Don’t wait until graduation to prepare your teens for applying to colleges! In this complete walkthrough, learn all about the process and the practical things you should be doing right now to prepare for the next step in your child’s education.
The following information is directed at families who already have an understanding of homeschool high school requirements. If you would like more information on how to homeschool in high school, then you can find it by watching our free workshop videos, or by contacting our consultants for product information.
High School Years: Standardized Testing
(If you prefer not to use standardized tests, skip down to High School Years: Well-Rounded.)
There is no ideal time to begin preparing to apply for college (although December of senior year may be a little late!), but homeschooling families may want to begin loose planning in August of sophomore or junior year. This is the time to contact local public or private high schools to find out how you can meet the September registration deadline for the Preliminary Scholastic Assessment Test (PSAT) that is conducted each October. The results of this test, often used as a predictor for the future SAT, can reveal the areas in which your student could use improvement. Submitting your student’s results is also an opportunity for him/her to become a National Merit Scholar. After the PSAT, students in their junior year then have a few months to prepare for the standardized tests that are commonly-required by institutions of higher learning.
As mentioned in Applying to College in 5 Easy Steps, the major nationally-standardized tests are usually first taken in the spring of junior year. This leaves the option of retaking the test in summer or fall for a higher score. The ACT is offered each year in April, June, September, October, December, and February. The SAT is offered in January, March, May, June, October, November, and December.
I found The Princeton Review’s Cracking the ACT to be an excellent resource. It was my main means of preparation before taking the test and earning the highest score out of everyone that I knew – on the first attempt! Suddenly, applying to prestigious universities became a more realistic possibility. Some of these schools also required the additional testing that I address below.
In addition to the ACT and SAT, universities may recommend or require Advanced Placement (AP) and SAT II Subject Tests (in fact, homeschoolers may be expected to provide the results of these tests even if other students are not – see the “Requirements” section below). Not only do these tests demonstrate a student’s mastery in a particular subject, but they may also be transferable to college credit or used to determine advanced placement in college courses. Preparation courses are offered online or can be studied independently (consider our AP prep by Light Speed and Institute for Excellence in Writing). Tests can then be taken at local high school.
The ACT is much more common in certain places (like the Midwest), but SAT II Subject Tests were required for my applications to some East Coast schools. I studied independently during the summer and took the tests at a high school that was an hour’s drive away. The minor inconvenience was definitely worth it – I recently graduated from one of the universities that required the tests.
CollegeBoard, the group that brought you the SAT, also administers the College Level Examination Program (CLEP). Like AP, the thirty-three CLEP exams can be used both to demonstrate knowledge and earn college credit. Exams like AP and CLEP may save families money in the long run – especially if a student enters college as a sophomore or junior, but keep in mind that they may also render you ineligible for certain scholarships (e.g. those available only to freshman). Find the official study guide here.
Similar to CLEP, a final option for credit-by-exam is DDST. Students have thirty-eight exams from which to choose. Not all schools accept CLEP and DDST for credit; however, the results of these exams may still be used to supplement an application so it’s important to check with each school.
What if you decide not to partake in nationally standardized testing? Enroll your child in dual-enrollment classes if possible (the reasoning for this is explained in the Obstacles section below). Universities appreciate this experience because it not only provides an official transcript, but also evidence that a student can perform well in various learning-environments. Fortunately, many community colleges offer free or reduced tuition to high-school-aged students. Otherwise, consider online courses or auditing a course for no cost (but also no credit).
This is also a good time for your child to take on a leadership role at a job or demonstrate initiative by finding an internship. Joining a club or group showcases individual passions and volunteering for a worthy cause may highlight character strengths (it also doesn’t hurt that these activities help to dispel the myth that homeschoolers are anti-social!).
Now, Let’s Apply to College
You’ve been a parent, a friend, a teacher, and now you must take on another role: college counselor. It may seem daunting at first – especially if you have no experience with applying to college or if your experience is a little dated – and you may worry that your child is at a disadvantage without the trained counselors offered at schools, but helping your child find the best college for him/her does not have to be difficult and does not require an “official” counselor!
Why college counselors are not always all they’re cracked up to be:
- They must divide their attention among their other duties and other students. Counselors are often responsible for high school class schedules and helping students with personal issues – not to mention the other upperclassmen also applying to college.
- Their experience may also be limited. Individual schools may have different requirements. My counselor admitted that she had never helped a student apply to the colleges that I had chosen and ended up doing nearly as much research as my family!
Why parents should feel perfectly capable at guiding the admissions process:
- No one cares more about a student’s future. Of course that’s a no-brainer, but just a reminder that even the kindest, most helpful counselor does not compare to one’s own parent!
- You are able to research in greater depth. Counselors have a general understanding of the college application process, but as mentioned above, they may not know the specific details of a school any more than you do. Rather than trying to understand broad themes, you need only research the individual schools that you and your child are considering.
So you have a lot to learn in a relatively short amount of time – where do you start? University admissions offices are a great resource – their only job during admissions season is to get the best and the brightest (your child!) to come to their school. Most colleges have entire web pages dedicated to the admissions process and a knowledgeable admissions staff to answer all of your questions.
Your first step should be to find out the requirements for homeschool applicants. Some schools feature an entire page dedicated to homeschool admissions, while others only touch on the subject in their FAQ section. Some schools require supplemental material from homeschoolers (e.g. SAT II Subject Tests). Schools that do not have special requirements may place more value on certain submission materials (e.g. standardized test scores). Colleges may require that homeschool applicants meet extra admissions requirements as well as general admissions requirements – you may have met all of the homeschool requirements only to realize that you did not list the correct number of courses on your transcript. When in doubt, it’s best to contact the school’s admissions office. To help you get started, I’ve provided links to popular universities’ homeschool admissions pages below:
- Brigham Young University
- College of William & Mary
- Dartmouth College
- Duke University
- Indiana University
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology
- Princeton University
- Stanford University
- Vanderbilt University
- Yale University
Most schools will request an “official” transcript, but The HomeScholar, Lee Binz, reassures readers that this is just educational jargon. She provides samples of the transcripts that you can make at home on her website. Our consultant Deanne recommends Teascript.com as a free option. For more detailed information about creating transcripts (and diplomas), see Janice Campbell’s Transcripts Made Easy. Cambell, who homeschooled her sons until college, not only explains how to create the actual transcript document (with samples and detailed instructions to follow at home), but also includes advice on naming classes, ethical grading, and granting credit.
A common theme found by those who have researched homeschool higher education is that private universities tend to have more homeschool-friendly admissions processes than public universities. However, that should not deter you from looking into any school that may be a good fit for your child. If a school has special requirements that you are unable or unwilling to meet (common examples include the GED test and nationally standardized tests), then do not immediately cross it off of your list! Consider asking the admissions office if there is a way to work around the issue instead. Some homeschooling families have found a loophole that allowed them to apply without meeting all of the requirements. Dual-enrollment courses can be especially useful in these situations! Admissions policies are known to change – even from one year to the next – and some families have even convinced schools to alter their outdated policies.
A common concern is that the SAT and ACT, which will be aligned with new Common Core of State Standards, will be difficult for students whose education did not adhere to CCSS standards. However, Ginny Sueffert, a writer for Seton Magazine, is confident that a solid homeschool education will produce students who are more than prepared. She even took a sample test herself! Find her article here.
In fact, studies suggest that homeschooled students in college outperform their peers from public and private schools across the board. One such study, from St. Thomas University, found that homeschool students had a higher average ACT composite score, more transfer credits, and higher GPAs. On the ACT specifically, homeschoolers had the highest scores in all areas except math (where they were on par with Catholic school students). Once in college, homeschoolers also had the highest GPAs and the best four-year graduation rate.
Homeschool success at higher learning institutions is often attributed to the skills that naturally come from having been homeschooled. A quick Google search will turn up articles dispelling the myths of homeschool socialization (or lack thereof) and touting the benefits of home education once students are at the college level.
For even more information about the application process (including applying for financial aid), consider these helpful books.
Cafi Cohen’s book, Homeschoolers’ College Admissions Handbook covers everything from deciding whether higher education is right for your child to finding financial aid once those acceptance letters start arriving. Some of the websites and references may be obsolete in this thirteen year old book, but the general advice is timeless. Cohen homeschooled her two children – and sent one to college and the other to the Air Force Academy.
Jump Start Your Future offers a Christian perspective on applying to and attending college. It’s geared more toward students who have already decided that they would rather attend a religious school over a secular school.
College Without High School, by Blake Boles, is directed at teenage unschoolers and includes general life advice as well as information about applying to college. Boles was in college when he switched his major to Alternative Schooling.