Online Learning

FAQs about undergraduate admissions requirements for online programs


Online degrees may have once been viewed as inferior to their in-person counterparts, but that’s no longer the case in today’s digital world. Both students and employers have embraced credentials that are completed in the virtual classroom. In fact, a recent report reveals that 60 percent of polled online students say their current employers perceive their degrees as better or equivalent to a degree completed in a traditional classroom.

This is clearly good news for any adult student interested in completing an online degree. You already recognize that a degree from an accredited program has the same value regardless of your learning modality. But you’re not sure if undergraduate admissions requirements are similarly equivalent for online and in-person programs.

You’re not alone — many students have wondered the same thing. They often ask about everything from when to submit college applications to whether taking a college entrance exam is required. Thanks to some insight from a few enrollment professionals, you can find answers below to some of the most common questions students ask about undergraduate admissions requirements.

8 Common questions about admissions requirements for online programs

When it comes to completing and submitting an admission application, in-person and online programs are more alike than you might assume. “Admissions is pretty much the same straight across the board,” explains University of Massachusetts Global enrollment coach Danielle Mitchell.

That said, you’ll want to review each of the below questions about various components since there can be some variation from one program to the next.

1. Do you need to take a college entrance exam for online programs?

Whether you should take an entrance exam like the SAT or ACT depends on both the schools and programs you’re considering. Some colleges prefer that applicants submit scores, but not all require it. Increasingly, colleges have moved to a test-optional model as a result of COVID-19. Many of them plan to keep those policies in place going forward as well.

It’s worth noting that online programs are even less likely to require entrance exams. Some institutions don’t even mention it as an optional application component.

“We don't look at SAT or other scores to get admitted to UMass Global at the undergraduate level,” Mitchell says.

2. Is there a GPA requirement for online college programs?

When it comes to undergrad admissions requirements, most colleges have minimum GPA requirements, but these can differ both by the school and the student in question. Because adult learners typically have already completed some coursework at the postsecondary level, schools’ GPA expectations are often tied to college credits the student is transferring rather than their high school performance. Institutions like UMass Global will even work with students who don’t meet the minimum grade requirements to find a path forward — don’t let your GPA hold you back from advancing your education.

“Academic advisors will let students know what classes they need to take and provide guidance on the grades they will need to improve their GPA,” says Maryann DeLorenzo, enrollment coach at University of Massachusetts Global.

Depending on which institutions you’re considering, you may even have a chance to start with a clean slate. For example, University of Massachusetts Global offers an option called Academic Fresh Start that allows students to request any higher education coursework completed 10 or more years ago to be ignored.

We get a number of students who are coming back in their 40s, 50s or 60s deciding their previous performance is not what they would like to have on their academic record,” Mitchell explains. “Academic Fresh Start basically allows them to start over.”

3. Do you need to submit official documents like transcripts for online college applications?

For most adult students, transcripts from previous postsecondary institutions are the only official documents needed. But there are a few exceptions.

“We will look at high school transcripts occasionally if a student indicates that they took college-level courses at that time,” Mitchell explains.

As for students who have experience serving in the military, they’ll want to submit their Joint Services Transcript (JST). This document outlines all coursework, test scores, occupations and relevant learning experiences attributed to a service member. DeLorenzo also notes a JST includes the corresponding credit recommendations from the American Council on Education (ACE), which allows institutions to determine what experiences can be applied toward a degree.

4. Do you need teacher evaluations or letters of recommendation for online college applications?

Letters of recommendation are more often a graduate school application requirement, but some undergraduate programs ask for them as well. If you’re having trouble finding this information, reach out to the enrollment specialists at various schools to find out. You’ll want to allow plenty of time should you need formal evaluations for an application.

5. Are college application essays needed for online programs?

Once again, whether you need to complete this component will depend on the school and possibly the program. More and more colleges are moving away from requiring essays as part of the application to better utilize their resources and also to ensure a more streamlined process for students.

If you know the in-person format of a program requires an essay as part of the application process, the same is likely true of the online version. It’s usually clear whether you need to include an essay on the application itself, but you can always reach out to enrollment staff to verify.

6. What experiences and activities should be included in applications for online programs?

High school students usually rely on their extracurricular activity involvement to help round out their applications. But for adult students, work experience is a better indicator of your preparedness for postsecondary education. 

“We ask them to include their employer, job title, supervisor and things like that,” Mitchell explains. “Other than that, we are primarily assessing their education background.” She also adds that your employment history helps financial aid specialists identify whether you qualify for certain scholarships or awards to pay for college.

7. When should you submit your application for an online program?

In most cases, online programs have rolling admissions. This means that applications are reviewed as they’re submitted, and students will receive a decision about admittance shortly after the school finishes their evaluation.

While a rolling admissions cycle enables students to start at various times throughout the year, you still need to complete everything in a timely manner. This includes formally accepting the financial aid you’re awarded and ensuring you’ve gone through all necessary paperwork. 

“Our enrollment coaches are very direct about what needs to happen so that a student can start classes,” DeLorenzo says.

8. Are there any program-specific requirements you need to complete?

Undergraduate admissions requirements are more standard than their graduate-level counterparts, but there are still some variations among programs. You should always contact enrollment specialists to learn about specifics. But it’s also possible that information will be laid out for you once you fill out your application. University of Massachusetts Global’s process, for example, is designed to keep students on track.

“The application will help you organize yourself,” DeLorenzo says. “For many degrees, the application is directly tied to the proper checklist or prompts.”

Continue your college journey

While you’re navigating the undergraduate admissions process at any school, you’ll likely be in contact with an enrollment specialist of some sort who can help you answer the questions above. This interaction can be a good indicator of the level of support you’ll receive throughout your entire tenure at that school. 

Students inquiring at University of Massachusetts Global are connected with an enrollment coach to help guide them through the entire admissions process and that culture of support remains through graduation and beyond. So you can rest assured that you’ll always have someone in your corner.

As you continue to gather application materials, you’ll want to start preparing yourself for life as an online student. Find out what it takes to be successful by reviewing “6 Signs you’re ready to conquer the online classroom.”



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