Student Steps to Success Guide

Student Steps to Success Guide

Welcome, and thank you for choosing California State University, San Marcos! We are excited to know that you have the motivation and drive to earn your degree from CSUSM. First, there are a few action items you will need to complete. We've put together a step-by-step guide so you can quickly become an official student along with a summary outline of those steps in handy checklist form, both of which can be printed.

To get started, simply follow the Student Steps to Success Guide, and you will learn how to set up your student account, apply for financial aid, register and pay, complete your orientation, and more. Also included is a Quick Help Guide with where to go for more information.

Download Guide  |  Download Checklist

Ready? Let's get started on your steps to success!

1.  Prepare for Success

This first section guides you through setting up access to your student portal at CSUSM and walks you through setting up your Cougar email and applying for financial aid.

Set up your myCSUSM Student Account

Log in to your Student Center and change your temporary password: (Please note: You must change your temporary password to review your schedule, access the online classroom, etc.)

Explore your myCSUSM Student Center

The Student Center will be your official method to make payments, review your schedule, and more.

Apply for Financial Aid

Federal Financial Aid is available for those who apply and qualify. To get started, visit the FAFSA web site.

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Familiarize yourself with the myCSUSM Student Portal
  • The myCSUSM Student Portal is your official university account providing you access with university web-based services. The student portal allows you to view personal information that is on file with the university, the courses for which you are currently registered and/or have previously taken, as well as your student financial information.
  • Important Notice: It is important to check this account regularly to ensure that your registration and financial information are correct.
  • To access the myCSUSM Student Portal, you will need your User ID and Password. (Your User ID can be found in your Welcome Email.) Please follow the steps below to access your account.
    1. Go to the a href="" target="_blank">myCSUSM website.
    2. Enter your 9-digit ID # for User Name
    3. Enter your temporary password: 1st 2 letters of your first name, 1st 2 letters of your last name, and then the last 4 digits of your ID # (Capitalize all letters)
    4. Click "Sign In"
    5. Look for "Network Password" located on the right-hand side
    6. Enter your 9-digit ID # for Campus ID
    7. Enter your temporary password for Current Password and click submit
    8. Answer at least three of the password security questions. (They will be used in the event you forget your password.) Scroll down and click on the "SUBMIT" button.
    9. Click the button "Continue to change your password"
    10. Enter the temporary password you have been using in "Enter Current Password"
    11. Create a password of your choice (per rules specified on the web page) and confirm the new password. Click "change passwords."
    12. Print your network username. (The first part of your network name will be the first part of your new CSUSM email address.) Example: If your email was, then the new username would be doe001.
    13. Log out of myCSUSM
      1. You will no longer be able to login to your Student Center with your 9-digit ID#
  • Please contact the Student Help Desk at (760) 750-6505 or for any troubles or issues with the myCSUSM Student Portal.
Set up Your Cougar Email
  • As an incoming student, you will be required to set up your student email. This is where all future communications from the university will be sent. It is important to do this, as it will provide you access to further steps up to, and including, registration. Check your Cougar Email often and regularly!
  • To set up your student email, please see the section titled "Familiarize yourself with the myCSUSM Student Portal." Here, you will find the instructions on how to determine your Cougar Email, as well as, the instructions for creating your password. From there you can visit the Cougar Email site and proceed to set up your account.
  • To access your Cougar Email please visit: myCSUSM.
Federal Financial Aid
  • Federal Student Aid, a part of the U.S. Department of Education, is the largest provider of student financial aid in the nation. Federal Student Aid is responsible for managing the student financial assistance programs authorized under Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965. These programs provide grants, loans, and work-study funds to students attending college or career school.
  • If you have not already done so, please visit the FAFSA web site and submit your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This will allow us to determine how much student aid you are eligible for and will help you pay for any education-related expenses. (Note: To see if you qualify and to request further information, you can visit FAFSA Help as well as Federal Student Aid.)
  • Items required: Internet-enabled device, a copy of your and/or your parents' (if applicable) income tax return from the previous year, relevant W2 forms, a Social Security number, and CSUSM's Federal School Code (030113). For additional requirements, visit: the FAFSA web site.
  • For greater assistance, please visit the CSUSM dedicated Financial Aid webpage. Here, you can find resources and more information on how you can apply for financial aid, academic requirements, loan processes, etc. (Note: Cost of attendance details for online students are located exclusively on the CSUSM Online Tuition page.)
  • If you have already applied for financial aid, please check your Cougar Email periodically for any updates that may be sent to you regarding the status of your aid. Additionally, you can also log into the myCSUSM Student Portal to check your status, look at pending "To-Dos" and accept any awards that you may have received.
  • Important Notice: Be aware that registering for classes incurs a financial obligation. Payment is due for all online classes prior to the first day of class. Please plan accordingly, as disbursement of financial aid may follow your payment due date. (See Payments for additional information.)

2.  Registration and Payment

After you have gained access to your student portal, set up your email and applied for financial aid, you are ready to register for classes, meet with your advisor and make payments for your courses.


You will be notified by your Program Coordinator regarding course registration. (Please note: Every 16 weeks, you will automatically be registered for your nursing courses.)


It is important to make sure you have made a full payment before payment deadlines begin to avoid being dropped. Please see our calendar for the specific payment deadline dates.

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Class Registration
  • Registering for classes at CSUSM is easy! Once you have been admitted to the program, have paid your enrollment deposit and submitted your transcripts, you will be automatically enrolled in the appropriate program-specific courses. If you require additional non-program specific courses, you will have to enroll manually.
  • If you are required to take additional courses, an email communication will be sent to your Cougar Email account detailing which courses you will be required to take and whom your advisor will be. From this point, it will be your responsibility to contact your advisor and discuss your options. (See Student Advising for more details.)
  • To enroll in courses, please follow the steps below:
    1. Go to myCSUSM.
    2. Enter your User Name and Password.
    3. Click "Sign-In" (Note: If you have ever taken courses at CSUSM, your student account has already been created for you. If you do not know your User Name and Password, please contact the Student Help Desk.)
    4. Click on Student Center.
    5. In Student Center, under Academics, click "Enroll" on the left.
    6. Repeat for each class.
    7. Once all classes are in your enrollment shopping cart, click "Proceed to Steps 2 of 3."
    8. Confirm all of your classes are correct, then click "Finish Enrolling."
Student Advising
  • To receive student advising, you can contact your advisor directly (via email or phone) and set up a meeting time, email and request an appointment with an advisor, or call 760-750-4020 to reserve an advising time slot.
  • Pro Tip: To expedite the advising process via email, it is recommended that you include dates and times you are available, as well as your student ID and your full name.
  • Important Notice: Advising cannot be setup using a personal email account. Any email communication done with the advising office and advisors must be done exclusively through your Cougar Email.
  • To determine the payment amount you will incur, please go to your myCSUSM Student Center. In the Finances tab, click on Account Inquiry to view your amounts due. (Note: Cal State San Marcos does not bill students for current fees due.)
  • Methods of Payment include: Cash, Conventional Check, Money Order/Cashier's Check, ATM/Debit Card, Online Credit Card, and Online E-Checks. (For associated fees and additional instructions, please visit the Payment and Fees page)
  • CSU makes every effort to keep student costs to a minimum. Fees listed in published schedules or student accounts may need to be increased when public funding is inadequate. Therefore, CSU must reserve the right, even after initial fee payments are made, to increase or modify any listed fees, without notice, until the date when instruction for a particular semester or quarter has begun. All CSU listed fees should be regarded as estimates that are subject to change upon approval by the Board of Trustees.
  • Important Notice: If you have applied for financial aid and have submitted all required documentation, but will not receive financial aid before your courses begin, a fee deferment will be placed on your account. The fee deferment will prevent you from being dropped from your courses until you receive your financial aid award.

3.  Achieving Success

Now that you've enrolled, it's time to complete your online orientation to familiarize yourself with how to navigate and use your online course functionality. Plus, find out how to rent or buy your textbooks, check on the status of transfer credits, make a drop/refund request and take advantage of pro tips and our Quick Help Guide.

This section also includes any program-specific additional information you might need, such as details on required practice experiences or fulfilling your LOTER before graduation.


Complete the online orientation to familiarize yourself with program expectations as well as the functionality and use of the online course. Expect an email to your student email address (e.g., with further instructions for orientation.

Buying/Renting Books

You can buy/rent books from the school bookstore.

Class Participation

Once class has begun, be sure to consistently participate, as this will help you to be more successful in your course. Students are expected to login and consistently participate from day one.

Transfer Credits

Make sure any transfer credits have been approved. Please refer to your student handbook for further information or visit the FAQs.


For drop/refund requests, please visit the FAQs.

Pro Tips and Resources

Check this section in the detailed guide for helpful insights and more information on your program's specific requirements. You'll also find a Quick Help Guide here.

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Textbooks – Purchasing/Renting
  • After successfully being registered for classes, you can check the CSUSM bookstore to determine which books you will be required to use.
  • To reach the bookstore, you can visit the university homepage at and then select "Bookstore & University Store" in the Student Essentials section.
  • To determine the actual materials you require, you can select "Textbooks and Course Materials" from underneath the Books tab in the CSUSM bookstore homepage.
  • You have the option of buying your textbooks directly from the bookstore, as well as renting material if it is available.
  • Pro Tip: Remember to buy any materials you need as soon as possible to avoid inconveniences and delays. There are many vendors from which to choose.
Online Student Orientation
  • Online Student Orientation is an important part of student preparedness. Doing your online orientation early will help you create a smooth online experience, as it will guide you through the ins and outs of the online program and the Canvas LMS (learning management system) you will be using.
  • After registration, you will be sent an email with instructions on how and where to access your online student orientation. To logon, however, you must activate your student portal account and your Cougar Email.
  • Important Notice: You are expected to complete your online orientation prior to the first day of class as an integral part of setting yourself up for success in your online degree program—not doing so may result in negative outcomes.
Class Participation
  • It is important to note that class participation is required for successful course and program completion. Professors will require constant interaction and participation from you and everyone else enrolled in their courses.
  • Please be sure to remain engaged with your professors, TAs and fellow classmates.
  • Important Notice: If you are having communication issues with professors or TAs, please be sure to contact Student Services at 760-750-4020.
Credit Transfers
  • To begin the transfer credit process, you must first submit transcripts from all post-secondary, regionally accredited institutions that you have attended. From this point, an advisor will review all courses and determine which courses can be applied to your current program. An email will then be sent to you detailing which courses have been approved and any further actions required.
  • To determine if your transcripts are in the review process, please log on to the CSUSM Student Center and look under your "To-Do" list. If transcripts are no longer listed, they have been received and are under review.
  • In case any course is not accepted, you have the option of disputing the review process with your advisor and requesting a reevaluation. For the reevaluation process to occur, you must submit course descriptions and related course syllabi. Please note that the dispute process may take some time (up to 2-3 weeks) to complete and you will be notified of the final decision taken.
Drop/Refund Policy
  • To receive a full refund and not owe any fees to the university, you must cancel registration or drop all courses before the first week of classes is over.
  • It takes approximately 4 to 6 weeks for a refund to be processed.
Graduation Requirement: LOTER (Language Other Than English Requirement)

CSUSM believes strongly in preparing its students for the demands of a diverse and globalizing world. So, every student — regardless of major and before graduation — must demonstrate proficiency in a language other than English.

The LOTER is a graduation requirement for all students. Meeting it confirms that you have reached an intermediate level of linguistic and cultural proficiency in a second language. It does not require fluency.

You can learn about the many ways to satisfy this requirement at CSUSM LOTER

Or, you can watch our LOTER video.

RN to BSN Practice Experience (Clinical Requirements)

Dr. P. Hinchberger 2015 School of Nursing


Baccalaureate programs provide opportunities for practice experiences designed to assist graduates to achieve The Essentials of Baccalaureate Education for Professional Nursing Practice. All baccalaureate programs, including RN to BSN programs, must provide practice experiences for students to bridge to baccalaureate-level professional nursing practice. In pre-licensure programs, this practice experience is usually referred to as a traditional "clinical experience."

However, nursing is a practice discipline that includes both direct and indirect care activities that impact health outcomes. RN to BSN students have an opportunity to meet their practice requirements in various settings since they maintain current RN licensure.

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In order to meet the CCNE accreditation mandate, Cal State San Marcos requires students in the community and leadership courses to apply their newly learned baccalaureate competencies into practice. CSUSM uses the term "practice experience" to define the completion of the student application project. This type of learning is not what students typically think of when using the term "clinical assignment."

Practice experience: Experiential learning for this practice discipline is frequently called practice experiences, clinical experiences, clinical learning opportunities, clinical strategies or clinical activities. The term practice experiences will be consistently used to refer to experiential learning in any setting where healthcare is delivered or health is influenced that allows for and requires the student to integrate new practice-related knowledge and skills.


Two courses require practice experiences. Students are required to have 135 hours of practice experience activities for the Community Health course (NURS 445) and 90 hours of practice experience for the Leadership course (NURS 451).

Students who are working in a healthcare institution are strongly encouraged to identify a supervisor in their hospital or outpatient work environment to assist students during the completion of their projects. Students are also encouraged to consult with their managers/employer for ideas on projects that will benefit their nursing service and/or community. Please review a copy of the course objectives in your syllabus to serve as a guide for possible projects. Please feel free to share the course objectives with your supervisor so they can assist you with potential project options.


Practice experiences may be augmented by simulation and laboratory experiences. This work is used to acquire the degree or specific clinical training experiences that will transition a nursing student's role behaviors from the Associate Degree or diploma to the baccalaureate level of proficiency. These include:

  • Working with other providers in any setting where healthcare is delivered, including the community, to identify gaps in care and implement a quality improvement strategy.
  • Collaborating with nursing staff to implement a new procedure or nursing practice that is evidence-based.
  • Working with an interprofessional team to evaluate the outcomes of a new practice guideline and implement recommended changes.
  • Designing and implementing a coordinated, patient-centered plan of care with an interprofessional team.
  • Educating other healthcare providers regarding the safe and effective use of new technology.
  • Writing a policy and working with other stakeholders to have the policy approved by the state board of nursing.
  • Working with community leaders to develop a disaster/emergency preparedness plan for a specific population in a community.
  • Collaborating with the facility information technology staff to design or implement an electronic health record.
  • Working with staff to write an administrative policy that will improve communication among the units in the facility.

For students not presently employed, we will assist in securing project-focused activities in their regions. Practice experience hours are only required for the Community and Leadership courses in this program.

Practice Experience Examples

  • Community centers that focus on health education
  • Palliative care settings
  • Senior centers
  • Goodwill Industries centers
  • Soup kitchens
  • Emergency room patient education
  • Education for specific populations—e.g., diabetes, hypertension, obesity
  • Health education fair for AARP group
Pro Tips
  • To help you be successful, remember that constant communication with your professors and TAs can go a long way. They are helpful resources that you should consider throughout your online experience.
  • It is very important that you constantly monitor your online student portal and your Cougar Email. These two resources will be key to a smooth online experience.
  • Make sure that you complete your online orientation prior to the first day of your courses. Orientation will be your best friend, helping you get started.
  • Check out important resources, such as the vast online library and available online journals to which you have 24-hour access.
  • You can also request to receive a Student ID Card to take advantage of the California State University System physical library resource. By having an ID card, you can request to have a book shipped to your house.
  • To request an ID card, you will have to send an email (using your Cougar email) to The email should be formatted in the following manner:
    • Subject: Online (Program Name) Student ID Card Request / Last Name, First Name / Student ID
    • Body: Please send me a Student ID Card. I am in the online (program name) and would like to have an ID card. Here is my information:
      • — First Name Last Name
      • — Student ID
    • In addition to the aforementioned items, please include the following:
      • — A clear and unedited JPEG picture of your face with a blank background.
      • — A clear PDF copy of a government issued identification card—e.g., driver's license, passport, etc.
    • There is a charge associated with this request.

Resource Contacts

Office Email Phone/Fax
Student Services Phone: 760-750-4020
IT Help Desk Phone: 760-750-6505

Quick Help Guide

Follow this guide when you require more information.

Remember: Always have the necessary documentation or reference information in front of you before calling.

  1. Accepted and want to know more about the next steps:
    1. Call 1-844-221-5368
  2. Denied or Conditionally Accepted and want to know why:
    1. Call Student Services at 760-750-4020
  3. Admitted, but want to be advised on which courses to take:
    1. Call your advisor or call: 760-750-4020
  4. Having trouble registering for class:
    1. Call Student Services at 760-750-4020
  5. Want to inquire about or having trouble with financial aid:
    1. Call Financial Aid at 760-750-4850
  6. Questions about your student account, bill, or amount due:
    1. Call Student Services at 760-750-4020
    2. Call Financial Services at 760-750-4490
Request Information
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or call 844-221-5368