Applying to college today requires several steps, but prospective students may wonder if online colleges usually require an admissions essay. This essay usually ranges from 250 to 500 words, though some schools ask for longer essays. In addition to the essay, a college may ask for an application and a transcript from the student’s high school. Most also require a standardized test score but will accept the ACT and SAT. Many colleges today, including online colleges, do not require an essay.

Related resources: Top 10 Online Colleges with No Application Fee

What is an Admissions Essay?

The admissions essay is a short essay that some colleges. The schools want to get to know prospective students beyond the test scores and other academic information that they submit. Some schools ask for a brief statement that ranges from 100 to 250 words. Other schools require a longer essay of at least 500 words. Students should pay close attention to the instructions and avoid writing an essay that is too long. This can serve as a warning sign to the college that the students cannot follow simple directions.

Why It’s Important

Though test scores and transcripts are important, many students have similar scores and grades. Colleges want to know what students are like outside of school. They can only tell so much about an applicant based on an ACT score and a few high school grades. The essay allows students to show schools why they should accept them and how they are different from everyone else applying. They can talk about volunteer work they did in high school or the organizations that they belonged to in school. The essay also shows the college or university the student’s writing skills. It can show that the applicant has stronger skills than their peers.

Optional vs. Required

While some online colleges require an admissions essay, others have this as an optional step on the application. This gives students the choice between leaving that section blank or writing an essay. As most online schools require that students create accounts and log in and out to work on the application, they have the time to write and edit a good essay before finishing the application. Even if the essay is optional, students should still complete this step. They can write about the professional or volunteer experience they have and how it will help them in college or their reasons for choosing an online campus over a traditional college.

Tips for Writing the Essay

Students should base their essays on the unique experiences that they had. Many online colleges give students the freedom to write about anything they want, though some have a required prompt or provide a selection of questions. Paige Carlotti of USA Today College recommends that students use simple language and that they write about something that matters to them. Students sometimes write about what they think the college wants to hear and choose words that are too showy. Colleges want to read essays written by the students that demonstrate their writing and language skills.

Online colleges are a good choice for students who do not want to move away from home and those who can’t afford to move to a school. Though online colleges usually do not require an admissions essay as part of the application process, some schools either require an essay or give students the option of writing one.