I know, sounds determinate, like "if you don't do this you won't get in." But stick with me.
I'm not telling you what to do. That is not the point of this post.
And, there's no way for me or anyone else to tell you exactly what to do for your high school learner. Only you know your student or his or her unique circumstances.
The purpose of this blog post is to share current information so you can be intentional; equipped to make informed decisions for your high schooler. As a mom who's walked the high school path with four very different young adults and an evaluator/consultant who has worked with many families, I understand what works for one student may not work for another.
However, like it or not
there are definite items colleges will request of all their applicants--public, private, and homeschooled.
Knowing what those items are offers applicants opportunity to prepare and to keep paperwork current as courses are completed, hours are served, and achievements are made. I have learned from experience that although we homeschoolers like to dig our heels in the sand and stand our ground (thinking we should or shouldn't have to deal with certain admission requirements), our dug in heals may leave us stuck with little or no options.
Test Scores. Like it or not, most universities with a traditional mindset still believe testing helps validate grades on a transcript. Many colleges believe that test scores are especially important for home education graduates because their educational environment is potentially less standardized than traditional public or private schools. On the other hand, some universities are moving toward test optional scenarios (as stated in this Washington Post article). Stetson University is one of those schools.
Though some schools are now test optional, others are not. Still others offer the applicant to make a choice based on his or her strengths. Homeschooling parents find It best to research and then prepare to meet the testing requirements for colleges of choice, if test scores are an admission must.
Knowing test score expectations allows a young adult to be prepared, to choose a specific test from the options, one which will best complement his or her strengths, and then to study for the special characteristics of that test. Some colleges have the same test score requirements for public, private, and homeschooled graduates. Other universities have stricter standards for homeschoolers and even require additional SAT Subject Test scores.
Emory University has specific test score requirements for homeschoolers. According to their website,
Grades. Universities like grades. Again, this is a traditional educational evaluation method used to place (at least in theory) public, private, and homeschooled graduates on the same plain (whether you agree or not). Knowing whether a college prefers unweighted or weighted GPAs is another aspect of grading with which parents should become familiar.
Grading in high school doesn't have to be scary. Check out my detailed blog post Grades...in High School. I highlight how we graded some of the most traditional and the most unique courses of our high school journey.
Transcripts. This is another traditional requirement for the applicants and perhaps the most stressful for homeschooling parents. Hence, why some homeschoolers will argue this document is not necessary. However, a large percentage of colleges and universities will have this requirement. Some colleges including Wheaton College, are offering a transcript template on their homeschool admission page. Again, preparation can combat fear. As you build your understanding of transcripts, consider:
- Most universities want this document on one page; neat, concise and eye-appealing, easy-to-read.
- The majority of colleges are looking for variety--in content and format. In regards to content, many universities are eager to see depth and individual interests. An unique interest for a student applying as a veterinary medicine major might be Introduction to Veterinary Medicine. Schools will also be looking for the specific courses they require for admission, for example Biology. Class format is important, too. Universities want to know your student can learn and interact in traditional, online, seminar, and hybrid courses. This is why lab sciences and foreign languages are often required for applicants. Overall, they are looking for well-rounded students who will impact their campuses.
- Some universities require 16-20 core courses for admission and will offer suggestions on their homeschool admission pages as to what courses they are looking for. Wheaton College is one of those universities.
- Be sure the transcript you create contains the information requested by the colleges to which the student is applying.
University of North Florida requests a transcript containing the standard information required of all applicants, including home educated graduates.
Letters of Recommendation. These documents are required of all applicants, public, private, and homeschooled. And, for some universities, this is the second most important documentation on behalf of the applicant. Letters of recommendation are especially important for the home educated applicant as they offer an unbiased perspective of the student. In other words, though the parent may act as the guidance counselor and write a letter from this position, the university will want a glimpse of the student from a source outside of family. Often a youth pastor or instructor from a traditional setting--online, co-op classroom--a coach, or an employer can offer the information a college is needing. In addition, some colleges will have specific guidelines about who they want to write a letter (clergy, employer, coach) as well as when the letter must be written (an instructor from the student's senior year). Not all colleges require specifics letters to be written, but when they do, be sure to follow their guidelines.
For example, when our first son applied to highly-selective universities, one of the schools required a letter of recommendation from an instructor during the senior year. Though my son had had teachers in previous years through local co-op classes and individual instruction, his senior year courses were taken mostly through home study. However, he was finishing up a second year of Spanish online. I called the university and asked if a recommendation from his online teacher would be acceptable. They agreed, though I wondered how she could even write a recommendation having never met our son. Her letter focused mostly on his work ethic, academic ability and integrity, and timely assignment submission. All good points none of his other letters addressed.
When our high school students ask mentors, supervisors, or instructors for letters of recommendation we encourage them to follow up with a note of thanks and gratitude. I outlined that process in a blog post, The Thank You After the Letter.
Interviews. Nine years ago when our son began to receive offers for admission and scholarship, interviews were essential if the student intended to accept a Presidential scholarship. Today however, interviews are becoming more popular for admission. Interviews provide a chance for the student to talk about his or her achievements and aspirations as well as offer an opportunity to exhibit proficient communication and interpersonal skills. College personnel want to know what value the student will bring to the campus. Rice University is one university which recommends a personal interview.
Additional paperwork may be required. Research each college. Determine what types of documentation each university is requiring. For example, St. John's College asks applicants to write an essay for admission. And, Vanderbilt University suggests student submit an optional curriculum chart. Arizona State asks home educated students to submit a lab sciences evaluation. Though a first reaction may be frustration--as it was for me when I had to write essays about our educational methods and grading system--it is wise to step back, breathe, and take a few minutes to ponder the request. After a thirty second pause, the request may not be as bad as first perceived.
In our situation, though I was initially discouraged that our son's top school required me to write essays, once I started the process, the pondering of our home education methods was beneficial and indeed helpful for us as a family. I was reaffirmed that indeed we had worked hard together and our son was extraordinarily prepared for his next steps. In the end, that school offered our son a Presidential scholarship, four full years paid tuition.
Once we know what will be required for admission, we can get down to the business of creating the documents and records we need. We'll take a closer look at specific admissions paperwork in the next post.
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.