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The Ins and Outs of Applying to School to Become a Teacher

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Begin your teaching career by submitting thorough college applications with these steps.

So you've decided to become a teacher, and you've narrowed down the list of colleges you might want to attend. What's next? Taking the first steps means tackling the college's application. While this can be daunting to some, in many cases, the process has been streamlined and can take as little as 20 minutes! Here is a step-by-step guide to filling out most college applications.

Taking Care of the Basics

When preparing to fill out an application for a teaching program, your first step should be to call the school and speak with a program advisor. This person is trained to help make the application process easier for you. They're also a great resource for answering your questions about the program, including the required courses and the time line recommended for completion. You can even find out class hours and whether there are online courses available.

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Once you've gotten the answers you need, it's time to take care of the more generic areas of the application.

  • Personal Information

Every application starts with the obvious—your name, address, and gender. You'll need to indicate which college and major you're applying to. Most schools will also ask you whether English is your native language.

  • Education Background

Next, you'll need to add the educational institutions you've attended. If you're applying for a bachelor's degree, you'll include your high school's name and address, and indicate that you either graduated or received a GED. You can also include any post-high school education you've earned, including certificates. If you're applying to graduate school, you'll include the name of the college where you've received your bachelor's degree.

  • Demographics

This covers a wide variety of information. Some schools will ask whether you are currently working full-time or part-time, and what your total household income is. In many cases, you'll be asked if your parents attended or graduated from college. You'll be asked to provide your citizenship status and whether you've been in the military. In some cases, these questions can help your institution provide you with financial aid or scholarships.

Colleges may also want to know where you learned about them—online, from a graduate, or in an educational magazine?

Additional Materials You Must Provide

Applying to college programs requires more than just filling out the application. There are also external materials that must accompany the above information.

  • Transcripts

You may need to provide your transcript from either high school or college. These documents can usually be obtained by filling out a request online from your previous institution and paying a small sum of money (usually about $5). In other cases, you may have to send a written request.

  • Letters of Recommendation

Letters of recommendation, often from your previous teachers or professors, are a common request. Reach out to the teachers who knew you best and can focus on the traits that prove you're ready for college-level work. If you haven't been to school for a while, consider current or past employers, or even the head of an organization you're involved in as potential references.

To make it easy for your reference, send along your resume or a fact sheet—for a professor, list which classes of theirs you took—and mention any special accomplishments you'd want highlighted in their letter. Additionally, be sure to give them plenty of time to complete the letter, and be clear about the specific date you need it.

  • Essays

In some cases, you will need to write a college essay. A college essay helps the admissions office get to know you better. It can and should be conversational—not a reiteration of your resume.

If your school accepts the Common Application, you'll be able to choose from seven different essay prompts. These questions range from "Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?" to "Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?" Choose the essay question that best enables you to showcase who you are and reflect your strengths.

Seeking Financial Aid

You will most likely need to fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) form. You'll need your tax returns (or those of your parents) on hand to complete the form, and you must be meticulous when plugging in numbers. Allow a few hours to complete this process. If it seems overwhelming, schools often offer FAFSA workshops, and local libraries can also provide help. Then, call or meet with the financial aid office at your school to discuss payment options and learn about scholarships and other financial aid opportunities.

If you're working, keep in mind that you might not match the qualifications for needs-based aid. In that case, you'll need a plan. When I went back to school, I was working full-time, and I didn't qualify for any financial aid. I took one or two classes each semester and went to school in the evenings and on Saturdays, paying for each class as I went. It took me much longer than most college students, but when I graduated, I had no student loans and no debt. It's important for every student to think about college costs and how to manage them. There are student loan debt calculators available online.

By following these steps, you'll be on the road to become a teacher, and hopefully you'll be an acceptance away from starting an exciting and rewarding career!