Published on October 23rd, 2014 | by Christie0
College for homeschoolers?
Perhaps one of the more complicated exercises in homeschooling is that of gaining admittance to college. While the process of actually sending in a college application is relatively simple, one seems to be expected to begin planning to submit college applications several years in advance of actually doing so. The procedures one is expected to go through in order to prepare for college are laborious in the extreme to most homeschoolers; deadlines, paperwork, and standardized tests are precisely the types of things one chooses homeschooling in order to avoid. The proscribed series of tests to take, forms to submit, and hoops to jump through may tax even the bravest of homeschooler’s sanity. While most high schoolers have a guidance counselor to consult in planning their route to college, homeschoolers are left to trace their own path. But that’s half the fun of it, isn’t it? Isn’t it?! Well, if truth be told, the process isn’t much fun, but if I was able to stumble through the procedure, then it is entirely possible for every homeschooler on the planet to do so as well.
My strategy for the entirety of my…ahem…college planning days was to wait until a few days before a deadline arrived, and then panic.
This is hardly the most efficient way to go about things; in retrospect, I should have panicked several weeks before t he deadline arrived. It has since dawned on me that many homeschoolers are as ill prepared (or, shuddersome thought, more ill prepared) as I in going about the test taking/college applying routine. Therefore, in the hopes of eliminating unneccessary panic from the universe, I present a brief summary of my advice about college preparation for homeschoolers:
Keep records of your homeschool scholastic activities. Again, this is something I learned the hard way, since by the time I reached my “senior” year of homeschooling I couldn’t remember what the heck I had spent my “freshman” year doing. You don’t need to keep a daily record of every potentially educational activity (though, if you’re the type of person who likes doing such things, by all means go ahead); you simply need to keep records of the types of things that you will eventually put down on your college application and “high school” transcript. For example, you might include: music lessons taken, sports participated in, community college classes taken, subjects studied in depth, awards received, Great Books read, volunteer work done, research projects accomplished, and the like. Yes, right now it seems unlikely that you’ll ever forget about your stint as a volunteer at an animal shelter, or your tour of Parisian art museums; however, the memories of even such vivid events frequently escape one when filling out a college application under a deadline.
If you regularly write, create artwork, compose musical works, etc, keep a portfolio of your work. This may aid you in demonstrating to college admissions officials that you have some type of artistic talent; or, if not, the endeavour will at least give you a neat looking portfolio to play with. If you’ve ever been mentioned in a magazine or newspaper, keep clippings of that as well (well, keep the clipping if it says something like “Homeschooler Takes First Place in Such and Such Science Fair”…a clipping along the lines of “Neighborhood Teen Treed by Angry Skunk: Firefighters Wore Gas Masks During Rescue Effort” is unlikely to help your college admittance chances).
2)Use your “High School” days in a productive, nay, distinctive fashion.
Homeschooling gives one the opportunity to radically distinguish oneself from the rest of the (largely traditionally schooled) college applicant pool by demonstrating unusual talent or ambitious work in some scholastic field, sport, or other activity. Unlike many high schoolers, homeschoolers are provided with enough time and freedom to focus on and truly excel at their most pronounced talents…so do so! Start your own business, write a piece of incredibly useful piece of open source software, take up competitive ballroom dancing, create an online resource devoted to some subject on which you have a great deal of expertise, publish a book of poetry, start a serious scientific research project, apprentice yourself to an architect, win the county fair contest for best strawberry jam, or do any and everything else along those lines. Capitalize on your talents. This course of action will not only impress college admissions officials as regards your talent, seriousness of purpose, and scholastic acumen, but will also aid you in deciding what you want to spend the rest of your life doing (bwahahaha…I’m going to spend the rest of my life creating largely useless websites on the subjects of homeschooling, entomophagy, and the planet Xeetron…or perhaps not…).
3)Research your college and major choices, and plan a course of study accordingly.
You should begin vaguely thinking about future college choices and majors during your “sophomore” year. There is no need to panic if you haven’t the faintest what you want to do or where you want to go; you won’t have to make that variety of decision for a couple of years, and even if you do find some favorite college or major, the chances are high that you’ll have changed your mind about it by the time you become a “senior”. However, you should at least attempt researching things along the lines of: what the majors are available in whatever field(s) you are most interested in, which colleges carry those majors, the educational quality of the (less expensive) state colleges in your area, etc. Contact admissions officials at the colleges you are interested in and ask them things like: what is the policy of the college towards homeschooled applicants, what subjects do they recommend that potential applicants take while in high school, and how do they expect homeschoolers do demonstrate their aptitude in these subjects. While I don’t suggest structuring your scholastics primarily upon the recommendations of various colleges, you should ensure that your homeschooled course of study meets the minimum requirements of the colleges you are most interested in. Fortunately, most colleges have a fairly similar set of requirements: four years of english, four of math, two years history/social science, two years laboratory science, and, depending on the college, two years foreign language. If you are planning to major in one of the hard sciences, you’ll probably be expected to take three years of laboratory science.
Again, this is one area where homeschoolers have a great opportunity to stand out from the crowd: if you have a strong leaning towards one major or subject area, devote serious study to the topic while still in “high school”. If your passion is for the biological sciences, take community college classes in biology, chemistry, and the like. If computer science is your cup of tea, study computer architecture until your brains fall out. And, if you’re not entirely sure what you want to major in, it is never a bad idea to obtain a grounding in the basics. A firm grasp of english and math, along with demonstrable proficiency in science, history, and a foreign language, combined with a genuine love of learning, will be sufficient to gain you admission to almost any college imaginable.
4)Stay on top of testing dates!
High school students have guidance counselors to nag them about these things; homeschoolers have the unenviable task of keeping track of the test dates on their own. Visit College Board Online to get the official test dates, register for the SAT/SAT II online, etc. Usually, you take the PSAT in your junior year, then the SAT and any SAT IIs you need in your senior year.
The PSAT is something like a practice SAT; taking it gives you experience with standardized test taking, and, if you score high enough, may qualify you for a National Merit Scholarship. You have to sign up for the PSAT through a local high school…the test is administered in October, but you’ll need to contact the high school officials well in advance in order to register. Click here for the Official Information on the subject.
The SAT and SAT IIs are the important stuff. Most homeschoolers won’t have a “real” GPA, so college admission officials will rely heavily upon your SAT scores. Obviously, it would be preferable to have high scores. I STRONGLY recommend studying for the SAT, preferably with the Princeton Review test prep books (this is the one I used for the SAT). The SAT is a three hour test of your math and verbal skills (or of your test taking skills, depending on how you look at it); the questions are of the straight forward multiple choice variety, and the test is timed.
There are SAT testing dates sprinkled in the spring and fall, and the registration procedure for homeschoolers is exactly the same as that for high schoolers (e.g. register with College Board). Almost all colleges will require either SAT or ACT scores; some colleges will require SAT II scores as well (or, even if they don’t for regular students, may require them from homeschoolers). The SAT II is shorter than the SAT (one hour long, as opposed to three), and measures your aptitude in a specific subject. Query the colleges you plan to apply to as to whether or not they need SAT II scores, which subjects they want SAT II scores in, and how many SAT IIs you ought to take (usually two or three).
Depending on the colleges you plan to apply to, you may also need to take the GED, or, if you’re in California, the CHSPE. The GED/high school proficiency tests provide you with the equivalent of a high school diploma; almost all colleges will accept GED scores as a proof of high school graduation. The GED is reportedly uncomplicated (to pass, you must have scholastic ability comparable to that of 67% of graduating high school seniors…homeschoolers can pass this with their eyes closed) , but very long; seven hours and thirty-five minutes long. You must be at least 16 years of age in order to take the GED (presumably because younger folk would pass out after such an extended length of test taking).
5)Take community college classes.
If there is a community college in your area, definitely take a class or three each semester in any subject you are interested in or need in depth work on (most community colleges will let you do this, though some will force you to jump through several hoops before letting you attend). Taking community college classes is infinitely valuable; the classes give you actual college experience, provide you with college level education at an exceptionally reasonable price, give you access to genuinely interesting instructors who, besides aiding you in understanding the scholastic material, may well write you a letter of recommendation for your college application, give you a “real” GPA to show off to admissions officials at four year colleges, and aid you in developing study habits suited to traditional lecture classes (note taking was a hard one for me). In my experience, the community college teachers are competent, interesting, and affable, the college bureaucrats are evil, and your fellow students are a mixed lot, ranging from apathetic to motivated to brilliant to psychotic.
Community college classes are especially helpful with subjects that you dislike but need a firm grounding in (I took college math classes through pre calculus, since I couldn’t summon sufficient motivation to plod through workbooks at home), or in subjects that you really adore and want to learn as much about as possible. The only problem that I’ve encountered with community college classes is that over time, they tend to imbue you with an antipathy for learning, brought on by the natural emphasis of many college classes on learning for the sake of passing tests. However, you’ll find that the exact same effect (in spades) would be produced by attending a four year college full time (well, perhaps not at my four year college, but in general); in any case, taking community college classes is an excellent way to discover whether or not you want to attend college.
6)Research scholarships and financial aid…preferably well in advance of when you’ll need the knowledge
I’m still in the midst of going through the financial aid process. While I can’t even make an attempt at describing the process in a cogent fashion (it appears to consist primarily of filling out blitheringly complicated forms, with a few Rigid Deadlines thrown in for the sake of variety), I can point you towards those who can:
-FAFSA on the Web
-Student Financial Assistance
Hoo boy. The above is but the barest of outlines of college preparation; for more information on the subject, visit College Board’s Path From Home School to College, the Colleges That Admit Homeschoolers FAQ , and Homeschool/Teens/College. For the curious: I more or less followed my own advice through my college preparation years, took the CHSPE (and passed), the PSAT (with a score of 1320 or some such figure), the SAT (1420: 800 verbal, 620 math, and STOP THAT SNICKERING!), applied to Thomas Aquinas College , was accepted, and am cheerfully looking forward to life as a college student. It is my belief that homeschooling provides the best possible preparation for college life, as college demands independent study habits and motivation, an excellent scholastic background, and a love of learning; all of these traits are more easily cultivated in a homeschooled environment.
I also believe that most homeschoolers will be able to gain admittance to college without undue difficulty; homeschoolers are at a disadvantage to high schoolers only in bureaucratic matters, and few homeschooling families need worry about the homeschooled education not being up to snuff when it comes to college admissions. To all those planning to attend college: I hope that this blather has been of some help to you!