Look Your Best: Create a Stellar College Application for Your Online Degree
by UTEP Connect
Heading to college as an adult student can be difficult – even given the flexibility of an online degree. You’ve been away from school for a while and can’t just make an appointment with your high school guidance counselor. You may be a bit rusty on your writing skills, making college application essays and questions a challenge. You also probably have family and work obligations.
Never fear! With a plan and a few tips, you’ll be able to tackle the toughest college application and catch the eye of a reviewer. Plus, as an adult, you have experience and perspective to give you an advantage over many high school students.
Start doing your homework before you even apply to school.
Follow a 4-season plan
- If you’re working, talk to your HR person to find out:
- If flexible hours are possible, so you can block time for class, homework and projects.
- Whether you can schedule time off before exams.
- If work covers any school expenses for concentrations related to your career.
- If you began college but didn’t finish, research which schools are most likely to take your existing credits – contact all the schools you’re interested in and ask an admissions representative.
- Contact your high school and colleges you may have attended about your transcripts – they’ll need to be sent to all schools to which you’re applying
- Research schools you might want to attend and find out all dates and steps in their admissions process.
- Apply for FAFSA – federal financial aid, which begins on October 1st.
- Ask for letters of recommendation. The best people to ask include an employer/boss, a college professor (if you’ve been to school before), or a high school teacher. Ideally, the person should know you well, be able to speak to your strengths, knowledge, academic abilities, and your desire to return to school.
- Register for the ACT or SAT, if required by your chosen institutions. Even if you took them in high school, many universities would rather have scores from tests taken within the last 5 years. Ask an admissions representative.
- There are private scholarships specifically for adult students. This would be the time to find them and apply.
- Register for any CLEP tests that could turn your life and work knowledge into college credits. Just check first that your schools of interest accept CLEP.
- Finish your writing samples, essays, and questions from all applications.
- Complete and submit all applications.
- Make sure your recommenders have submitted their letters – and write them thank-you notes.
- Decide on your school.
- Accept your financial aid offer.
- Send any deposits required by your institution.
- Inform other schools that you won’t be attending where you were accepted.
Make “nontraditional” work for you
If you’re applying to college after years away from school, there are several steps you can take to stand out.
Show that you’re interested in learning
If you want to get/finish your degree, it’s good to get back in the habit of learning. That can include taking online classes and independent study. Not only will you shake off the academic rust – it also looks good to admissions directors. It’s best to take courses related to your interest for your degree. On your application, cite the institution, the professor and any credentials, your time invested, and any projects or certifications earned.
Describe how a college degree will help you achieve your goals
Something is driving you to get your degree. Will it allow you to advance at your current job? Do you need to change careers to do something you love? Are you looking for a job with a better work/life balance?
There are many great, personal reasons for you to get your degree. Use your personal statement to let a school know that you are focused and have a plan for your future – and that plan depends on a degree from their institution in particular.
Think about any skills you’ve learned that apply to your college education
Life and work have taught you a lot more than you might realize. Whether it’s working to deadlines, having to be organized, leading a team, handling high-pressure situations, or something else – there’s a reason you are being paid to do what you do. Even if you aren’t employed, life situations always present opportunities to learn.
When discussing life and work skills and knowledge, be specific. Use examples of problems solved or skills put to use. This will come in handy in your personal statement on an application, or during your interview. It will make you more than just an applicant – it will connect you with an admissions staff.
The college application process does not have to be overwhelming. Just give yourself time and stick to your plan. Let schools know that you’re serious about learning. Use your experience outside of school to your advantage and tell the most interesting, most unique story of you.
One school with a focus on serving nontraditional and bilingual students is the University of Texas, El Paso. UTEP Connect gives online students flexible access to one of the nation’s top research universities. Learn more about the UTEP application process.