Thirty years ago, there were fewer than 20,000 students being homeschooled in the United States. The number is probably close to two million now. Some families choose homeschooling for religious reasons. Others think the mainstream educational system stifles the love of learning and believe homeschooling nurtures independent thought.
As homeschooling has become more common, admissions officers have become more homeschool-friendly. Ten years ago, these students were often viewed with skepticism. Admissions officers wondered if they were prepared for rigorous college-level studies. But studies have shown that these students perform as well as or better than institutional-school graduates, and many colleges now welcome homeschooled students.
In some ways, homeschooled students may be better prepared for college work. They are likely to be self-directed learners who know how to manage their time. Free to pursue their own interests, they may teach themselves the Chumash language or spend months tracking the migration patterns of monarch butterflies. By immersing themselves in subjects that they find fascinating, they demonstrate the intellectual curiosity that admissions officers love to see in prospective students.
As the number of homeschooled students has increased, more options have become available. While some parents create their own curriculum, other families purchase curriculum packages from accredited schools. Families should check college websites to make sure they are covering the required college preparatory subjects.
Some students design an educational program that includes community college classes and online courses. Gifted students can earn a diploma from Stanford University’s new online high school.
Going the nontraditional route can make things more complicated. It’s easy to evaluate applications from students in large high schools because they can be compared to other students from that school. There are standards. But how do admissions officers assess a homeschooled student’s academic achievements? What does an “A” in biology mean if Mom is the one giving the grades? And how seriously can admissions officers take a recommendation letter from Dad?
Homeschooled students should consider rounding out their educational plan with summer programs and community college courses, where they can get grades and recommendation letters from non-relatives. Taking a college class also helps students prepare to transition from homeschooling to college, as they learn to deal with deadlines and work in groups.
Successful homeschooled applicants, like other students, will be involved in something beyond their studies. It doesn’t matter whether they choose sports, scouting, community theater, religious groups, or community service. Working and earning money is fine too. As long as they are doing something that involves interacting with other people.
Homeschoolers won’t get school announcements reminding them to register for SAT, ACT or other tests, so they need to be sure to keep track of deadlines. When it’s time to apply to colleges, homeschooled students should be prepared to submit a detailed description of their coursework, including a list of textbooks.
Standardized test scores will be very important for students who don’t have a transcript from a traditional high school. Even if subject tests are not required by a college, homeschooled students can use them to reassure admissions officers that they really do know their history and chemistry.
After test scores, essays are probably the most important factor in admissions decisions for homeschooled students. Admissions officers want to see that they have strong writing skills, and they want to understand the student’s motivation for choosing a nontraditional path. Students can describe the challenges of homeschooling, but should be sure to emphasize what they have gained from the experience.
Interviews give students who haven’t attended a traditional high school the chance to show admissions officers that they have social skills and are prepared to live in a college community.
While most students will continue to attend traditional high schools, for the independent-minded student, homeschooling can be well worth the extra effort.