5 Tips for Homeschoolers Applying to College

April 23, 2024
Written by:
Guest Author

While nearly every college and university today is eager to accept homeschooled students into their institutions, homeschooling families need to understand that their student’s application will likely receive a longer look and perhaps a little bit more scrutiny than a student who attended a traditional public or private school.

Why? A few reasons. Having worked as a college admissions officer, I’ve seen applications from every type of student. Homeschooled students often don’t have access to some of the resources other students have, such as teacher or guidance counselor recommendation letters, official transcripts, and sometimes even the clubs, athletics, and other after-school activities that are so important for aspiring college students to have on their applications and resumes.

For an admissions officer, it’s much easier to confirm GPAs, extracurricular activities, and standardized test scores with a school. All of this is to say that homeschooled students often have a more extensive burden of proof to meet when being considered for college.

Of course, thousands of homeschoolers are accepted into universities around the world every year and go on to excel in their academics and their careers. As a former college admissions officer and as Holston Academy’s Senior Director of Enrollment Management, I want to help prepare you for the realities of applying to college as a homeschooling family.

With that in mind, here are five tips for homeschoolers to consider when applying to college.

Consider Standardized Testing

Homeschooling offers a variety of benefits, including schedule flexibility and highly personalized learning. But how is that learning measured objectively? During my time in an admissions office, nearly every application we received from a homeschooler listed a 4.0 GPA. There’s no doubt that these students were high performers; however, college admissions departments need to see a more objective measure of each student’s learning and academic progress when considering acceptance into the institution.

Taking standardized tests like the AP, SAT, and ACT provides the objective insight admissions officers look for when reviewing applications. You might even reside in a state that requires homeschoolers to take standardized tests. Each state, as you’re likely well aware, has specific requirements for homeschooling, including standardized testing. For example, some states require annual testing while others may only mandate testing in certain grades. If you’re unsure about your state’s laws, visit the Home School Legal Defense Association’s website.

While it’s true that many colleges and universities have adopted a test-optional approach to admissions–meaning many don’t require SAT or ACT scores for a student to be considered or accepted–I highly recommend homeschooled students taking a standardized test, especially if the student is aiming for a scholarship. So, while the standardized test scores may not be a requirement for homeschoolers, it’s a good idea toCollege Admission Tips for Homeschoolers take one anyway, as most schools will want those standardized test scores included for homeschooled students.

According to Compass Education group, of 167 top colleges and universities in the US, around 20% explicitly encourage the submission of AP scores for holistic review in the context of homeschool applicants, and approximately 15% recommend or require an SAT or ACT result for those applicants.

Standardized testing is not limited to just the AP, SAT, or ACT, however. Suppose you want to test your student objectively and be able to provide further third-party data for their college applications. In that case, I encourage you to consider these assessment options, and others, as long as they comply with your state’s homeschooling regulations:

  • Iowa Assessments: The nationally recognized Iowa Assessments meet most state requirements for testing homeschoolers. However, administrators of the test must have a bachelor’s degree.
  • Stanford Achievement Tests: These are also nationally recognized and meet most state requirements for testing. Your student will need access to a computer for the self-paced online test.
  • TerraNova (formerly CAT): Previously known as the California Achievement Test (CAT), TerraNova is a great test for homeschoolers as there are no specific requirements for the test administrator.

Given that many homeschooling families have no school profile to share and that objective measures of academic success are scarce within homeschooling, having your student take and succeed on a standardized assessment will go a long way toward getting that application noticed and accepted.

Explore Accredited Course Options

I can’t overstate the importance of accreditation. If you’re unfamiliar, accreditation is a process by which private educational institutions are evaluated against established standards to ensure a high level of educational quality. What’s important for you and your student is that accreditation is a method of differentiating schools that uphold consistent academic standards from those that do not.

When you homeschool through either an accredited institution or enroll in single courses from an accredited institution (such as Holston Academy), college admissions offices are confident knowing that accreditation demonstrates:

  • How educational standards are met
  • How success is determined
  • How programs meet each student’s needs
  • Measures that are taken to ensure students are learning consistently

Accreditation shows college admissions teams that your student’s homeschool education was of high quality and standards and that the institute can be trusted to provide objective grades and measurements of student performance. Additionally, taking accredited courses offers each student the opportunity to interact with professional educators and subject matter experts–either of whom could provide a persuasive letter of recommendation to send with your college application.

To further strengthen your student’s college application, consider dual enrollment courses at a local college or through Holston Academy. In partnership with Arizona State University (ASU), we offer college courses through dual enrollment for students who want to accelerate their education. Taking a few college-level courses while still in high school demonstrates your student’s ability to succeed in advanced academics and handle the responsibility that comes with college classes. College courses also prepare your students for higher education by allowing them to experience a campus environment (should they attend classes in person), understand how college classes work, and communicate with college professors. Additionally, those credits can often be applied to your student’s college transcript and count toward graduation.

Document Extracurricular Activities

When reviewing college applications, admissions officers always look beyond grades. Yes, GPAs matter, but so does participation in extracurricular activities and community service. Universities desire well-rounded students to represent their institution, and getting involved in activities, clubs, and the community is the best way to show who you really are.

Homeschool high school sportsStudents in traditional schools typically have an easier time with extracurricular activities. For one, most brick-and-mortar institutions provide their students with a wide variety of clubs, sports, and activities; homeschoolers often have to search for extracurricular activities in their area as not all public school districts allow homeschoolers to participate in their after-school activities or sports. Plus, it’s much easier for college admissions officers to verify the activities of a public or private school student. That’s why documenting your student’s activities and participation in clubs or athletics is critical.

Have your student obtain either a letter or signed verification of their participation that can be included with the college application. It’s important to note that this letter or verification should not come from the parent or guardian; similar to letters of recommendation, college admissions teams need more objective evidence than a parent’s word. In this case, the letter or verification should come from the organizer or leader of the group, club, event, or team. The more detail they can provide regarding your student’s roles, responsibilities, and accomplishments, the better. Colleges and universities appreciate enthusiastic and willing participants who demonstrate holistic development and commitment beyond the classroom.

Seek Guidance and Support

Homeschooling families need to know that they’re not alone during the college application process and that they’re supported. As a homeschooler, you’ve likely already established contacts, found resources, and are part of a local or online community. Take advantage of it all by seeking guidance and support as you and your student work through college applications.

Attend webinars, ask questions in your online communities, and join informational sessions offered by institutions like Holston Academy. These resources are invaluable as you get to see and hear first-hand what the process is like and what you need to do along the way. Many families in your communities have probably sent an older child off to college, so be sure to pick their brains as they have first-hand experience with the process and all that’s involved with it.

Find Community

Throughout the homeschool journey, it’s so important for students to seek out fellow homeschoolers. As many homeschooled students are educated at home without classmates, finding a community provides the social interaction and fellowship young adults need as they prepare for college life–and potentially away from home.

If you haven’t found a local homeschool co-op or group, look for one in your area. Co-ops and extracurricular activities are excellent opportunities for homeschooled students to learn together, form friendships, share similar experiences, and interact with people of all ages. Having a forum to learn and use these skills is vital when preparing for life in college and beyond. If your student is planning on leaving home for college, being able to communicate confidently and effectively with both peers and mentors helps ensure that your student will thrive in the vibrant college community that awaits.

Homeschooled students tend to perform quite well in college, and considering how many more families homeschool today than they did even five years ago, admissions teams more readily and easily recognize the talents of homeschoolers. That said, there are still a few more obstacles for homeschoolers to navigate during the college application process than their peers in traditional schools. Of course, when looking ahead to your student’s college education, these obstacles present themselves as mere bumps in the road on the way to post-graduation success. If you’re interested in taking an online course through Holston Academy to enhance transcripts or help with test prep, please feel free to explore our course catalog and reach out to us to enroll.

More About the Author:

 Oscar Cancio is Holston Academy’s Senior Director of Enrollment Management. Before working in independent school admissions, Oscar was a college admissions officer at Bates College, USC, and the University of La Verne. Prior to joining Holston Academy, he was the Director of Admissions at Pacific Oaks College. He has interviewed thousands of high school students for admission and scholarships and has read thousands of college applications. Fun fact: he has visited at least one high school in each state in the U.S.