Homeschoolers, Today’s Colleges Want You!
In the early 1980’s, mass media jumped on the news that Grant, the eldest homeschooled son of Micki and David Colfax, gained entrance to Harvard University. Grant’s appearance on The Tonight Show marked the beginning of the media’s fascination with the idea that young men and women who never attended school could get into some of the nation’s most prestigious universities and colleges. Today, homeschoolers moving on to college has become a matter of course, so there’s no reason to miss the rewards of homeschooling, even during the high school years, if your child wants to attend college.
While that piece of paper called a diploma once played a central role in the public’s perception of college entry, the view on this paper is changing. Take, for example, the recommendation of the United States House of Representatives Committee on Education and the Workforce and the Senate Committee on Education and Human Resources that accompanied the Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. The committees amended eligibility requirements for federal college aid to include students who “have completed a secondary school education in a home setting that is treated as a homeschool or private school under state law.” The U.S. military also changed the policy that once required homeschooled students to obtain a General Education Diploma (GED). (Contact a local recruiter for most current information.)
Although homeschoolers have, for years, entered college without high school diplomas, your student may still desire one, if for no other reason than to answer “yes” when a job application asks if he has earned one. There are several ways to accomplish this.
- A homeschooling family can create one
- Take the General Education Diploma (GED) test or a state’s
exit exam (where they exist)
- Participate in an independent study program or umbrella school that awards diplomas upon completion
MANY PATHS TO THE COLLEGE PEAK
As with other aspects of homeschooling, advice on the best way for homeschoolers to gain college entrance cuts a wide swath. Some respected voices espouse an extremely laid back approach, noting that teens who spend the high school years pursuing individual interests learn what they need to get into college if and when they decide to do so.
Other homeschooling college entry specialists take a more traditional approach to preparation, with the following suggestions.
1. Begin Your Research Early
Read homeschooling Web sites, books, and periodicals to learn about “homeschool friendly” colleges and universities. At the same time you’ll learn about the wide range of educational philosophies that drive the institutions’ admissions decisions. Ask about policies on “non-traditional” students. If your child knows which college s/he wants to attend, speak with admissions personnel early as they can provide a “map” of the route they want your child to follow.
2. Choose the Best Presentation for Records
In some cases a college’s stringent requirements will determine the form in which the applicant’s record is submitted. When there is leeway, choose the method that casts the student’s accomplishments in the best light. The most popular forms are:
Transcript – similar to what public schools provide, a transcript lists subjects and grades in chronological order by school year; relatively easy for traditional colleges to assimilate this information
Portfolio – similar to the way artists must present their accomplishments, a portfolio shows completed work as an example of the student’s abilities; possibly confusing for admissions officials who want to compare the information to their list of recommended college preparatory high school courses
Narrative – discusses the student’s accomplishments in more depth than a transcript allows; admissions may or may not appreciate
Review and update your transcript, portfolio, or narrative annually.
3. Keep Records
No matter how you decide to present the homeschooler’s accomplishments, good records make preparation easier. Unless you have an exceptional memory, it’s best to get it down on paper.
4. Take Tests at Appropriate Times
Some colleges require students to take the American College Test (ACT) or the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT), the latter optionally preceded by the Preliminary Scholastic Assessment Test (PSAT). A rough schedule includes a practice PSAT in the fall of sophomore year, and a run at the National Merit Scholarship competition with the PSAT in the fall of the junior year. Come spring it’s time for the SAT or ACT, both of which may be taken more than once to improve scores.
While the SAT and ACT tests cover math and verbal skills, SATII tests are also available in individual subjects. If the student desires or the college of choice requires them, SATII tests might be taken this spring, as well.
5. Get a Head Start
Homeschooled children can finish foreign language requirements before high school begins, or study algebra or geometry in eighth grade with credits toward high school completion. Other head starts include:
- Simultaneous high school at home and enrollment in community college classes – Often, subject credits can be used for high school requirements and as established credits upon college entry. In fact, many homeschooled teens earn enough college credits prior to full-time attendance that questions about a high school diploma become moot points.
- College Level Examination Program (CLEP) Tests – Almost 3,000 colleges award three to twelve credits when students pass any of the thirty-four subject-specific CLEP tests prior to college entrance.
- Advanced Placement (AP) Tests – AP exams exist to see if a high school student can handle college-level work. A qualifying grade in any of the more than two dozen subject areas gain credit or advanced placement at thousands of colleges and universities.
- Both CLEP and AP tests save time and money. (Note: Since not all schools honor CLEP and AP, consult with admissions counselors as to their schools’ policies.)
6. Practice for the Interview
A pre-acceptance interview is optional at some schools. Even so, homeschooled students find these interviews give them a chance to get a better feel for the college and get answers to remaining questions. Help the student practice by asking him questions about his education to date, his plans and goals, and why he would like to attend this particular school. (For additional questions, find someone who has already been through the process.) The goal is to learn to be calm, relaxed, friendly, and articulate. Wear nice clothes to the interview.
7. Consider College at Home
Today’s distance learning programs mean there’s no need to give up the benefits of homeschooling for college attendance as a student may earn a degree via computer. This approach is popular because of its flexibility. Students pursue course requirements when it’s convenient for them, which means they maintain the time necessary for apprenticeships, volunteering, work, travel, or other supplementary learning experiences. Many programs are also flexible with the amount of time allowed for completion.
8. Finding Money
Once upon a time, people without diplomas were unable to apply for federal financial aid. Today, homeschoolers apply for the same scholarships as traditionally schooled counterparts and fill out the same financial aid forms due to a 1998 amendment to the Higher Education Act of 1965. Now students without a diploma or equivalent can be eligible for financial aid when they pass one of the approved “ability to benefit” tests. A list of such tests and required scores can be found at: http://www.nasfaa.org/Publications/2001/f011201atb.html
MUTUAL UNDERSTANDING IS EVER-INCREASING
College admissions officials across the country are taking a long, hard look at their practices as the growing number of homeschoolers present unique challenges they must accommodate. To this end, the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC, Alexandria, Virginia) created an email list to encourage dialog between homeschoolers and admissions officials. You may join by sending an email to: [email protected] and ask to be placed on the HSC-L list.
College admission need not be either mysterious or difficult for your prepared homeschooler. So many “home grown graduates” are excelling in colleges and universities that many of these institutions actively recruit homeschooled students. Others proudly report on these students’ accomplishments, as in prestigious Brown University’s January/February, 2002 edition of its alumni magazine. In an article titled, “Homeschooling Comes of Age,” Dean Joyce Reed states, “Homeschoolers are the epitome of Brown students. They are self-directed, they take risks, and they don’t back off.” Most importantly, home grown graduates have proven that they are well prepared for the transition, and that perceived obstacles to college entry are hurdles that research, planning, and their talents and qualifications easily overcome.
- Mary Baldwin College
- University of Pennsylvania
- Vermont College: Union Institute and University
Mary Baldwin College is a private liberal arts college for women. The college offers 33 majors, 36 minors, and pre-professional programs in medicine, veterinary medicine, law, engineering, ministry and teacher certification, as well as seven varsity sports. The Program for the Exceptionally Gifted offers academically talented young women the opportunity for early college entrance. Mary Baldwin welcomes homeschool transcripts and awards merit scholarships to homeschool students based upon ACT/SAT scores.
University of Pennsylvania
Earn college credit through your home computer with PennAdvance
The PennAdvance distance learning option delivers University of Pennsylvania courses to qualified students around the world. More than 200 academically talented high school juniors and seniors have challenged themselves and earned college credit with rigorous, interactive courses in subjects such as Anthropology, Economics, and Mathematics. Please visit http://www.advance.upenn.edu for complete information on courses, technology, student eligibility, and tuition.
Vermont College: Union Institute and University
Design your own personal degree plan.
With the one-to-one guidance of a faculty mentor, students at Vermont College design independent degree plans based on their passions and interests (an SAT/ACT score is recommended for admission, but not required). After gathering as a community of learners on campus for brief-residencies two or three times a year, students complete their studies from home. The New College program includes an early entrance option for students who are at least sixteen years old and ready for college level learning.
For Early Entrance:
Ask Alison McKee!
Meet Homeschool.com’s new unschooling high school and college
advisor, Alison McKee.
If you are an “unschooler” with questions about high school or
you are preparing for college, contact [email protected].