Earning a bachelor’s degree is a requirement for many of the best jobs out there. Whether you’re interested in psychology or computer science, animation or fashion design, earning a bachelor’s degree is the first step toward securing your dream job. Dropping everything to attend school for four years isn’t a possibility for many working adults and parents of young children. Thankfully, online colleges make it possible to earn a bachelor’s degree entirely online. When you earn an online bachelor’s degree, you won’t have to worry about relocating, commuting, paying for childcare, or losing your job.

If you’ve always thought online college might be right for you, but you aren’t sure how to get started, here’s how the process works from start to finish.

1. Request information from different online colleges.

The Online Education channel on our site lists various accredited online colleges, and many more online colleges exist that are not accredited. The only way for a prospective student to sort out the good from the bad and to choose a program is to request information from different schools. By requesting this initial information, students can also see what types of programs are available and how different schools structure their online courses.

2. Complete a FAFSA.

FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid, and as the name suggests, filling it out is completely free. The FAFSA asks for data about income, marital status, number of dependents, military service, and a whole slew of personal information. If you’ve never filled out a FAFSA before, be prepared to spend up to a few hours working on it.

Filling out a FAFSA is about as much fun as a root canal, but it’s necessary for students who cannot pay for tuition out-of-pocket. Unless you’ve got a ton of money burning a hole in your pocket, you’re going to need to pay for school somehow. The FAFSA is the only way to qualify for federal grant and loan money. In addition, some schools use FAFSA information to determine financial need when awarding scholarships.

3. Receive financial aid information from the schools.

Once you complete your FAFSA, you will have the option to send your information to schools. This is where collecting information ahead of time comes in handy. Send your information to one or several schools on your list, and wait to see what the schools send you in terms of a financial aid package. Your financial aid package will have a breakdown of loans, grants, and scholarships you qualify for. Getting a financial aid document from several schools will allow you to compare these packages to see what schools will offer you the most free money and how much you will owe when you graduate.

4. Choose a program.

Your ultimate decision on which school you want to attend will likely depend on finances and a combination of other factors. Besides thinking about money, this is when you really need to consider the specifics of each program to choose one that’s right for you. For example, are you looking for an accelerated program? Does your potential school have regional accreditation, which is the highest form of accreditation? Are textbooks included in the cost of tuition, or is that considered an extra expense?

5. Apply to Online Colleges.

Once you’ve made your decision, it’s time to pay the application fee and apply. When you initial requested information, you were probably contacted by an admissions advisor. If you have not yet been contacted by your school of choice, give them a call and ask to speak to an admissions advisor. This is the person who will walk you through the details of how to apply and what to do after you are accepted.

6. Enroll in classes.

Your advisor will also help you choose courses in your degree program. You may be assigned an academic advisor for this, or your admissions advisor will follow through with you to help you stay on the right track.

7. Participate in online discussions, write papers, socialize with peers, ask your professors lots of questions, and generally get the most out of your education.

Earning an online bachelor’s degree is like earning a campus-based degree in many ways. Students participate in all aspects of a “regular” class, but they do it virtually instead of in the same physical space. For some students, online classes are particularly challenging, because it takes a ton of motivation and self-discipline to keep logging in and putting in the hard work while also attending to everyday life.

8. Keep in close contact with your academic advisor and the financial aid department.

Throughout your online degree program, you should periodically check in with your advisor to make sure you’re fulfilling all of your degree requirements. You will also need to complete a new FAFSA every year to keep receiving financial aid.

9. Graduate and be very proud of your accomplishment!

Many online schools hold graduation ceremonies that students can attend either in-person or online. When you are close to finishing, find out what your school offers in the way of celebration. You will have earned it with all of your hard work!

10. Use your school’s career services center to help you find a job.

Earning an online bachelor’s degree doesn’t mean much if you can’t find a job after you graduate. Use all the school’s resources, including career services, to help you achieve your final goal. Don’t be afraid to keep in touch with classmates who can alert you to job openings, and ask your favorite professors for letters of recommendation.

Begin your search for online colleges and click on the schools that interest you to request more information directly from the school.