You’ve done a great job educating your kids. They are bright, intelligent, well socialized and have an area of passionate interest. They have all the required classes, great grades, excellent test scores, and wonderful letters of recommendation. You have kept complete and accurate homeschool records. That means your child might be invited to a scholarship competition. They could be invited to interview at a prestigious school.
A college may want a thirty-minute interview for admission, or an eight-hour competition for scholarships. How do you prepare for something like that?
Do the Ground Work
During an on-site scholarship competition, colleges are looking for students with great social skills. Do they look you in the eye and have a firm handshake? Can they talk with anyone of any age? Are they polite, yet confident? One of the reasons why homeschoolers do so well in such competitions is that they often have these skills! So relax—most of your preparation for the competition has already been done! Schools are looking for someone who’s warm and friendly. They understand kids will sound like kids and not like adults. At the same time, they are trying to decide if “the lights are on” inside. For example, if they mention a current cultural issue, can the student give an educated opinion?
Colleges are looking for an investment. They want to give money to someone who is going to improve the bottom line of the college. That means they are looking for a student who will stay at that college for all four years, and graduate in four years with a good GPA. They want someone who might succeed in graduate school or scholarship in the future. They want someone involved on campus, who will be a leader among peers.
Homeschoolers do have an advantage. We have a curriculum advantage, choosing appropriate curriculum to educate our children. We have the testing advantage, by allowing our children to take tests that highlight their academic strengths. We have the comprehensive record advantage, by providing explanations of what we taught. And we have the character advantage, because we have had time to shape and mold the character and behavior of our children every day.
These are great advantages that can help. But when it’s time for your children to interview or compete for scholarships, knowing you have the advantage isn’t enough. That’s when you need lists!
Similar to a job interview, colleges will likely ask, “Tell me something about yourself?” For that reason, it is good to brainstorm some possible answers with your student beforehand. Colleges may ask specific questions about a student’s area of specialization. Think for a moment about some possible topics and stories your student could mention. Help your child also think of questions they could ask the college about their major, or the living situation. Bring anything they ask you to bring. Bring music if you will perform. Bring a portfolio if the art school asks for it. Read every bit of material they send, looking for a list of things to bring.
Here’s a list of important questions and ideas for students to review before the interview:
12 Ways to Prepare Your Thoughts
- Accept the offer to interview or compete as soon as possible
- Review your comprehensive homeschool records together
- Think about what questions you want to ask the college
- Make a list of what things you want to be sure to say about yourself
- Review the essay you submitted with your application
- Consider any special situation or transcript grade you need to explain
- Be ready to describe what ways you can make the college stronger
- Stay on campus
- Graduate in 4 years
- Earn a good GPA
- Be active on campus
- Have goals for after college
13 Practice Questions
- Why are you interested in this college?
- What will you contribute to our college community?
- What high school courses have you enjoyed the most?
- What is the most important thing you’ve learned in high school?
- How do you define “success?”
- What are your strengths? Weaknesses?
- What activities do you like the most?
- How would you describe your biggest achievement?
- What is the hardest thing you have ever done?
- What is your opinion on (insert current event here)?
- If you could talk to one person (living or dead) who would it be and why?
- How do you spend your summer?
- What do you expect to be doing 5 years from now?
6 Helpful Be—Attitudes
- Be genuine—really who you are, not pretending to be someone else, or stretching the truth.
- Be engaged—pay attention to the person speaking to you.
- Be assertive—everyone is in the same boat, so demonstrate confidence.
- Be interested—ask questions about the college, programs, and activities.
- Be polite—dress conservatively and speak politely to everyone while on campus.
- Be thankful—write a thank you note, both by email and postal service.
14 “Don’t Do” Tips
- Don’t look at the clock.
- Don’t look at your phone – turn it completely off and leave it off.
- Don’t be late.
- Don’t be arrogant or boast.
- Don’t lie, because they can figure that out.
- Don’t respond with only yes or no answers.
- Don’t tell the school they are not your first choice.
- Don’t memorize a prepared speech.
- Don’t ask questions covered by the college catalog.
- Don’t chew gum.
- Don’t wear lots of cologne or perfume.
- Don’t swear or use too much slang.
- Don’t be rude to the receptionist or staff.
- Don’t bring a parent into the interview.
Relax and Breathe Deeply. You have been well prepared for this moment. Think about a few ideas you can use for the general “who are you” questions. Think of it not as a competition so much as an opportunity to meet some great new friends and share your opinions on a wide range of topics. You CAN do this! Just let your light shine and have fun!
My students experienced this process when they went to an all-day competition for a full-tuition scholarship at Seattle Pacific University. SPU invited 108 students, and 10 were chosen. Two of the kids selected that day were homeschoolers – and both were my children! Boy, did we have a party that day! When they were invited to the competition, they were asked to bring something that represented them. My younger son brought a charcoal drawing he had made of the French Economist, Jean Baptiste Say. My older son brought a chess demonstration board that he used to teach chess in inner city classrooms. Every applicant had fabulous academics, great test scores, and an interesting passion. All of them were able to talk intelligently. There were some “Survivor” moments, when students would try to out-answer, out-talk, and out-volunteer others. My younger son was surprised that other kids would actually speak up more than he did!
I remember when they came home from the competition. They said, “I don’t know if I won, but I had a great time! All the kids were so nice!” They LOVED getting to know new people, really smart kids with lots of interests. They met kids who talked about interesting things all day, and had a blast!
Ultimately, we learned that our students weren’t chosen solely on their performance that day. They were also chosen for intangible reasons. How did they interact with the other students? How did they handle the competitiveness? How did they behave when they thought nobody was looking? In reality, the selection boiled down to socialization and character. Talk about a homeschooling advantage! Ultimately, I think they won because of how much fun they had. They went in with the right attitude and their authenticity and enthusiasm were apparent to all.ZEven my “quiet” son did well, thus proving it’s not as much about being outgoing as it is about being genuine.
Karla did a wonderful job of preparing her son for a scholarship competition, and has some fabulous advice!
Lee, I wanted to share my son’s scholarship interview and experience, but it was too long to put as a Facebook post. I hope you don’t mind hearing the longer version! My son, Jeremy, has been accepted at George Fox for the fall and plans to go into the electrical/computer engineering program. His SAT scores were such that he has already received the $10,000 scholarship. In addition he was invited to their scholarship competition in February.
On the way to the college his dad and I spent a fair amount of time discussing what we thought they might ask in an interview: “tell us about yourself,” “what are your strengths/weaknesses?”, “what are your goals?” etc. Several ideas came straight from your post about these interviews.
After the interview I grilled him on what he had been asked. He said they asked about steward leadership, which was the topic of the application essay. Then the professor asked, “I see that your GPA was 3.97. Why wasn’t it a 4.0?” Boy, we hadn’t anticipated that one! So Jeremy replied that it was his freshman biology class, explaining that he and biology just didn’t get along. Then the professor said, in an amused voice, “Wait, it says you are homeschooled! Your mama gave you a B!!??” Jeremy said, “Well, yes, I guess I deserved it.” And the professor added, “We homeschool, too, and we did that to our son once.”
We were quite amused by that, but secretly I was wondering if that lower grade would be a detriment since all the others probably had 4.0s, or if that would work in his favor since it showed he and his mom are honest.
Last week he got an email with the results of the competition. Guess what—he won! He will receive, in addition to the SAT scholarship, a scholarship for engineering, the highest for this competition. He also won a vocal scholarship as a non-music major.
There’s our story. Thought you might enjoy it, especially the comment about “mama giving a B.” Have a great day—and thanks for listening!
~ Karla in Washington
This is a great story from Karla, and it really points out how human and humorous an admissions person can be. Karla’s story has some great advice. Plan ahead for interviews. Practice questions with your child. Don’t give up hope!
If there was ever an instance that called for a heartfelt thank you note, it is after being hosted for a scholarship competition. Send your thanks by email and postal service and include specific details about your visit. Below is an example. Notice the specific compliments to the university, the professor of the class attended, the interviewer, and to the other students.
Thank you so much for both the scholarship competition and our interview on Monday. The competition in general was exceptionally well-organized for the candidates. The group discussion was excellent, fast-paced and quite insightful. I also thoroughly enjoyed my visit at the “Capstone: Political Economy” class, taught by Lisa Surdyk. It was fascinating to listen and participate as the class worked their way through current political issues using economic principles.
I also wanted to thank you for our interview and time together. You may not realize it, but the questions you asked, and even the visual feedback, really helped as I was formulating my thoughts. This was my first experience in an interview where I was able to talk about my motivation—not just what I’m passionate about, but also why. The beauty in fine arts is generally understood, but I am equally fascinated by the aesthetic of society and nature. I want to thank you for asking great questions.
Good luck in choosing the finalists from the exceptional candidates I met yesterday; you have quite a job ahead of you!
Be sure to thank the college for the interview or scholarship opportunity. Decisions may not be made for weeks, so this is your last opportunity to leave a positive impression. A thank you note provides a wonderful conclusion to a great opportunity.
Lee Binz, The HomeScholar, specializes in helping parents homeschool high school. Get Lee’s 5 part mini-course, “The 5 Biggest Mistakes Parents Make Homeschooling High School.” You can find her at http://www.TheHomeScholar.com/freebies
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