Posted by ICON School on Mar 19, 2024 9:07:32 AM

High school student filling out a college or university application, laptop in background

Online school is a great option for many students, and even more are joining this method of schooling due to COVID-19. However, some parents are worried about how this type of learning will affect college applications. Today we're taking a look at how colleges view online school on student transcripts and what you need to know about addressing it if colleges ask. 


Looking back, we all wondered how the pandemic would change higher education's view of student learning as 2020-2021 reshaped the learning landscape as we know it. However, looking at how colleges traditionally view students who complete high school online is helpful. 

The primary concern universities had was whether the school was accredited. For students attending a free online public school like ICON, this isn't a problem. But if your student is attending or looking into a different school, it's a good idea to ask about accreditation. As long as a school is regionally accredited, colleges won't typically have any issue with whether the school is online or in-person. 

For students looking at more competitive universities, there are obviously additional considerations, such as AP courses or extracurricular activities. These are still possible with online school. Advanced opportunities and dual enrollment are great ways to gain additional coursework and activities that look good on college applications. 

In general, it doesn't matter whether a school is in-person or online, just as long as the school is regionally accredited. Nevertheless, to make sure you cover all the bases, there are even more tips to take away. In addition to preparing for academic readiness, social readiness, explaining the reason for switching, and more, the following are great tips to ensure you are covering all your bases. First, let's look at some post-pandemic statistics regarding online education and college admissions.

Post-Pandemic Statistics on Online Education and College Admissions

Recent surveys and studies have shown a significant shift in the perception and acceptance of online education in the post-pandemic era, including:

  • Increased Credibility and Acceptance: A 2023 survey revealed that online degrees are now more accepted and respected than ever before. This survey, which polled over 2,000 U.S. adults, found that 84% believe employers are more accepting of online degrees today compared to the pre-pandemic period, and 72% think online education is a more reputable way to get a degree than it was five years ago​.
  • Effectiveness in Career Preparation: The same survey indicated that 90% of adults find online education effective in equipping students with the knowledge and skills necessary for their careers. Furthermore, 80% would consider an online program if enrolling in undergraduate or graduate education​.
  • Perceived Value of Online Degrees: There's a growing perception that the value of an online degree is equal to or more than that of an on-campus degree. 
  • Meeting Student Needs: The survey also highlighted that 77% of adults think online higher education is the same or better at meeting the needs of students aged 23 and older when compared to on-campus higher education. This represents a 20% increase from 2017. Additionally, 53% believe online higher education equally or more effectively meets the needs of students aged 17-22 compared to on-campus education, marking a 33% increase from 2017​​.
  • Shift to Online Learning: A report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) noted that the COVID-19 pandemic significantly increased the trend of students turning to online programs for higher education. In the fall of 2020, nearly three-quarters of college students were enrolled in hybrid or fully online programs, a dramatic increase driven by the pandemic​.

These statistics and insights reflect a transformative shift in the higher education landscape. The increasing credibility, acceptance, and perceived value of online education indicate that it has become a more mainstream and respected pathway for students seeking higher education, a trend that is likely to influence college admissions processes moving forward.

Now, let’s dive further into some helpful information in regard to online school impacting college applications.

The Application Process Difference of Online High Schools

One difference is a college counselor is not accessible at all online schools. Scheduling a virtual meeting may be an option with an online school, or maybe not. This is also the same for the application process. Additionally, this process isn't much different even if the online schools are accredited.   


Colleges are Aware of What Types of Students Thrive Online

The average K-12 school district typically doesn't have as much experience with online schooling and the like as higher institutions. Most universities and colleges have much more experience with virtual courses, distance learning programs, digital technologies, and online classes than them. Having said this, they know exactly what types of students do well in virtual learning environments. Students with the following characteristics typically succeed in such environments: 

  • Organized
  • Prepared
  • Communicative
  • Self-disciplined
  • Strong parental/family support 

Any university or college will look for those prospects with such desirable characteristics. So, they will look through the applications and the interview process for these characteristics for admission, regardless of the school being online, in a physical setting, or both. 


Of course, one of the first questions that admissions counselors might ask is, “Why?” Why did the student switch to an online school? Here's what to keep in mind when it comes to college applications

Explaining the Reason for the Switch

Some students might be asked to explain exactly why they decided to enroll in an online school on college applications. Beyond the pandemic, students might switch due to medical conditions, struggles at in-person school, or family obligations. Some students take online classes because they are athletes or artists, spend a lot of their time traveling or competing, and need the freedom that online school allows. 

When students can adequately explain why they switched to online classes, college counselors immediately look at this decision in a more favorable light; however, college admissions teams may still want to make sure that the student is prepared for the academic environment of a top-notch university.

Proving Academic Readiness

Students who take online classes often receive educational instruction that is more rigorous than a traditional school; however, colleges and universities might not see it this way. Therefore, students need to prove that they are academically ready for college. Some of the ways to do this include:

  • Score well on Advanced Placement (AP) or IB exams
  • Score well on SAT and ACT exams
  • Back up strong grades in online classes with strong recommendations from teachers

Standardized tests are one of the few ways that colleges can compare online classes to traditional classes. Students who do well on standardized tests prove that they are academically ready for college.

Proving Social Readiness

Finally, stepping outside the classroom and looking at social readiness is also important. Many colleges are concerned that students taking online classes might not manage their time appropriately. If they haven’t had to show up for a physical high school class, will they actually attend their college classes?

There are a few ways that students can demonstrate their social readiness. This includes:

  • Get a job and demonstrate a strong employment record, including a letter of recommendation from an employer
  • Prioritize volunteer experience and get letters of recommendation
  • Describe the demanding, rigorous schedule of athletic or artistic activities
  • Discuss the importance of hobbies and how they have led to a well-rounded young adult

This is usually enough to prove to colleges and universities that the student is ready for college.

ICON: An Online School Impacting College Applications

In this evolving educational landscape, students of online schooling, particularly those from institutions like ICON School, stand at a pivotal juncture. Your journey through online education is not just a part of your academic narrative but a testament to your resilience, adaptability, and innovative spirit. As you step into the realm of college admissions, use this opportunity to showcase how ICON School has uniquely prepared you for higher education and beyond. Emphasize the rigorous curriculum, the self-discipline you've honed, and the distinct advantages you've gained through this mode of learning. Let your application reflect the strength and distinctiveness of your online educational experience, positioning you as a forward-thinking candidate ready to excel in the next chapter of your academic journey. The future is online, and with ICON School, you're already ahead.

If you are interested in taking the next step in your educational journey, contact us or call 208-475-3093. We look forward to helping you embrace your online learning.

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