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We’ve heard from a ton of parents that navigating the transition from homeschooling to college admissions can be seriously anxiety-inducing. Maybe your family has found a rhythm in the personalized, flexible educational environment homeschooling provides. But as your child gets older and “graduation” looms closer, you might suddenly feel out of your depth!
You might also be hearing from friends, extended family, and random strangers in the doctor’s office “there’s no way your kid will be able to get into a good college as a homeschooler.” Is it impolite? Probably. Is it true? Let’s dive in and figure it out.
On the one hand, homeschoolers might face hurdles in the college application process due to the lack of conventional school records like accredited transcripts or school-based letters of recommendation. Sometimes, without a standard high school diploma, colleges might lean more on standardized test scores to gauge a homeschooler's academic readiness. There's also the aspect of potential biases or misunderstandings among college admissions officers regarding the rigor of a homeschool education. College admissions officers are busy, and some sources say they spend less than 15 minutes reviewing each application, so they might operate under snap judgements and gut feelings.
On the other hand, homeschoolers often exhibit traits and have experiences making them particularly appealing to colleges. The personalized nature of homeschool education fosters independent learning and self-discipline. A study led by Michael Cogan at the University of St. Thomas revealed that homeschooled students graduated college at a rate of 66.7%, which is 10% higher than students from public schools. The flexibility in homeschooling also allows students to pursue specialized interests and extracurricular activities, enriching their college applications.
At Prisma, we’ve built an online high school blending those benefits of homeschooling with a structured college preparation process. In this post, we’ll share what our college admissions experts know about preparing your homeschooler for higher education.
Yes. Now breathe a sigh of relief!
Some sources even say colleges accept homeschoolers more often than peers in traditional schools. In one data set, UNC Chapel Hill admitted 47% of homeschoolers, while their standard admission rate is closer to 17%!
And yes, homeschoolers can get into Ivy League schools, too. Homeschoolers have had success gaining admission to Yale, Columbia, Harvard, MIT, and Stanford. The sky’s the limit!
The biggest hurdle homeschooling families face when figuring out college is a lack of information. Typical high school students get fed each step by a guidance counselor; at Prisma we have specialized coaches who support learners in this process.
Let’s break down each component you’ll need, and provide insight into where the process for homeschooled students might differ from the norm.
As homeschooling parents, you have the autonomy to issue a high school diploma to your child upon completion of their high school education. While the diploma can be created at home, it’s the high school transcript colleges and employers usually request to see, as it provides a detailed record of the student’s academic journey. Some families opt to use services or homeschool programs offering diplomas for a more official recognition, and some homeschooled high schoolers opt to get their GED, though this isn’t necessary. We also have some diehard homeschooling families at Prisma who decided to switch to an online private school for high school to ensure adequate preparation.
Before worrying about a diploma, you need to create a transcript, and this ideally should happen at the beginning of your child’s high school career. Sit down with your child to plan their high school academic journey, ensuring alignment with your state’s requirements for graduation. Listing all coursework, extracurricular activities, and other relevant academic experiences is the foundation of the transcript. Prisma learners add to their transcript every 12 weeks and build it as they go.
Each course, whether taken at home, online, or at a local community college, should be documented on the transcript to provide a comprehensive view of your child’s high school education. If you’re looking for assistance in creating transcripts, organizations like The Home Scholar and Transcript Maker offer services that could be of help for a fee.
Calculating GPAs is another crucial aspect to consider. You have the liberty to assign GPAs, but it’s essential to do this fairly and systematically. Common methods include assigning each course a credit value and a numerical grade, then calculating the GPA by dividing the total number of grade points earned by the number of credit hours attempted. The typical grade point scale is A = 4.0, B = 3.0, C = 2.0, D = 1.0, with variances for +/- grades. You can decide the percentage points that determine the letter grades, ensuring this process reflects your child's mastery and understanding of the subject matter.
What courses your child takes matters, too. Competitive colleges look fondly on dual enrollment or AP classes that award college credit during high school. For more on how to access college courses as a homeschooler, here is an excellent resource.
Engaging in extracurricular activities is vital for homeschoolers. Colleges seek students with more strengths than simply academics. Extracurriculars showcase homeschooled applicants’ interpersonal skills, leadership abilities, and community involvement. A proactive approach is necessary to discover and engage in these activities, as traditional avenues may not be accessible. Some states allow homeschooled kids to partake in extracurricular activities offered by local public schools, although the availability and requirements may vary.
Community service is especially crucial as many schools require a certain number of hours, so make sure your homeschooler has this. Try to document an ongoing service project like ones learners complete at Prisma and have a log of hours spent to compare with those attained by traditional students.
It's essential to document your child's extracurricular involvement meticulously, highlighting the roles held, skills gained, and the impact made on the community. Prisma high schoolers create a simple Google Site portfolio documenting their academic and extracurricular achievements; consider this strategy.
Though they are controversial, the SAT and ACT theoretically serve as standardized metrics to help colleges evaluate applicants. For homeschooled students, these tests are particularly crucial, since college admissions officers may not implicitly trust parent-created transcripts & GPAs as a reliable measure of academic readiness.
Preparing for these exams can begin early. Recommendations for preparing homeschoolers include emphasizing reading comprehension, studying Greek, Latin, and French roots, working on grammar and language expression, and getting accustomed to the format of standardized tests from as early as middle school. Consider having your child take NWEA MAP (this is the test Prisma learners take) through a resource like Homeschool Boss if you don’t regularly incorporate multiple-choice tests into your homeschooling. In 10th grade, your child should take the PSAT, which gives them a preview of their test-taking abilities and allows them to qualify for National Merit Scholarships.
Homeschooled families have various resources at their disposal for SAT and ACT preparation. Online platforms like Khan Academy, which has partnered with the College Board (the organization that administers the SAT), offer personalized test prep plans. Other resources, like the College Board's own practice materials or ACT's official guide, can also be beneficial.
An important note: these tests need to be taken in-person, so make sure you reach out to your local school district as early as possible to register your child.
You may have seen in the news recently that many colleges are moving away from an emphasis on ACT and SAT scores in admissions and have gone test-optional. We recommend always submitting test scores for homeschooled students, as they provide an objective measure of academic capability and readiness. You might find some schools will ask for this directly.
Securing robust letters of recommendation (LORs) is a vital step for homeschoolers. Unlike peers in traditional schools, homeschoolers might not have easy access to the teachers or school counselors who usually pen these letters. Letters of recommendation are all about showcasing a student's capabilities, character, and achievements from a perspective other than a parent's.
Let’s say that again: steer clear from writing your child's recommendation letter or roping in any family member for this task. It’s essential these letters come from unbiased individuals who can offer an honest appraisal of your child’s abilities and character.
Let your child take the reins in asking for these letters—it's a good practice in self-advocacy and ensures the recommender can provide a personalized account. When your child approaches potential recommenders, like tutors, coaches, or leaders of community groups they've been involved with, ensure they have a discussion on what aspects to highlight in the letter. They might want to provide a resume or a list of accomplishments to help the recommender craft a more detailed and personalized letter. It's also a good idea to have your child discuss the submission deadline with the recommender and offer to provide any additional information that might be needed. Also, remind your child to express gratitude towards the individuals penning their recommendations—it's a significant favor that deserves acknowledgment.
The college essay or personal statement is a crucial component of the admissions process, offering a window into the applicant's personality, experiences, and aspirations. For homeschoolers, this piece of writing carries additional weight. It's a chance to articulate the homeschooling experience, showcasing the unique perspectives and skills acquired outside the traditional classroom setting. However, the essay shouldn't solely focus on homeschooling; it's more about revealing who you are, how you think, and what values drive you.
Practicing essay writing ahead of time, perhaps through online courses or writing workshops, can help homeschoolers become more adept at expressing themselves effectively in this format. In our Literacy Labs at the high school level, Prisma learners practice this genre of writing well in advance of college application season.
In addition to personal statements, homeschoolers might also face supplemental essays required by some colleges. These essays often ask applicants to elaborate on their interest in a particular college or program, or to discuss a significant event or person who has influenced their educational journey. As such, homeschoolers should be prepared to articulate not only their personal narrative but also their academic and extracurricular interests in a compelling and coherent manner. Make sure to preview the specific application requirements of your child’s top school choices!
Homeschoolers have various avenues to explore when it comes to financial aid and scholarships for college. There are both private and federal student aids available, including loans, work-study programs, grants, and scholarships.
Generally, financial aid is categorized as need-based, while scholarships are often merit-based. Specifically, Pell Grants are federal grants based on financial need, with a maximum award of $6,895 for the 2022-2023 academic year. Besides federal grants, many state-specific scholarships and grants are provided by various organizations and government agencies to homeschoolers. Be careful to review requirements for merit-based scholarships well in advance; at Prisma, we’ve had to design our high school curriculum and transcript framework intentionally to allow learners to qualify for scholarships.
It's crucial for homeschoolers to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as it is a source of college scholarships. The FAFSA should be completed during October of the senior year for college-bound students.
In the realm of college admissions, a "spiky" application refers to a profile where a student exhibits exceptional talent or dedication in a specific area or field, as opposed to being well-rounded across multiple disciplines. Colleges often appreciate students with a distinct "spike" as these individuals are seen as potential leaders in their respective fields. This concept signifies a shift from the ideal of a well-rounded candidate to one who shows a particular dedication to a single interest or a set of related interests, symbolizing a high level of passion and competence.
Homeschooled students have the liberty to delve deeply into their areas of interest, making them potentially favorable candidates for developing a notable "spike." Creating a portfolio can significantly benefit homeschoolers in showcasing their “spike” and their unique educational journey and accomplishments. A well-curated portfolio can include samples of schoolwork, standardized test scores, a list of extracurricular activities and competitions, awards, community service hours, and letters of recommendation, among other things.
For instance, a homeschooler with a "spike" in filmmaking could build a portfolio that includes their best films, awards or recognitions received, related extracurricular activities, and internships or projects related to filmmaking. This approach not only highlights the depth of their expertise and experiences in filmmaking but also provides a holistic view of their academic and personal journey.
Since Prisma High School uses project-based learning, our learners are well-equipped to create a “spiky” portfolio website with the support of their learning coaches. For more on what kind of projects they include, read this profile.
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