Enrolling in a Cyber School: What’s the Process?
Over the past year, interest in cyber schools has skyrocketed, for obvious reasons. While you may have heard other parents talk about the different class types, the materials provided, and their role in working with their child, the process of enrolling with a cyber school may still feel like something of a mystery. This blog will help demystify the process and provide you with valuable resources for enrollment.
Before you begin the enrollment process, it’s important to determine which school is the best fit for you and your family. We recommend asking yourself the following questions:
- Does my child meet the eligibility requirements?
- Will there be a parent/adult at home for at least 5 hours each day to support my student?
- Do I understand the parent role at this cyber school?
- Is there a place in my home I can turn into an ideal learning space?
- Is my child currently enrolled and attending school?
If you’ve answered “no” to any of these questions, it’s important to reach out to your chosen school right away to learn more and seek guidance about whether they’ll be a good fit for you. While this list is certainly not exhaustive and “yes” answers don’t guarantee a good fit, it’s a good place to start when you begin considering enrollment with a cyber school.
Whether you’ve answered “yes” or “no” to the questions above, be sure to take time and learn all you can about your chosen school. Most schools have informative websites, and some offer open houses or information sessions, either in-person or online. At PA Virtual, for instance, we have helpful videos on our site, an FAQ, and Online Open Houses.
Who’s Eligible to Enroll?
The most important first step in the process is to make sure your child is eligible to enroll.
Because most cyber schools in Pennsylvania are public schools, you must be a resident of Pennsylvania in order to enroll. We get lots of questions at PA Virtual about what defines residency for enrollment, but if you are currently living in Pennsylvania, you’re likely to qualify. If you have a complicated residency situation, be sure to reach out to your selected school early in the process to determine if you’re eligible and discuss any special documentation you might need to provide.
Students must meet the PA Department of Education’s (PDE) age requirement to enroll at any public school, including cyber schools. PDE allows for students ages 5 through 21 to enroll at a public school; however, kindergarten students must meet the age cutoff determined by their local school district, and students over the age of 18 need to be aware of their high school completion time. If your child is just turning 5 or is over 18, it’s best to reach out to your chosen school to get more information on eligibility.
Students who are currently expelled from school are not eligible for enrollment in a cyber school. Other special circumstances—like hospitalization, alternative school, or current suspension—may require additional paperwork or a delay in enrollment, so it’s important to contact your selected school early in the process to discuss any special considerations.
Steps to Enroll
Enrolling your child in cyber school will be similar to registering them for school with your local district. While each school’s process is likely to have small differences, the basics are the same: you’ll fill out some forms and submit a handful of documents.
Most cyber schools outline their process in detail on their website, so be sure to check with the individual school you’re considering for the specifics of their process. At PA Virtual, we have an entire web page dedicated to explaining the enrollment process, and our FAQ page includes answers to enrollment questions as well as other commonly-asked questions.
At PA Virtual, we offer our prospective families an easy and streamlined process for enrollment. We’ll use PA Virtual’s process to review some of the common components of the enrollment process for many of the cyber schools in Pennsylvania.
Application Phone Call
At PA Virtual, we require all new families to complete an Application Phone Call. After completing the form on the Enrollment Page of our website, applicants are emailed an introduction to their Enrollment Specialist and a link to schedule their call. During this call, we gather important information, answer questions, and get to know them and their child better. This call also gives us the opportunity to discuss special circumstances and ensure that parents understand how the school works before they begin completing any paperwork. It’s important to us that families feel comfortable and confident in choosing PA Virtual, and this call helps ensure that. At the end of the call, we get applicants started on the required paperwork and let them know what to expect next.
Your chosen school may not require this call to begin. If they don’t, we encourage you to reach out to them early in the enrollment process and ask any questions you have.
The next step in PA Virtual’s process is the Application. An application will be required at any school you apply to, as this is how all of your basic information is gathered. At PA Virtual, the Enrollment Specialist emails a link to the application at the conclusion of the Application Phone Call. For schools that don’t require a call, a link to the Application may be available right on their website. Be sure to fill out your application completely, as any missing information can delay the process.
The email that the PA Virtual Enrollment Specialists send will also include a list of documents to submit. PDE requires all cyber schools to gather a handful of key documents, and provides us with strict guidelines about what can be provided for each. In addition, most schools ask for supplementary documents that help them learn more about incoming students and their academic and non-academic needs.
If applying to PA Virtual, you can expect to submit the following:
- Proof of Residence
- Proof of Age (usually child’s birth certificate)
- Immunization Records
- Parent Photo ID
- Student Report Card and High School Transcript (when applicable)
- Student Special Education Documents
You can learn what documents are permitted for these items here.
Students with special circumstances, such as homeschooled students, students with custody paperwork, and students with disciplinary concerns will likely have to submit additional paperwork. At PA Virtual, an Enrollment Specialist helps determine if additional paperwork is needed.
Your chosen school’s list of documents may be different, so be sure to check with them to ensure you meet their requirements.
Documents can be the trickiest part of the application, so here are a few tips to help:
- Start Early! Documents take time to review, and there will often be some back-and-forth before everything is finalized. Don’t miss an important deadline because of errors in your documents.
- Submit what you have. You don’t have to submit every document at the same time. Submitting what you have now allows the items to be reviewed now and gives you the chance to address any potential issues ASAP.
- Check out these tips. PA Virtual has a great tip sheet for submitting documents. While some of the tips are specific to our process, there are good general tips included, as well.
- Call for help. When in doubt, call! Schools know the process can get confusing sometimes, and we’re here to help you through it. We can answer questions about the documents you have, and sometimes even provide alternatives if you’re having trouble locating them.
The final piece in PA Virtual’s process are the Enrollment Forms: The Request for Records and the Enrollment Notification Form. These forms are required so that we can communicate with a family’s current school about their child’s enrollment. We manage these forms through a site that allows you to complete and sign them electronically; other schools may handle them differently. It’s important to note that at PA Virtual, an application is not considered complete until these forms are filled out and signed.
Once a student’s PA Virtual application has been fully completed, we’ll reach out by phone to finalize their enrollment. While other schools may not require this step, at PA Virtual, it’s an important part of the process. During this call, we double-check important information, answer any additional questions you have, and provide important details on your start date, Orientation, and withdrawing your student from their current school. Regardless of which school you plan on attending, it’s important to keep your child enrolled and attending at their current school until their start date; a lapse in enrollment can cause unwanted truancy issues.
How Long Does It Take?
The length of time the enrollment process takes depends greatly on the speed and accuracy with which applicants complete their paperwork. Families who are able to gather their documents quickly and submit clear, current copies can get through the process in a few days. Families who have more complicated paperwork or need to acquire missing documents can take several weeks.
The good news is that most schools have start dates throughout the school year, so delayed paperwork is unlikely to keep your child from enrolling; you’ll just need to plan for a later start date than you may have imagined.
At PA Virtual, we have start dates roughly every 2 weeks. During the Application Phone Call, we advise families of the next available start date and the application deadline for it. The deadline is also included in their instructional email and reminder emails. We do our best to keep families on track for their deadline and can move families forward to the next deadline if the current one is missed. Your chosen school will be able to provide you with details on their start dates and deadlines; be sure to note them so that you don’t miss an important date.
Wait Lists and Capacity Limits
Even though cyber schools aren’t faced with worries about the number of desks they have or the size of their classrooms, they can face limits regarding teachers and technology, resulting in wait lists or capacity limits. Most cyber schools plan to allow growth each year, so under normal circumstances, it’s uncommon to encounter wait lists or for schools to be at capacity early in the school year. Schools may, however, begin to reach capacity as spring arrives, and they also may reach capacity in some grade levels but not in others. To be safe, always check with your chosen school to see if they are on a Wait List or have reached capacity for your grade level, regardless of the time of year.
Help During the Process
While schools do their best to make the enrollment process clear, families often need help at some point during the application process. At PA Virtual, we’re proactive in our communication, sending reminder emails, how-to-videos, and application updates regularly via email. We reach out with phone calls to see if applicants are having trouble, and we even text families to ensure we’ve communicated in every way we can. Families can reach out to us by phone, chat, or email if they have an immediate concern.
When beginning the process with your school, be sure to ask how they will keep you informed about your progress, and what your options are for communication.
Making the Transition
The time between the completion of your enrollment and the start of your child’s classes will vary, depending on your selected school. Most schools have a process that helps families transition from their current school to their new one, so be sure you get that information from your new school and reach out with any questions or concerns.
At PA Virtual, we begin coaching families through the transition during their Enrollment Conference Call, when we give them details about:
- The date to withdraw from their current school
- Their start date with PA Virtual
- When their laptop will be sent
- When they will receive details about their first day
- When their curriculum will be sent
We also follow the call with emails that contain all of these details, so that families have a written reference.
To complete the transition, all new PA Virtual students and parents attend a 2-week orientation that helps them begin to adjust to our school. Students receive their school-issued laptop before orientation begins, so that they have reliable technology and learn to use it right away. Our grade-specific Orientation teachers guide families through 2 sessions each day to help get them set up for success. Students join regular classes with their peers after completing the 2-week Orientation, and classroom teachers provide ongoing help and support as families adjust. Families can also call on their Family Support Coordinator, a staff member assigned to their family as a full-time resource for help and guidance.
You Can Do It!
While the enrollment process may differ slightly among schools, all schools share the goal of helping new families through the process. We hope this blog has helped you better understand the basics of the process and has encouraged you to begin.
If you’re interested in enrolling at PA Virtual Charter School, take the first step here! The PA Virtual Enrollment Team is here to help guide and support you through all of the steps. We look forward to hopefully welcoming you to the PA Virtual community!