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From homeschool to college

Article appeared in Worcester Magazine, May 2006

The number of homeschooled college applicants has risen dramatically in the past decade. There are currently 2 million children who study at home rather than at school, and the number is expected to reach 3 million by 2010. While an estimated 50% of these children attend college, many college admissions offices are still not certain about the best way to evaluate the academic experiences of these students.

In conversations I have had with numerous college admissions officers, I have not encountered any whose college has a policy of refusing admission to students who have been homeschooled. Although concerns and cynicism exist at some colleges, most colleges express interest in receiving applications from homeschooled students. Colleges that have accepted homeschooled students appreciate the maturity and self-direction these students demonstrate. They believe that because homeschooled students have been involved in shaping their own education, they tend to be motivated learners and are comfortable assuming positions of leadership, both in class and in social situations.

In general, colleges that are unusual or outstanding in some way are most likely to have developed an effective way to evaluate the applications of homeschooled students. Colleges that are highly selective, those with unusual curricula, womenís colleges, colleges that do not require SATs or grades, and those that require portfolios of all students are particularly welcoming to homeschooled students. In 2004, Stanford University accepted 27% of homeschooled applicants, nearly double its overall acceptance rate. Colleges that have the most homeschool-friendly admission policies read applications holistically. Beyond grades, test scores, recommendations and writing samples, these colleges look carefully for evidence of motivation, creativity, intellectual curiosity, examples of original research, and the capacity of the applicant to be responsible for his own education.

Homeschooled students, who will apply to college without a standard high school transcript and honor society membership, need to be proactive as they anticipate the college application process. As parents plan their childís high school years, they would do well to think about the type of college their child might attend ó public/private, selective/non-competitive, large research university/small liberal arts college. As they record their childís progress, they should be aware of ways in which many colleges are likely to evaluate their childís readiness for college work.

While there is no consistent method for evaluating the application of the student who has been homeschooled, many admissions officers use the following criteria.

Curriculum

A curriculum that mirrors a traditional high school curriculum is easiest for admissions officers to evaluate. If the curriculum varies from this, the student must assist the college in understanding the rationale for the curriculum.

Highly selective colleges expect that the curriculum will be at least as demanding as honors or advanced placement courses in a traditional high school.

Courses at a two- or four-year college during the high school years provide a good example of a studentís capacity to learn at a college level in a classroom environment.

Testing

Standardized testing, such as SAT, ACT or AP is often more important for homeschooled students than for traditional students.

Colleges may require more SAT Subject Tests than they require for traditional students.

The heavy reliance on standardized testing reflects the fact that colleges do not have the framework of a high school class against which to judge the studentís course grades.

Portfolio

The portfolio should present concrete evidence of the studentís academic history. It may include:

  • Transcript or diploma issued by school district or homeschool program.
  • Course syllabi including course descriptions and assignments, reading lists and scientific experiments conducted.
  • Academic papers, samples of math problems or descriptions of science projects, including teacherís comments.
  • Recommendations from other than a parent-teacher, such as employers, coaches or tutors.
  • Free-time reading lists and learning activities.
Extracurricular activities

At least one activity should demonstrate the studentís long-term and in-depth commitment and interest.

Activities should demonstrate the studentís ability to work with others in both competitive and cooperative academic and non-academic environments.

Activities may include examples of artistic or athletic mastery, community service, leadership ability, or career or intellectual pursuits separate from the curriculum.

Letters of recommendation

At least one letter should be from a non-family member (tutor, coach, mentor) who can share insight into the studentís capacity to contribute to the academic, social, and cultural life of the college.

Self-presentation

The student should be able to write and speak about his educational journey. He should be prepared to discuss the reasons he was homeschooled and should demonstrate an understanding of the ways in which his educational experiences have shaped him.

Families of homeschooled students would do well to begin planning for college as early as ninth grade by becoming familiar with admissions policies at a variety of colleges that might be appropriate for the student. As the child progresses through high school, parents should encourage their child to take several courses at the local high school or community college or from an accredited distance learning center. They should provide opportunities for their child to join community organizations or athletic teams.

Parents should work with their child to create an educational portfolio of essays, articles, athletic or artistic accomplishments, and should speak with their child periodically about how accurately the portfolio portrays the childís experiences. It is likely that when the student applies to college, he will be asked to reflect on his educational experiences and to discuss the impact that homeschool education has had on him. As most homeschooled students are comfortable speaking with adults, they are in a good position to discuss their academic strengths. Parents would do well to encourage their student to think about this question as he progresses through high school.

The student should understand that adults such as a Scout leader, youth minister, music teacher or coach are part of his educational team and that he may want to ask one of them to write a college recommendation for him. As homeschooled students may be asked to take more standardized tests than traditional applicants and as these tests may be weighted more heavily for homeschooled students, parents should help their child become comfortable with the format and content of SAT and/or ACT tests.

As homeschooled students enroll in colleges and universities in increasing numbers, institutions of higher education will become more adept at evaluating the myriad educational experiences that have shaped these students. In the meantime, it is the responsibility of homeschool families to understand the challenges that admissions officers face and to prepare their child to successfully navigate the admission process.




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