Guide for Homeschool Students Transitioning to College

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For homeschooled students seeking to transition to college, the future is bright! While we don’t know exactly what percentage of homeschoolers choose to attend, what we do know is that homeschooled students are statistically more likely to thrive in college.

Research has demonstrated that homeschoolers often earn higher SAT scores, earn more college credit before college, have higher GPAs in college, and graduate from college in higher numbers than those traditionally educated. Academically homeschool students have a lot going for them.

The reality is, however, that there are still aspects of the transition that will pose unique challenges for a homeschooled student. Homeschoolers absolutely have the potential to continue their education beyond high school and thrive, it’s merely a matter of some strategic forethought and planning.

Planning For College While In High School

The best way to strategize for the challenges of the future is by planning ahead. Long-term goals met are not the result of random chance; instead, they’re accomplished when we proactively think through where we want to go, and how we can get there. For the homeschooled student with college in the crosshairs, there are some crucial things that should be mapped out for early on.

College Recommended Courses

If you’re interested in attending college, make sure you have an academic plan that covers all of the requirements for graduation. One of the best parts of homeschooling is that it can provide the foundation for a personalized and diverse education. However, those positives lose their value when the education fails to serve you long-term.

Thus, it’s important to make sure you’re earning the credits you need to graduate. Additionally, if you know the overall direction you want to go after high school, you can begin taking classes that will help you succeed on your path.

While every college and university vary in what they require, The Homeschool Legal Defense Association notes that, in general, the high school college prep requirements will be as follows:

Subject
Suggested Credits
Possible Courses
English
4 credits
Composition, American Lit, World Lit, British Lit, Rhetoric, Creative Writing, Speech, Journalism, etc. Consider AP courses

Math

4 credits

Algebra 1&2, Geometry, Trig, Pre-Calculus, Calculus, AP Calculus

History

3-4 credits

Essentials: World History, American History, American Government Consider: Economics, Geography, Constitutional Law, and AP courses

Science

3-4 credits

Physical Science, General Science, Earth Science, Biology, Chemistry, Physics Consider AP courses

Foreign Language

2-4 credits

French, Spanish, Latin, German, Russian, etc. (at least two years of the same language are preferred)

P.E.

1-2 credits

Physical education—many options are available

Fine Arts

1-2 credits

Art, Music, Drama, Photography, etc.

Electives

4 credits

Practical Arts, Life Skills, Computer Skills, Bible, Church History, etc.

Total Credits: 24-28 credits

Preparing For Exams

There are a handful of tests every high school student needs to be aware. Depending on the type of exam, these tests are a primary ways colleges assess the academic level of potential students.

PSAT/SAT: The SAT is widely used to determine student readiness for college. It is a crucial step for those hoping to attend most universities. The Preliminary SAT or PSAT, gives students the chance to practice.

Prepping for the SAT has been shown to boost scores — which can mean more college options — and the nonprofit organization College Board notes that 20 hours of free Khan Academy SAT prep specifically results in an average of 115 additional points on the test.

ACT: The competitor of SAT, the ACT offers a similar standardized test for colleges to utilize. Parents and students alike would do to consider which one (or both, in some cases) to take.

CLEP Testing: CLEP stands for College Level Examination Program. CLEP allows individuals to test material at the college level. If students pass, they receive the credits for the classes without actually having to take them. Homeschooled students who have taken AP courses are especially encouraged to participate in CLEP testing.

College Placement Testing: Depending on where you attend college, you may need to take one or more placement tests that will be used to decipher what level of classes you’ll be allowed to take in certain subjects. While community colleges rarely require SAT/ACT scores, they do require placement tests to ensure that students end up in classes that fit their knowledge level.

Community College Courses

One of the best parts of homeschooling is the flexibility it provides. Homeschooled high school students can enroll in college classes before their graduation and enjoy a host of benefits. In some cases, high schoolers with dual enrollment are afforded lower tuition fees than traditional college students. Often college classes not only count for college credit, they also count for to high school classes.

Searching for a College

It’s hard to know which school to choose when you don’t know what your educational goals are. The starting place for any potential college student should be taking the time to decide what their college priorities are. Your college experience should be one wherein you are able to feel comfortable in your own skin, and simultaneously challenged to grow.

It’s not about what school sounds the best, or is the most exclusive, or is the least expensive, it’s about finding a school where your needs are met, and you can thrive as an individual.

To find the right match, prioritize thinking through this areas:

Academics: What are your educational goals and aspirations? Can the school you’re considering provide the standard of education that will allow you to meet those goals?

Social Life and Extracurriculars: If the opportunity to participate in certain sports, clubs, or other extracurriculars is a deal breaker for you, you’ll want to make sure the school you’re looking at can provide those opportunities.

Location: Do you want to pursue a school that will allow you to see a different location, or is staying close to home essential? For some homeschooled college students, choosing a school distinctly different from their past experience is enticing. College can provide an opportunity to experience in-class experiences with a built-in social dynamic oriented around students.

Additionally, homeschoolers are especially equipped to excel in settings like online degree programs. Research confirms homeschoolers are usually experienced at utilizing a learning pace that uniquely serves their abilities in specific areas of study, are intune with the learning style that best allows them to thrive, and use technology to complete assignments. Online schooling shares many of the same forms of flexibility in terms of a daily pace and learning atmosphere that can tailored by homeschoolers for maximum academic success.

Not only do homeschoolers bring relevant background to online college classes, going to college online allows homeschoolers to continue to reap the rewards of the flexible schooling atmosphere they’re used to. Whether a student decides to get ahead by attending online prior to high school graduation, or attending online as an adult allows them to secure a better life balance, the benefits are clear.

Size: Different colleges offer courses with varying student-to-teacher ratios. If you want to continue with a smaller ratio — or you’re interested in the opposite — you’ll want to look at the size of the school as well as the size of classes in your prospective major department.

College Admissions For Homeschooled Students

The vast majority of colleges and universities have the same requirements for homeschoolers that they have for students who have a traditional background. What differs often for homeschooled college students is how those records are obtained.

Because admissions departments are faced with processing many applications, homeschool students need to take all the steps they can to ensure their submission is as detailed and as robust as everyone else’s.

Application Process

All colleges have their own unique application forms that cover the basics of your personal information. While the majority of schools will want you to fill out their form, some schools will allow you to use the Common Application. The Common Application is accepted at over 300 schools, and the schools that accept it are not allowed to give preference to those who utilize the schools dedicated application.

Essay Submission Tips

College admissions essays are one of your best possible bets for standing out. They are a prospective student’s first line of defense between appearing unremarkable or remarkable to an admissions office that considers the applications of hundreds, if not thousands of students a season.
Thankfully, for the homeschooled student working on their essay, there are some tips available to make their letter a standout. Janine Robinson, writing coach and founder of Essay Hell told Paige Carlotti of USA Today to follow these nine steps for a standout essay:

Skip the cliche, and start with a personal anecdote
Put yourself in the school’s position as you consider how to present yourself
Don’t try too hard
Write the way you speak, if you have to Google what it means you probably shouldn’t use it
Write about the things you care about, not the things you think they want to hear
Read college essay success stories to see what has actually worked
Don’t pretend to be someone you’re not
Follow the instructions
Use your essay to say what the rest of your application can’t

Transcripts Submission

Transcripts should include the courses, credits, and grades earned over the entire course of your high school career. If you’ve gone through school via an umbrella or correspondence school, you likely won’t be personally responsible for maintaining your transcript. However, if your family is responsible, be sure to look at how to create a transcript before you’re ready to send out college applications.

Extracurricular Activities

Extracurriculars convey unique information about the students who participate in them. When colleges consider applications, they need to be able to see what makes you distinct not just as a student, but also as a human being.

According to admissions professionals, the perfect extracurricular trifecta is:

academic activity, which demonstrates you are committed to your field of study so much so that it carries over into your personal time
personality activity, which demonstrates something you’re passionate about
community service activity, which demonstrates you’re involved in your community and invested in its well-being

Realistically, achieving all of these extracurricular activity areas may not be possible. However, if you plan them early on in your high school career, you’ll likely find that you do have both the opportunity and the time to make them happen without feeling overwhelmed.

Recommendation Letters

Letters of recommendation allow schools to see the unique stories and attributes behind the straight facts on student transcripts. In the interest of obtaining the right letters, experts recommend:
Reaching out to admissions departments for guidance specific to the school you’re interested in
Requesting letters from individuals who know you well
Not asking parents who are likely biased references

Financial Aid For Homeschooled Students

The good news is that much of the time, homeschooled students have access to the very same financial options that other students have. Just as there’s value in thinking through your academic plan ahead of time, there’s also substantial value in assessing your financial plan in advance.

If you’re going to have a level of financial responsibility associated with your college education, the value of gaining the right knowledge base beforehand can’t be overstated.The earlier you know how much of your higher education will be your financial responsibility, the better prepared you will be to learn what you need to learn, and to begin to shape your financial habits into ones that will be beneficial well into adulthood.

Grants and Scholarships

Apply for as many grants and scholarships as you can. This is another reason that extracurriculars make sense in terms of establishing who you are: they can also open the door to financial rewards. The U.S. Department of Labor has a free search tool for finding relevant grants, scholarships, and other financial award opportunities.

Every student should fill out a FAFSA application, which may result in federal grants, wherein the student is not required to pay back the money awarded.

Student Loans

Beyond grants, FAFSA applications can result in students being offered federal loan packages. As mentioned before, some benefits of federal loans include, “Income-driven repayment plans, fixed interest rates, no credit check and no need for a co-signer on most loans. Independent students and those applying for aid without parents may find federal student loans more accessible than other loans.”

Additionally, there are federal options that include parents including having a parent act as a cosigner, Parent PLUS loans, and home refinancing loans.

For both students and parents, private loans are also an option. However, in the vast majority of cases private loans should only be considered at a last resort. Private loans rarely offer flexible repayment options, fixed interest, or forgiveness programs.

Athletics

For homeschooled individuals who hope to play on a college-level sports team, much of the requirements are the same. As with transcripts, it’s not so much that the requirements are different, or that there are additional requirements, but rather that a homeschooled student may need to put forth more initiative ensuring that their school and/or division has the correct information.
If you are a high schooler, it’s important to get the experience you can before trying out for teams. Some ideas for gaining experience include:

Joining public high school teams where available
Joining adult community teams
Entering open competitions

Those hoping to play at a NCAA or NAIA colleges need to be sure that they submit the appropriate forms to the corresponding organization in the interest of determining eligibility.

Unique perspectives serve everyone well, and without fail homeschooled students manage to bring fresh ways of thinking to the table. Despite the fact that the journey to college may be a bit more complicated for homeschooled students, the reality is that they ultimately have the skills needed to succeed, and the background needed to thrive creatively and academically.