Back in the day, the 4.0 grade point average—straight A’s—meant you were at the top of the academic heap. It had summa cum laude written all over it, and colleges readily admitted students with straight A’s because it meant they had demonstrated mastery over every subject in the curriculum.
But then, over time, high schools introduced Advanced Placement classes, and top-level students found that they could graduate with grade point averages higher than 4.0. Not to mention the problematic trend toward grade inflation, and colleges began incorporating many factors into admissions decisions—with straight-A students sometimes not making the cut.
And then there was the question about what to do with homeschool kids. How should colleges handle the rising tide of talented (and often high-achieving) students from non-traditional education environments where grading standards aren’t set?
Fortunately, today there’s widespread familiarity with—and acceptance of—homeschool students in the university setting. Yet for many homeschool parents, the thought of giving their student straight A’s remains a gray area. Will admissions departments doubt the truthfulness of a perfect 4.0 (or higher)?
To help out, here are three questions to think about:
1. Will colleges accept my homeschool grades?
Colleges differ greatly in how much weight is given to transcript grades in admission and financial aid decisions. Typically, each student’s GPA is just one factor out of many—including college admission test scores, application essays, extracurricular activities and service projects, interviews, and more. The good news is that homeschool students are not treated any differently than students coming out of public or private high schools.
Beyond this, it’s important to remember that colleges routinely accept some transcript grades and reject others. For example, one may accept driver education and not physical education, while another accepts the reverse. And many colleges adjust grades based on the difficulty of the class. Here, students that take math courses at a certain level and higher may receive additional credits beyond a 4.0, and AP courses may yield additional extra credits.
2. Do colleges doubt the truthfulness of transcripts with all A’s?
Nowadays, admissions officers are used to seeing transcripts with a 4.0 GPA come in from homeschool students—and they know that homeschool parents are often harder graders than their non-homeschool counterparts. They understand that if homeschool students don’t understand the subject, they repeat the material until it’s mastered.
That being said, it’s important to demonstrate that your “homeschool 4.0” isn’t just a number pulled out of thin air. You may need to provide the details of how you evaluated your student—including your standards and methods of grading—and then let the college decide how they will use the grades. One suggestion for how to do this: include a cover letter with your transcript outlining how you evaluated grades. That way, colleges will see your methodology right off the bat.
Remember that if your student has really solid SAT or ACT scores, many colleges may accept a homeschool 4.0 GPA at face value. And if you can offer details on grades earned in dual enrollment or classes taken in homeschool co-ops, all the better. In this way, colleges can see that others have evaluated some of the grades as well.
3. What if my student doesn’t get a 4.0?
Although there can be a great deal of pressure on homeschool students to overachieve in order to prove that they really belong in a college environment, it’s important for homeschool parents not to worry how it may look on a transcript if your student has performed at lower than an “A” level. As our mothers taught us, honesty is always the best policy, and B’s can demonstrate that your grades are real—and that you’ve given thoughtful consideration to your grading system.
The most important thing is to make sure that the total grade on the transcript accurately reflects everything your student has done—and every area in which you have evaluated their work, including discussion, daily work, narration, research, lab work, and more.
The bottom line: grading is part art and part science. Yes, you can give your homeschool student straight A’s—if it’s deserved and you can back it up and show that your 4.0 is comparable in skill mastery to that of other students applying from more traditional learning contexts. However, it’s not the be-all, end-all that it once was, and well-rounded students who do not carry straight A’s can still get accepted to top schools based on a combination of many other factors used by colleges in their admissions decisions.