How do I help my homeschool student get into college?
Let us begin by saying that if your son or daughter is among the 2.3 million children presently being homeschooled in the United States, they already enjoy a statistical advantage in many important facets of life. Studies have linked homeschooling to greater community involvement in adulthood, a higher likelihood of civic engagement, and to above-average scores on measures of psychological and emotional development. On the more apropos subject of higher education, the college graduation rate for homeschooled students is 67%, nine points higher than the 58% clip for traditionally schooled teens.
Of course, if you clicked on this article, you likely already knew many of those positive stats about homeschooling. You are confident that your teen will thrive in college; it’s just that small matter of getting them admitted into one of their top-choice institutions that makes you a bit anxious.
No need to worry. In working with many homeschooled families and students over the years, we have identified the admissions factors that matter most and are pleased to pass our advice along to you.
Test scores, test scores, test scores
There’s no way around it—standardized test scores are more important for homeschoolers than for traditional high school students. Thus, it is imperative that homeschooled students should commit significant time to standardized testing. Excellent SAT, ACT, Subject Test, and AP exam results can go a long way toward compensating for a lack of formalized grades. This will be of special importance to students aiming for highly selective institutions, from the smallest liberal arts school to the largest flagship university.
Fortunately, test-prep resources abound and some of them are very affordable or completely free. We recommend fully utilizing the Khan Academy’s cost-free SAT prep courses. Practice may not make a perfect 1600, but it is likely to have a positive impact on your child’s performance. In fact, a study released by the College Board found that just 20 hours of targeted practice through Khan Academy resulted in an average score gain of 115 points.
In further good news, one recent study found that homeschooled students outscore their peers by an average of 72 points on the SAT, so approach those tests with confidence that the superb and rigorous education you have received has prepared you for success.
Different testing policies
As an extension of our previous category, it is absolutely essential for you to learn the individual testing policies that apply to homeschooled students.
For example, even test-optional schools usually require homeschool students to submit test scores and which test scores they require can vary. For example, at Sewanee, homeschooled students are required to submit either SAT or ACT scores. At Wesleyan, homeschoolers can choose between submitting the ACT or the SAT and two additional SAT Subject Tests. Bowdoin has a nearly identical policy to Wesleyan but further stipulates that two of the SAT Subject Tests must be either Math I or Math II and a science of the applicant’s choice.
Even schools that are not test-optional may have different policies for homeschooled applicants. Yale, to name one prominent example, suggests that non-traditional students would benefit from including SAT Subject Test scores. The University of Pennsylvania offers a similar sentiment, stating that subject-specific standardized test scores “may provide objective evidence and support for grades and ratings.” In other words—if you want serious consideration, submit them!
Additional documentation required/recommended
Some mainstream sources, even ones that we typically respect, all too often suggest that homeschool admissions is really no different from traditional student admissions. In our experience, this simply isn’t true. This is in no way meant to raise anxiety, only to inspire action. If your child will be applying to selective colleges and universities, you should provide extra documentation that hammers home the rigor of curriculum and achievement demonstrated by your student.
Items that are commonly requested or suggested by selective colleges include:
- A detailed syllabus for each discipline
- The amount of time devoted to the course
- An explanation of your grading scale and/or evaluative methods
- Educational philosophy
- Description of the homeschooling setting
- Reasons for homeschooling
- A reading list of every novel, textbook, etc. read during the high school years.
- Transcripts from any college courses taken
- An extra letter of recommendation for a work/internship supervisor or non-academic teacher (art, music, etc.)
The Common App as well as many institutional applications offer a “homeschool supplement” as a way to more formally request some of the materials outlined above.
Try a college course or two
If willing, students should seek out opportunities to take a couple courses at a local college. A strong performance in a college course — even at a two-year college — will go a long way toward alleviating any concerns about the student’s ability to transition into a traditional college setting.
We advise students to start with a course that is right in your wheelhouse. If you’re a science superstar, go that route. If you are a film buff, see if an elective in that realm is available. As parents, you want to make sure that your child’s first foray into a collegiate setting is a positive one.
As with any applicant, we encourage homeschoolers to “focus on depth, not breath” when it comes to extracurricular involvement. Some students, of all educational backgrounds, mistakenly think that the goal is accumulate a lengthy resume of activities to which you demonstrate a modest level of commitment. If you really want to improve your college admissions prospects, forget the laundry list and commit to the wholehearted following of your true extracurricular interests.
For those open to allowing your child to participate in activities, clubs, or athletics at your local public high school, then excellent, free options are right at your fingertips. Joining a robotics club, the chess team, or a varsity or junior varsity sports team can be a great experience. If you prefer your children to look outside of public school for activities that don’t require in-school participation, you can do any of the following: get a job, volunteer in the local community, or enter academic competitions.
AMC (American Mathematics Competitions) and AIME (American Invitational Math Examination) are two mathematics competitions that are easy for homeschool students to access and will be impressive to a college admissions committee.
Seek out additional unique opportunities
A homeschooling schedule puts you at an advantage over many public or private school students who are locked into a firm schedule for nine months per year. While they will only be available to partake in experiences during the day during the summers, you may have the flexibility to engage in meaningful and sometimes life-changing experiences year-round.
This flexibility could place you in prime position to pursue opportunities working in a research laboratory or assisting a professor at a nearby college. Likewise, this same adaptable schedule could very well open the door to a charitable venture or unique paid employment opportunity that simply isn’t an option for a traditional high schooler.
Want more advice?
With our extensive backgrounds helping students with traditional and non-traditional high school experiences, we encourage you to sign up for a free consultation with a member of the College Transitions team. We are able to provide your homeschooled student with top-notch college counseling services that ensure that their college years will be every bit as positive and fruitful as their previous school experience.
Dave has over a decade of professional experience that includes work as a teacher, high school administrator, college professor, and independent educational consultant. He is a co-author of the books The Enlightened College Applicant (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016) and Colleges Worth Your Money (Rowman & Littlefield, 2020).