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Articles / Applying to College / How Do Admission Officials View Online High School Classes?

Sept. 27, 2019

How Do Admission Officials View Online High School Classes?

How Do Admission Officials View Online High School Classes?

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I am thinking about moving my daughter (a 10th grader) from public school to online-only classes. The classes are taught and led by accredited teachers and are offered by our school district -- the only difference is the kids take them online and not in school. Do colleges view these classes differently than they would in-person classes taken at a school? I'd like to switch her to online only but I don't want it to hurt her chances of getting into a good college.


While every teenager fantasizes about waking up without an alarm clock or eating lunch where the menu never mentions chicken à la king, a move from a traditional public high school to online classes will raise eyebrows in admission offices, and the first question that admission officials will ask is "Why?"

Because online programs are commonly less rigorous than in-school ones (or at least are often viewed that way by the college folks, even if that's actually not the case), your daughter's applications should provide the reasoning behind this move.

Some of the reasons that admission officials would likely view as sound ones include:

  • The student has a medical condition that makes attending classes difficult or impossible
  • The climate at the student's local high school is so dangerous (e.g., rampant gang activity, drug use, etc.) and/or the level of instruction is so low that attending classes is not challenging or beneficial and could even be potentially harmful.
  • The student is involved in professional acting, modeling, ballet, etc. at a high level, which doesn't allow time to attend a typical high school
  • The student is training for the Olympics or some other demanding athletic competition

But even when an applicant takes online classes for a valid reason, the admission committees will still probe further to see if the student is prepared and committed to beginning college life. For instance, if a gifted ice skater doesn't have room in her schedule to show up at high school classes, will she show up at college? Possibly not! Ditto a student who stays at home due to physical or mental health problems.

And if a student opts to take online classes because she doesn't function well in a school setting when faced with the distractions of the classroom and cafeteria social pressures, or with the stress of inflexible homework and test schedules, the admission committees are sure to wonder if she can handle similar demands on a college campus.

So if you do opt for the online program for your daughter, make sure she provides colleges with an explanation for choosing this route and also convinces admission committees that she's ready to take the next steps away from home.

When you say that you are concerned that online classes might affect your daughter's odds of acceptance at a "good" college, The Dean can't guess what you mean by "good." If her online grades are strong and if her SAT or ACT scores are solid (where required), and if she demonstrates engagement beyond her academics (e.g., volunteer work, paid work, hobbies), many selective colleges will welcome her. But if by "good" you really mean those hyper-competitive and often unpredictable places that turn away far more candidates than they admit, then it's very possible that the switch to online classes might be a liability for your daughter if she doesn't offer credible reasons for the decision, along with top test results and other impressive extras.

The bottom line, however, is that you and your daughter need to make a plan that works for her and for your family, and its impact on her eventual college outcomes should not play a starring role.

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Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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