursuit of their extracurricular goals.

Even if they participate in less unusual activities, like scouts, volunteering, church, or sports, online students must actively seek out those activities in the community, in a way that traditional students may not need to when clubs and sports are right there on campus.

In this way, online students are often better prepared for the college experience, where persistence and the drive to seek out your own interests and form your own social network are so important.

The benefits of homeschooling, without the drawbacks

Many universities actively seek out homeschooled studentsthey understand that learning at home can lead to independent learners who dig deep into subjects and care passionately about their education.

While online school and homeschooling are not the same thing, students can benefit from both the similarities and the differences. Laurel and Brittany pointed out that both types of schooling allow students to work at their own pace, to dig deeper or move ahead in subjects, to guide their own learning, be self-motivated, and build their own social network. These are all excellent traits that impress admissions officers.

The differences can benefit students as well. Online students have the opportunity to take AP and advanced courses and electives that homeschool can’t necessarily offer. Students have a traditional transcript, from an accredited online school showing their academic record. And they have access to certified teachers and advisors to instruct and guide them along the way.

Take the tests

It’s also important for students to prepare for and take the standardized tests that show colleges what they know. The SAT or ACT are a must, along with any AP exams (not just the course). These tests are the recognized standards of college readiness. Because admissions officers may not be familiar with online school, it’s important for students to demonstrate their competence with these tests so that they can show they have the same merits as traditional students.

Tell your story

With all of these positives of online school working to their advantage, I asked Laurel and Brittany if there is anything online students can do to make themselves more appealing to college admissions officers. They shared with me that the most important thing they can do is to tell their story of why they chose online education in their personal statement.

Students need to advocate for themselves and articulately explain why online education was the right choice, said Laurel. Talk about your decision as it relates to your commitment to your education, the result of self-examination of yourself, and your learning preferences, a desire to learn in a place where you can focus, and dive deeper into the material.

Explain how seriously you take your education, Brittany explained, so seriously in fact that you were willing to do something off the beaten path, not content to go with the flow, but instead to show entrepreneurship and embark on a different kind of educational journey.

Highlight in your personal statement how this choice allowed you to pursue your extracurricular interests, or how it let you work at a faster pace, or helped you overcome a difficult obstacle.

If you frame your education in this way, explaining how your choice relates to the extraordinary person you are, far from working against you, your online school experience may actually improve your chances.

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