“Being homeschooled isn’t enough to make you interesting anymore.”
This is what a college admissions officer told me last year as I was interviewing him for a book I was writing about college admissions for homeschoolers. It was not something I expected to hear, of course, and as I continued to think about it, I realized that this opinion represents both good news and bad news for homeschoolers.
Good news because it seems we have reached a point where our kids’ educational background is not considered as odd or as unusual as it used to be. Bad news because the standards and expectations for homeschoolers interested in pursuing higher education seem to be evolving.
But how? And how can we best prepare our students?
As a homeschooling mom of two boys, one of whom will be applying to college next year, these are important questions for me, as they are for many families who are homeschooling their children through high school. So, as I continued my research, including conducting a national survey and additional college interviews, two guiding questions drove me forward:
1. What are the criteria and measures, both official and unofficial, used to assess homeschooled college applicants these days?
2. How can we, as homeschooling families, help our students best represent themselves through the admissions process?
In pursuit of answers to these questions, I ended up connecting with over fifty admissions officers, university faculty, and other higher education professionals from all sizes and types of schools around the country. As it turns out, these professionals showed a surprising willingness to answer all kinds of questions, and to provide some truly helpful insights and advice that don’t appear on any college admissions web sites.
So, if your homeschooled child is applying to college this year, or even if college applications are still a few years off, here are some important suggestions worth considering:
1. Make sure your student’s academic qualifications are irrefutable
While the majority of admissions officers who review homeschoolers’ applications believe that our students are likely to do as well (or better) academically than traditional students, there is still some skepticism about “mom grades.” To ensure that there is no room for doubt about your student’s academic qualifications and readiness for college, include outside classes taught and graded by other teachers as part of your high school plan, and prepare to take some tests as well.
Taking at least a few formal classes and including them on your transcript not only demonstrates academic ability, but also provides objective grades for admissions officers to consider. And as for tests, even “test optional” schools often want SAT or ACT test scores from homeschoolers, and many recommend taking two or three SAT subject tests as additional evidence that your child has mastered core subject areas.
2. Demonstrate that your student can appreciate different perspectives
Admissions officers want to know that our students have been exposed to a wide variety of ideas and perspectives to ensure that they have a foundation for thinking critically, a big focus in college classes these days. Creating and providing reading lists of all the books your child has read during high school—both fiction and non-fiction—will give schools some insight into your child’s interests in addition to showing the broad range of topics and perspectives they have considered. Additionally, personal essays are a great opportunity for your child to demonstrate their ability to compare and contrast aspects of an issue that interests them.
3. Show that your child can work with others
It seems that there is still some level of concern about how much time homeschooled students spend working and socializing with others. When I asked, “How well do you expect homeschooled applicants to cope socially in their first year of college compared to traditional high school graduates?” over a quarter of admissions professionals responded that they thought homeschoolers would “cope worse” socially. This concern was mirrored in many of the comments as well.
The main piece of advice here, as one director of admissions said, is to “make sure they have engaged in group activities of any kind—athletic teams, academic competitions, scouts, music ensembles or bands, etc.” These activities can be included on the application, in appropriate areas of the transcript, and can also be referred to in essays.
4. Highlight unique accomplishments
Many of the admissions officers I spoke with mentioned that one of the key questions they ask themselves as they review a homeschooler’s application is, “How did this student make the most out of the freedom and flexibility that homeschooling provided them?” In short, they want to see what interests your student pursued, and whether they took advantage of opportunities they may not have had in a traditional high school. Internships, apprenticeships, guided research, conference participation, working with mentors, volunteering—these are just a few examples of the learning activities many of our children are already involved in. It’s important to highlight them during the admissions process.
Regardless of the type of college or university your child is targeting, these four issues will be important to address in the application. It’s also important to remember, however, that just as all homeschooled students are not the same, all colleges are not the same, either. State universities tend to be the most bureaucratic, and therefore tend to be less flexible in their requirements around standard transcripts, specific high school course requirements, and test scores. Selective colleges (Stanford and Brown, for example) often have a holistic review process, as do smaller schools which, in addition, frequently provide access to designated homeschool counselors you can contact directly with your questions.
Overall, the news is very good, though. As one admissions officer pointed out, “Homeschooling is more recognizable than it once was. This makes many of us in the admissions community more comfortable in evaluating a student’s readiness for the rigors of a challenging college curriculum.” So, it seems clear that colleges and universities are ready to welcome our children and support them in reaching their goals—we just need to be ready to help them help us in doing that.