College Admission Requirements for Homeschoolers- Part III: Application Paperwork

Great to have you back for post #3 in this four-part series on college admissions.

In part one I talked about preparation. Part two offered insight on admission must haves. In this post, the third in the series, I will look at the details of some of the paperwork colleges may require.  

Admissions paperwork for homeschoolers may differ from public or private schooled applicants. It will definitely vary from university to university. Therefore, being knowledgeable about the potential paperwork which may be needed is helpful as the high school years approach and move forward.

I remember when--eight years ago--my first high schooler was in the midst of applying to his top colleges of choice.

It was August of his senior year. I had researched, been to workshops, talked with moms. Not all I had learned and heard was needed. Yet, as we sat at the computer working on forms and paperwork, I was thankful for pockets full of potential. I remember joking with my son about how I had no way of knowing what cards we would have to play but I was grateful we had a deck from which to choose!

Transcripts. A transcript is a summary--a visual representation--of a young adult's high school academic record. This paper will represent your student, the student's educational experience, and your homeschool. Universities appreciate transcripts which are concise, presented in a clear, easy-to-read format. A professional looking transcript allows universities to take your homeschool seriously, like, "This family knows what they are doing."  

Like mama used to say, "The first impressions matter."

Accurate record keeping provided the information I needed for the transcript, mainly grades, credits, course titles, and test scores. Having all this information in one place helped me pull this document together quickly when a new baby delayed my record keeping and I needed a transcript for a good student driver discount. 

What about format? This question is asked often. After researching (can you tell I like this stuff?) formats, I created a document I knew would meet our applicant's needs and look professional. I've used the same transcript format for all my young adults as well as the young adults for whom I have created transcripts via consultations and evaluations. The format works. "This is the best homeschool transcript we've seen," says one highly-selective university. 

With our transcript template finalized, I simply edit the pertinent biographical information, courses, credits, and grades. This is much easier than starting from scratch every time we add another high school student. Be aware, some universities don't care how the transcript is formatted, others do. Some offer transcript formats on their sites. Flagler College reminds home educated applicants to make sure the person who prepares the transcript to remember to sign the document. Though this sounds silly, I know parents who forgot to sign their transcripts. The document is considered invalid without a signature. 


Finally, the transcript must include the signature of the individual who prepared it.
— Flagler College website

Parents often ask me if I include course codes on my transcripts. I don't.

I offer a detailed reason why I don't on this blog post. 

Course Descriptions. States have standards. High schools offer courses based on those standards. A description of these courses is published on the high school's website. If the college personnel had questions, they could access course content and standards (at least in theory).

Courses taken at home vary from home to home in methodology, structure, and content giving college administrators no standard for evaluation or comparison. This is a good thing, say homeschoolers. I would agree. However, this is the reason college admission officers considering home educated applicants sometimes require course descriptions to accompany transcripts. These short, concise paragraphs allow college personnel to become familiar with the student as well as his or her academic achievements and interests. 

Course descriptions serve two purposes.

First, course descriptions clarify and validate course content. This is especially true when applying to universities which refuse to accept parent-generated honors courses (which happened to us). Once the admission personnel read a course description, determination may be made as to whether the content is equivalent to a traditional honors level course--in their eyes.

Course descriptions also validate a student's academic abilities and achievements. And in some cases (ours included) universities use these course descriptions to determine invitation to honors college or offering of potential scholarship. 

This blog post about course descriptions may be helpful as you research and discover the requirements of your student's top college choices. And, it will help you learn how to put in words the unique and extraordinary learning which is happening in your home.

Reading Lists.This is definitely one of those documents which is not widely requested yet good to be knowledgeable about in case it is needed. 

 Reading lists are not required by all colleges. 

Fifteen years ago a homeschooling mom, who had graduated two students, told me to keep a cumulative reading list for my then middle schooler. Actually, by our state statute, we are required to keep a resources list, so it really wasn't a stretch to continue in high school. However, I didn't really understand why she was so insistent and I questioned her. She told me a story of how one of her graduates was asked to submit a reading list. Not knowing which universities my son would apply to, I decided I would consider her experience and wisdom and keep the list.

Indeed, I needed the reading list. One of the universities to which my son applied required a reading list. WHEW! I was grateful for the wisdom that mom so bravely shared. Only one college required the list. However, I had the list compiled and decided to submit it with every application we sent (those were the "old" days when applications went by mail) because most of the schools he applied to were highly competitive. 

Do we keep reading lists, even though few colleges require them? Yes. Our students keep a cumulative reading list, recording title and author of every high school level (or higher) book read. Why? First, it is required by our state statute, and I don't want to scramble to reproduce what we can fairly painlessly record as my students finish their reading. In our family when our learners begin to read high school level or higher materials, the mantra is

"read the book, record the book, get the credit." 

This simple statement extends freedom for our students to select independent reading and earn credit. Keeping the list not only allows a cumulative reading list to be compiled--by academic year--but gives me a tool from which to cut and paste (integrate) student-selected reads into high school courses. 

Letters of Recommendation. Letters of recommendation are written and submitted by a third party who can attest to the academic accomplishments, work ethic, and personal character of a student. The majority of colleges will ask for letters of recommendation for admission. Each university is likely to request letter from different sources. Be prepared to ask instructors, teachers, band directors, employers, supervisors, pastors, or coaches if needed. Remember, I talked a bit about these letters in post #2 of this series. 

Essays or writing samples. Universities may require applicants to submit essays, writing samples, or personal statements with the admission packet. Essay topics can often be found on the college website or on the college application. Researching and practicing essay writing before actually submitting an application is helpful and recommended. This blog post offers some of the most common essay questions colleges ask. 

Bucknell University requires extra writing samples for home educated applicants. 


Home-schooled applicants submit the same application and testing as other students, but we require additional writing samples.
— Bucknell University website

Some colleges have a word count requirement for their essays. Therefore, high schoolers may benefit from practicing writing within a specific word count. For example, I asked one of our seniors to write a 500 word essay one afternoon during the first weeks of school. He wrote a first draft in the time and word count limit. A day later, we sat and worked through grammar and mechanics, organization and word choice. We followed up with a final draft. The student was motivated because the content mattered. He wanted to attend the college requiring the essay. Win for the application. Win for composition. We made a copy for his English work samples which were shown to our evaluator at the end of the year.

Some colleges ask writing samples from applicants. Amherst College suggests a short writing piece and a research paper. 

Additional paperwork may be needed. For example, Emory-Riddle Aeronautical Univeristy suggests a student resume, though it is not required. University of Pennsylvania requires additional information to be present in the paperwork provided. Their homeschool applicant page states


More information is better… In the Secondary School Report and elsewhere in your Penn application, please share your motivations for choosing a rigorous home school journey. Why did you or your family seek home schooling as an option for your education? Describe your curriculum in detail and tell us how you, your family or oversight group have organized your pursuit of knowledge across core academic disciplines including humanities, math, social and natural sciences, and foreign languages. How has being home schooled helped you grow intellectually and personally or enhanced your opportunities for learning? The aim is to help the admissions committee understand how you have worked to “demonstrate mastery” and “distinguish excellence” across the curriculum. Anything you or your academic supervisor can do to explain and contextualize your educational circumstances can only be helpful in the Penn admissions process.
— University of Pennsylvania website

Each piece of paperwork has its nuances and importance, just as every university has its requirements. This post is simply an introduction to each document a family might be asked to submit with a college application. Families can research their young adults top colleges of choice for specific requirements, especially if those choices include military academies.  I have written extensively about each of these documents--with examples--in my book Celebrate High School which is on sale until October 7.

I hope you will join us for the final post of this series, The Big Picture. 

Celebrate High School: Finish with Excellence
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High school is not a one-size-fits all experience. The journey is unique for every student. Celebrate High School equips parents and students of any educational philosophy with easy-to-follow explanations, ready-to-use examples, and parent testimonials.  

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This blog post is intended to offer an example of personal experience. It is in no way intended to be legal advice and should not be taken as such. Parents own the sole responsibility for the training and education of their children.