If you are a homeschool student on the verge of graduating from high school, you may be wondering what your path looks like from here. Homeschool students who are nearing the end of their high school education may face some specific challenges when applying for college. For instance, the transition to college involves getting used to an entirely new educational system and learning how to apply to college in the first place. This guide is designed to help you understand how to plan for those challenges and will provide support tips to help you create great college applications and make a smooth social and educational transition into college.
What Is Homeschool?
Homeschool is an alternative educational system in which students are taught from home, usually by their parents. If you are a homeschool student, you are probably very familiar with the ins and outs of how it all works. But let's take this opportunity to dispel a few myths and to explore some questions that homeschool students may have about their future education.
How Many Children Are Homeschooled in the US?
According to the National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI), there were approximately 2.5 million homeschool students as of 2019. This accounts for around 4% of school children in America, and numbers are expected to rise in the coming years.
Is Homeschooling Better or Worse than In-School Learning?
One common misconception about homeschooling is that it is an inferior educational system that puts homeschool students at a disadvantage. This might make some homeschoolers nervous, wondering if they are as prepared for college as their peers. However, the data suggests the opposite. According to a 2009 study by the University of St. Thomas, homeschoolers typically score higher than the national average on standardized tests.
This is not to say that homeschool is necessarily a better system; it is an option that works very well for some students and families, and less well for others. The important thing to remember is that homeschoolers are not generally at a disadvantage compared to their traditionally schooled peers.
Do Homeschoolers Get Into College?
For students in conventional public or private high schools, there is often a fair amount of guidance offered during the final two years of school in order to help prepare them for college applications. Homeschoolers may feel that they are lacking in some of this assistance, or they may be concerned that colleges will be less likely to accept them because of their educational background. While that may once have been the case, many colleges have become more open to homeschool applicants in recent years.
Getting Into College as a Homeschooler
If you are in homeschool, your process for getting into college will look a little different from that of other students. You will want to be proactive about your education early in high school and start college planning to make sure that you are prepared for your college transition. You will also need to do your own research to fully understand what different colleges look for in applicants. Be sure to carefully consider things like scholarship applications and extracurriculars well in advance.
While You're Still in High School
As with all students, there are some things that homeschoolers should try to do before they complete their high school education.
Determine Your Interests. All students need to determine what interests them before applying to colleges. Take a moment and ask yourself - what should I major in? For some students, this will be very easy: some people know, even from a young age, that they want to become artists, dentists, or teachers. If this is you, then take the time in high school to learn as much as you can about your area of interest. Read about it, learn about the career, and if possible, try and speak to people who are already in your chosen job field to see how they feel about it and what advice they can offer you.
On the other hand, you might be much less sure of what you want to study in college. That's okay too! Many, many students switch their majors in college as they learn more about themselves and what their interests are.
Get Organized. One advantage that many students in the public or private school systems have is that they are likely to receive some help from their schools in getting organized for college applications. For homeschool students, this may require a more self-directed approach. Do some research on the kinds of documentation that you will need for college applications and then plan your time around getting that documentation together and preparing for your application.
This documentation may include letters of recommendation, personal essays, records of your past academics, standardized test scores, and high school transcripts. Do this well in advance, ideally beginning in eleventh grade, so that you don't have to worry about being unprepared when the time comes to complete applications.
Parents of homeschool students may also be wondering how they could help their students in their journey to college, and while parenting college-bound students is no easy feat, the biggest piece of advice that we could give is to communicate goals and timelines so that both everyone is in the loop and can know what to expect from the coming months./li>
Take the SAT and ACT. Taking the SAT or the ACT is a standard requirement for many college applications. It is important to register well in advance for any tests and to make sure that you are taking the correct test for your college goals. Before taking either test, make sure that you prepare by studying the relevant material. There are a plethora of online study materials that you can access by doing a quick google search for topics like SAT tips and tricks or ACT practice exams. You may also want to look into obtaining study guides or signing up for test prep courses to have the best chance of success.
Set aside time in your school schedule to dedicate to test preparation and try taking one or more practice tests in the lead-up to the test date. Do your practice tests in a controlled environment and do your best to learn from your mistakes. Keep in mind that it is possible to retake these tests if you want to get a higher score.
If you find standardized tests to be very difficult and believe that other factors better showcase your skills and abilities as an applicant, take a look into test optional colleges as several universities now don't require SAT or ACT scores in order to gain admission to their schools.
Earn Your Homeschool Diploma. In order to graduate from high school, homeschoolers will need to obtain a diploma or equivalent documentation to prove their completion of high school curricula. This is not exactly the same as an in-school high school graduation and may take a number of forms.
Some homeschool students may graduate earlier or later than their peers, as they have more flexibility and ability to work on their own schedules. Make sure that you complete all of the required courses and tests and that you have the correct number and distribution of credits when you graduate so that you are able to submit your applications without any problems.
Skill Build. When you are preparing for college applications and for your college classes, there are some skills that you can focus on that will help to give you an edge in the post-secondary educational environment. These skills are ones that are useful for all areas of study and for the world beyond, so be sure to put extra emphasis on them when you are still in high school and to seek out resources that will help you whenever possible.
Reading Comprehension: Building up your college reading comprehension skill will help you fully understand the high-level texts you will be required to read, as well as the instructions for assignments and applications. Read extensively, both for pleasure and for academic learning, as reading is the best way to improve comprehension abilities and general knowledge.
Writing: Writing, especially essay writing, is important for all college students. Understanding how to write essays, especially personal essays, will also help you create an eye-catching essay for your college application. The best way to learn how to write essays is to practice often and to edit thoroughly. Don't be afraid to change and improve your own work and try to learn good proofreading skills so that your writing really stands out. If you are struggling with how to structure an essay, research some different essay formats and remember that the standard five-paragraph essay that you learned in high school is not the only option for essays at the college level.
Test Taking: Taking tests is a skill that can and should be learned, as all degrees require students to pass tests and exams at some point. Set yourself practice tests and exams while you are still in high school, and do your best to imitate the environment of a college exam when you do so. That means timing yourself carefully, removing distractions, and being sure to check for mistakes as much as you can before you run out of time.
Time Management: Don't wait until your first semester of college to start practicing time management. Take the initiative and set aside time for various activities so that you get everything done. Consider setting alarms on your phone in order to remind yourself to switch to different activities as needed.
Get College Credits in High School. If you are doing well academically, you might want to consider earning some college credits while you're still in high school. This is a great way to get ahead and to give yourself an advantage when it comes to your college years. If you get enough credits, it may even be possible for you to complete your degree in less than four years. There are several ways of doing this. First, you can earn college credit through Prior Learning Assessments such as Advanced Placement tests by scoring highly on the exams. Similarly you can take CLEP exams to earn college credit while you're in high school. You can also look into taking courses at a local college in a non-degree program. You can also earn college credits online to help you more quickly achieve your goals.
Do Extracurriculars. This is the typical advice that is given to all high school students: take extracurriculars! This is helpful for college applications, but it's also helpful for making connections with others at a similar stage of life and who have similar interests. Taking extracurriculars in high school can also give you a basis for activities to pursue once you get to college.
Gain Volunteer and Work Experience. There is a lot of value in volunteer experience and work experience when you are still in high school. Volunteer experience can be very valuable for scholarships, and as a homeschool student, it can help you expand your professional and academic network. Working and volunteering can also make college applications more impressive while simultaneously giving you the skills that you need to take care of yourself once you are living independently. Most students continue to volunteer in college and getting a start on it in high school will give you additional opportunities to learn about what matters to you and how you want to contribute to your community.
Searching for Homeschool Friendly Colleges
As a homeschool student, you may worry that the colleges you want to attend are unwilling to consider homeschool applicants. However, you are unlikely to face any serious limitations to your application, as colleges have become much more open to homeschool applicants in recent years. Even Ivy League schools often accept homeschool students who are academically strong. Some colleges that accept homeschoolers do so because they value their unique experiences and their high test scores.
If you want to see whether a school is likely to look favorably on homeschool applicants, consider the following:
- Is there any information about homeschooling on their website?
- Do you know any college students or college graduates who were homeschoolers in high school? If possible, talk to them about their college application experiences.
- Can you email or call the college's academic advising center to find out more about their admissions process for homeschool students?
For many high school students, college applications are completed in the final year of high school, and many students receive their acceptance letters before they actually graduate. It is of course possible to apply at a later time depending on your personal educational timetable. Make sure to gather as much information as you can on your colleges of interest.
Here are a few things to keep in mind during your research process:
- What is the cost of tuition? Keep in mind that out-of-state or international tuition is often more expensive than in-state tuition in most cases.
- Do you want to take on-campus or online classes? While the standard degree program is one that is offered on campus to students who live in residency, there are many other options. You can look into fully online classes or hybrid programs that include in-person and online classes.
- What is campus life like? If you are planning to live on campus during your undergraduate degree, do some research into the kind of campus life offered by the colleges you are interested in. What kinds of meal plans are available? How are residences set up? What kinds of student organizations and events exist? Try to find a college that you think will suit you, as you will be spending a lot of time there.
- Do you have specific a major in mind? If you are interested in a specialized major or degree, make sure that it is offered by any colleges that you apply to.
- What is the college's reputation like? Ideally, you will be aiming to apply to colleges with good academic reputations. You may also want to see if the school is known for anything in particular, like athletics if that is of interest to you. As many homeschool students are Christian, you may also be interested in looking into applications to Christian colleges.
The Admissions Process
Getting through the admissions process for the colleges of your choice can be a daunting task for any student. Being successful in your college applications requires organization and a proactive mindset in order to make the most of your options and experiences.
Check out some of the major things to keep in mind while you go through the process of applying:
It is always of the utmost importance that you read the college requirements with great care and attention to detail. The last thing you want is for your application to be rejected simply because you missed a step, like reporting your grades on time or submitting the right number of letters of recommendation. Read any application instructions more than once and write down everything that you will need in order to get a clear idea of how things work.
All colleges have different systems and prioritize different things. Some accept the Common App, while others require individualized applications. The Common App is a standardized application that more than nine hundred colleges across the U.S. (and even some international schools!) accept. Completing a Common App can streamline your application process if you are applying to multiple schools that accept it.
You will also need to make sure that you have your homeschool transcripts for college applications. Many homeschoolers wonder how to obtain a transcript or if they even need one. Transcripts are of great importance to all students, including homeschool students. Parents of homeschoolers can create their own transcripts in order to faithfully reproduce students' grades, or they can pay a number of different companies to create and track students' transcripts throughout their high school careers.
Letters of Recommendation
Some college applications will ask you for letters of recommendation. If that is the case, choose who your letters will come from carefully. If possible, get letters from people outside of your family who know you well and can vouch for you and your work ethic. Volunteer coordinators, employers, and any connections you have made through extracurricular activities are excellent choices. Double-check the requirements for letters of recommendation, as some colleges require them to be submitted in sealed and signed envelopes.
One of the most important parts of many college applications is the personal essay. Practice your writing and editing skills. Do some research about what makes a good college essay, as the form has specific standards that are generally adhered to. As you will most likely be writing about yourself and your experiences, take some time to focus on what makes you unique and what experiences have been the most valuable to you. It may be tempting to write your essay about your homeschool experience, and that is not necessarily a bad idea. However, make sure that you are not relying entirely on that facet of your education for your essay. Broaden your writing to express personal growth and understanding from whatever perspective you choose.
College Finances for Homeschool Students
Funding a college education can be a major challenge for many families. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the average cost for all undergraduate institutions in the United States was $23,835 per student per year as of 2018 . When you are considering your college trajectory, it is important to keep finances in mind. You may be able to pay for college through a combination of personal funds, scholarships, loans, and other forms of aid like grants for homeschool students. There is also a variety of federal and state financial aid available for degree-seeking students and the first step to being eligible for these forms of aid will be to apply for FAFSA. This can be a time consuming process so make sure to start in advance!
Scholarships for Homeschoolers
There are a plethora of college scholarships available for students based on different factors such as demographic, interest, and more. As a homeschool student, when looking for scholarships, make sure to not only find scholarships available to homeschool students but also look for general scholarships that are available to everyone. Here are a couple of scholarships specific to homeschoolers:
- The Craig Dickinson Memorial Scholarship offers $1,000 to graduating homeschoolers who are attending college or another post-secondary institution in the fall of that year.
- Are you a Christian student planning on pursuing a degree at Grand Canyon University? Consider the Evan C. Gary Memorial Scholarship, an award that was created to honor the life of Evan, a homeschool student.
- A scholarship that focuses on public service is the Mason Lighthouse Annual Scholarship for those who have been homeschooled for at least four years. Applicants will need to write an essay on their contributions to public service in order to be considered.
Many other scholarships exist at the state and local levels. Check out some options near you, especially if your family is connected to a homeschooling association. Colleges also offer scholarships to all of their applicants, homeschooled or otherwise.
In addition to scholarships specific to homeschool students, there are several other scholarship opportunities provided by individuals, organizations, and schools. There are also major specific scholarships available - for example, teaching scholarships and scholarships for nursing students. Be sure to research scholarship opportunities since there are many out there that can help fund your education.
So, you've applied to college and you've been accepted. You know how you are going to pay your tuition and you know where you will be living. Do you know what your personal budget will be? For the vast majority of homeschoolers (as with in-school students), college is the first time that they will need to be acting in a financially independent manner. Make sure to plan, ideally with your parents' help, how much money you will have access to in a given month and what you will need to spend it on. Figure out if you will need to work during term or over the summers, and if so, roughly how much money you will need to make during that time.
The Social Transition to College
Perhaps the most daunting part of the transition to college is the social adjustment. While virtually all high school students will find the switch to college life somewhat stressful, this may be heightened for homeschool students with less experience in the standard educational system. However, there are a few things that you can keep in mind that will help you a great deal with your transition to a new kind of educational and social environment.
When you first get to college, one of the most valuable things that you can do is to participate in activities that are specifically for incoming freshmen during the first week or so of term. Attending these activities can be a great way to make connections, so if something sounds interesting, sign up! Some activities may not be to your taste, and that's okay. Seek out clubs, organizations, and events that you think you'll enjoy and you'll be more likely to encounter other students who share your interests. You might even seek out other students who were homeschooled in order to create a community for yourself.
Maintaining communication with your family, particularly in your first year, can help you manage any loneliness or stress that you may be feeling. Many people experience a period of time before they have formed close friendships with other students. If you have problems or need advice, be sure to reach out; nobody should expect you to make this transition seamlessly or without assistance. While all students will need family support in this time, homeschool students may find their parents are particularly well equipped to help them with academic issues, having taught them for such a long time.
It is also important for you to communicate with other students in order to form connections and to help each other learn. Communicate with your professors and academic advisors about your interests, questions, accessibility needs, and more.
Remember that things get easier over time, and that it is perfectly normal for college to be overwhelming at first, especially if you are used to being surrounded by far fewer people than you are in college. One rule that might help to keep in mind is the 6 days, 6 weeks, 6 months rule. Some people say that adjusting to college, or to any new phase of life, happens in three stages.
The first 6 days are the most difficult time for many people, and you may see a change after 6 days, at which point things begin to feel more settled. After your first 6 weeks, you may notice another shift wherein you feel more in control of what is happening around you. After 6 months, you will have learned the ropes and you will likely feel significantly more comfortable in your new college life, even if it is very different from a homeschool environment.
Look Into Student Services
Many colleges offer counseling for students who need it. This is a great thing to look into if you find yourself needing extra support, and it is not ever something that you should avoid or feel ashamed of seeking out.
You should also look into the accessibility options provided by your school if you have any disability or require accommodations of any kind. Remember that you deserve access to the supports that will make your college education productive and enjoyable. As a homeschooler, you may have had less trouble accessing these kinds of accommodations in the past than your traditionally educated peers. You may find that the process of learning to access these resources is a skill that you need to practice.
Set a Schedule
In order to get all of your schoolwork done without feeling too overwhelmed, set a study schedule and do your best to stick to it. Try to set a sleep schedule as well in order to get a regular and sufficient amount of sleep each night. College culture is often one of all-nighters and extended study periods, but working that way can be highly detrimental to your mental and physical health. You may find that your understanding of your own time changes in college, as you are much more beholden to the schedules of others than you may have been as a homeschooler. Set your schedule up around the classes you are taking and any other time commitments you may have.
Alternative College Options for Homeschool Students
Many homeschool students will complete high school, move away from home, and spend the next four years learning in a traditional college environment. However, this path is not for everyone, and there are some very valuable alternative options to consider when making this major life decision. As a homeschool student, think carefully about what you want and what you are good at before you apply to college.
Here are some alternative options that may be of interest:
Many college degrees can be completed primarily or even entirely online. As a homeschool student, self-directed learning is what you are probably most used to, so online school may be of particular interest to you as it may play to your strengths as a learner. If this is a path that you want to follow, be sure to consider the pros and cons carefully.
Some students choose not to pursue online learning because they want to experience the social environment of college or because they want to have access to college resources that may not be available online. However, online degrees are a growing option that should not be dismissed and that might be highly suited to your educational needs.
Obtaining a bachelor's degree is not the only way forward in a college setting. Many professions only require a 2-year associate's degree. This is something to consider as well, depending on the kinds of courses and professions that interest you. If you don't feel ready for a bachelor's degree yet, keep in mind that many associate's degrees can provide transfer credits that can be used to complete a bachelor's degree later on. It is also often easier to gain admission into these programs compared to 4-year programs.
Vocational schools and trade schools are a great option for students with non-academic interests. These postsecondary institutions can offer a wide variety of programs that tend to be highly focused on getting students prepared for the job market.
Art schools, theatre and film schools, technical colleges, vocational training, apprenticeships, and more are all great options to consider if you feel that a traditional 4-year academic program is not for you. Many of the jobs that vocational and technical colleges train for, like welding, are in high demand and pay well.
Top Tips for Parents of Homeschool Students
Parents and families of homeschool students are an integral part of the homeschool education system. This is equally true when it comes to helping students get fully prepared for college.
Here are a few things that parents can do to help their children with this transition:
Maintaining detailed records throughout your child's high school career is a great way to be prepared when the time comes to go to college. Students will need adequate documentation of test scores, courses completed, extracurricular activities, and more in order to be able to fill out applications in detail.
Helping Manage the Application Process
Managing students' time well is the best way to take the stress out of college applications. One thing you can do as a parent and educator is to treat applications and scholarships as a school course and have dedicated time set aside for students. Think of applications the same way you think of your child's English or math lessons in order to make sure that nothing falls by the wayside and that the process is not rushed.
Making Sure Your Child Completes All Requirements
As your children near the end of their high school careers, you will need to make sure that they have completed all of the necessary tests, exams, and courses that a high school diploma requires. Check all of the curricula regularly as your children approach graduation and help them catch up accordingly if needed. Make sure that you make use of homeschooling resources if you find them helpful.