When the regular school schedule doesn’t work for students, many parents opt for homeschooling. Whether it’s because they need flexibility with time, or they need an accelerated pace so that they can work ahead of their peers, many parents opt to homeschool their kids. But once kindergarten to 12th grade is finished, homeschooled students need to think about college and how they are going to transition. This can be a stressful process but with a bit of preparation, parents and kids should be able to make the transition smoothly.
Table of Contents
Setting the record straight about homeschool
What is homeschooling?
Homeschooling is a parent-led, home-based education for students. This education in the home allows students to have a much more flexible schedule and curriculum than the norm of students that go to public school. Parents are able to use specialized pedagogical approaches and help their kids accomplish more academically. In fact, because of this freedom, students are able to focus more on extracurricular activities (this is how teenage Olympians like Shaun White still got their education).
Students are able to learn in a safer environment that is free from school-related violence, drug and alcohol use, and other forms of bullying. Essentially parents and students have control over when to study, what to study, how to study, and even where to study.
According to the National Home Education Research Institute, more than 2.3 million students are homeschooled in the United States, a trend that is growing at an estimated 2-8% per year.
Homeschooling is not done because of religious or political reasons—there are a wide variety of people from all religions, all ends of the political spectrum, and all income levels that homeschool. Homeschool students are also not dependent on public, tax-funded resources for education and are thus less of a burden on taxpayers than a public school student. According to a study by the National Home Education Research Institute, a public school student typically costs taxpayers an average of $11,732 per year. Taxpayers do not pay for homeschool students; in fact, home school families spend an average of $600 per year per student for their education.
Misconceptions and Myths
Even though homeschooling has been a popular option for years, there is still some misconception about the academic level of homeschooled students. There are persistent myths that homeschool students do not learn as well as traditional students, that parents aren’t qualified to teach their children, and that if you are homeschooled you will have a harder time getting into college if at all.
However, a 2016 study conducted by the College Board (the governing body behind the SAT test) has found that homeschooled students tend to score higher than the national average. A home-educated student typically scores 15 to 30 percentile points above public school students, a finding that was not dependent on the parent’s level of education, or whether they had teaching credentials. Because of this, homeschooled students are actively sought after and recruited by colleges.
There’s also a misconception that homeschooled students are not as well socialized as traditional students and don’t make friends with other children their age. This could not be further from the truth. In fact, studies have shown that because homeschool students don’t have to sit in class so long, they’re better socialized. Many homeschooled students get to focus on their extracurricular activities and make lots of friends out in the world. Some states have even passed legislation that enables homeschooled students to participate in public school sports teams. In short, they get a lot of socialization because of homeschooling rather than in spite of homeschooling.
Further Reading: 15+ Homeschooling Statistics You Need to Read in 2020
What makes homeschooled students attractive to universities
Beyond attractive test scores, what really sets homeschooled students apart from the rest of the pack is their ability to thrive in unstructured environments. They have to be responsible for their own time and balance their pursuits in a way that public school students don’t. Homeschooling allows students to choose their academic and social pursuits because the student is the one that is most interested in it—a fact that is not lost on college admissions officers.
From Home School to College
The transition from high school student to a college student is rough on all students, regardless of homeschooled or traditional schooling background. However, for homeschooled students there are a few more hurdles to jump through that can be difficult to navigate largely because the homeschool experience isn’t quite as simply packaged as a high school transcript. Some schools in recent years have made great strides in becoming more homeschool friendly by accepting a body of work rather than a transcript, but these schools are the exception, not the norm.
This section of our guide is to help give students and parents a bigger picture understanding of the process of how to get into college.
The Basic Process
The basic process for homeschool students to get into college is the same as most other students: study hard, get good grades, search for colleges, take the entrance exams, jump through the admissions hoops, and get financial aid.
1. Searching for the right school
The right school for you is the one that is accredited for the major you want to study. When looking at different schools read up on whether they offer courses that you will be interested in taking—you’re more likely to do well in classes that you’re actually interested and invested in. Another thing to consider is whether there are online classes available in this major or of the school is a state or private school. State schools are often more affordable for students that live in the state, while private colleges and university often have other perks (religious affiliations and other benefits).
2. Take the entrance exam. The ACT or the SAT?
There are a lot of different college entrance exams out there but the two most popular are the ACT and the SAT. Some people say that the SAT may be better for students that are more verbal while the ACT is better for the analytically minded. But there are others that claim the reverse is also true.
If you’re really concerned about getting the best scores, we highly recommend taking both tests. Most colleges will take the best scores from either test to make their admissions decisions. Then again, that’s also a lot of preparation work for students that are generally pressed for time.
It’s never too early to start preparing for the tests. Standardized tests are very different from normal academic tests. Practice helps to ease the anxiety of tests, and students will become better accustomed to testing situations.
When it comes to admissions, the standardized test is not the end all bottom line. Yes, it has weight in determining scholarships and admission, but many schools do take into account the fact that some students do not test as well as their GPA may indicate. The test score is just one part of the student package. A student with a low test score and high GPA is still an attractive candidate. What schools are really looking for are students that are willing to work hard and to overcome low test scores. A high test score and low GPA may indicate that the student is not motivated enough.
All schools require students to apply for the school, meaning in most cases you go online and fill out an online application, submit the materials they require, and then pay a fee. For most schools, this means getting letters of recommendation, obtaining transcripts, and providing records of community service or achievement. As part of the admissions process schools will require an essay (or even a video essay).
Many people stress over the essay part of the admissions process, but in reality, this is your chance to shine. Get creative and tell the college why you’re a great candidate for their school. The essay is a place to talk about your personal goals, any achievements or awards you’ve earned, community service you have performed, and any teams or organizations of which you’ve been a part.
One way to reduce the stress of the application process is to work with the admissions counselor at your prospective school. An admissions counselor is a representative of the school that is usually the first point of contact between a family and the school. They can help you collect information about your prospective school and they are on hand to answer any questions you may have about the admissions process.
The main thing to remember about the admissions process is that deadlines are extremely important. Don’t miss any deadlines, and get your stuff in before the deadlines just to be safe.
4. Financial Aid
Going to college can be an incredibly expensive adventure, so it’s important to figure out how to pay for it. Lucky for students, there are many financial aid options available. During the admissions process, be sure to talk to the admissions officers about financial aid, scholarships, and student loans that you can apply for.
Further Reading: Most Affordable Online Colleges
3 Potential Challenges in Adapting to College
1. Misconceptions about homeschool
Like we mentioned in the introduction, there are a number of misconceptions about homeschooling that persist. Homeschooling is often criticized as creating students that have undeveloped social skills due to the lack of companionship of other children, and have inferior academic abilities. This is a social stigma that students entering college have to anticipate.
Fortunately, there are many homeschool groups like the Excellence in Education resource center that work with homeschooling families to change that perception. These misconceptions can easily be overcome with the right kind of academic support (like music classes and lab science experiences).
2. Adapting to Classes
Homeschool students are independent and hardworking students. This independence can sometimes lead to difficulties in adapting to classroom environments where students are more docile. Because homeschoolers are unaccustomed to atmospheres of enforced “conformity” they may not be familiar with the unwritten classroom etiquette rules. They may share lengthy anecdotes when answering questions, and may not be good at sharing speaking time with other students.
This is largely because homeschool students have to transition from very small class sizes to classes of being one student in a room of 30 or more. These difficulties can be overcome with more experience in larger classroom settings with other students. The classroom setting can also help homeschool students prepare for some of the inefficiencies of the college classroom (busy work being assigned, instructor absences, lack of clear instruction).
One of the main reasons parents choose to homeschool their children is to keep them away from influences that may conflict with moral or religious principles. A typical high school student may have to deal with students that regularly use drugs and alcohol, whereas a homeschool student is free from this kind of exposure.
At the college level, parents aren’t around to monitor outside influences. This is why it’s best for parents to teach homeschoolers how to deal with these kinds of situations long before they ever leave home. Teaching them the “why” goes a lot further than simply telling homeschoolers to stay away. When there are situations that parents have not planned for, they can rest assured that their kids will apply the principles they’ve learned and come out on top.
Preparing your Student for College: Tips for Parents
Parents, you’ve already done so much for your kids. You’ve kept them safe, fed, educated, and they’ve grown so much under your care. It’s almost time to let them find their way in the world. Here are some of the things that you can do to help your kids get into college.
Build autonomy and Initiative
Preparing your student for college begins long before their junior or senior year. It can start before they’re even in their high school years. By creating a learning environment where students are able to take initiative and autonomy for their own education, they’ll be more prepared for college than any amount of studying for tests.
College is a time where students are solely responsible for meeting the expectations of classes and professors. Because of this, it’s critical that students are as ready as possible for the independence of college life.
Homeschool students can learn to take initiative by planning out research paper assignments, by learning to call and make appointments for themselves, or by simply finding things that they are interested in on their own. The ability to think and act independently without having to look to others for permission is one of the greatest gifts you can give your kids.
Keep Amazing Records of EVERYTHING
One of the most important parts of the process is to keep good records of your kid’s academics. We really cannot stress how important this step is in preparing your student for college. All college will require a transcript of some sort as part of the admissions process. Turning the experiences of a homeschool student into courses and credits may seem like an impossible task, but there is one thing that parents can rest assured in: there is no “correct” or standard transcript—even among the different school districts in the same state.
What this means is that parents have a bit of flexibility when it comes to creating a transcript. Preparing good records can be something as simple as keeping a written record of each course, a general description, and a score in the class for calculating GPA, or it can be using transcript programs to keep up with classes or grades.
A transcript record should have the following information:
- Student name, the name of the homeschool, address, and phone number
- High school course list ordered by year (grades 9-12)
- The institution where each class was taken (eg. homeschool, online schools, community college)
- The grade scale being used in the homeschool
- Overall GPA
- Credits given per course (listed per semester per year)
- Expected graduation date
- Parent signature with a date
There are a number of different methods to evaluate high school credits. For more information on evaluating credits the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) has a great guide on the topic.
Keeping records goes beyond academics as well. If your student is involved in extracurricular activities or volunteers in the community, keep track of the number of hours spent at these activities.
AP Classes and Community College Dual Enrollment
Speaking of earning credits, dual enrollment and AP classes are a great way to get a head start on college. AP (advanced placement) classes are college-level classes taught at a local high school. Homeschool students can AP classes like public school high school students. They can complete the curriculum and coursework associated with the class at their own pace but will need to schedule an exam with their local public school. When the course is completed, the coursework itself will be used for the grade on the high school transcript, while the test score will be used in determining college credit (the same procedure for public school students).
Dual enrollment classes are usually offered through a local community college, but there are a number of different four-year colleges that offer online dual enrollment. Dual enrollment allows students to take college courses while still in high school. What this means is that these classes prepare students for college because they have to complete coursework at the college level. Homeschool students are also able to take advantage of different lab-based classes that require equipment and resources students may not have access to at home.
Dual enrollment classes often don’t require an exam at the end of the year to gain college credits, but you do need to maintain a grade of C or higher. Coursework in dual enrollment classes may be more advanced and require more homework than AP classes.
There are some disadvantages to dual enrollment. Some states only allow credits earned via dual enrollment to be used at state universities. What this means is that if a student plans on attending a private college, those credits may not be accepted (it ultimately depends on the private college).
Colleges with online dual enrollment:
Belhaven University, Bryan College, Liberty University, Regent University (Regent provides PERX discount to HSLDA members, and is very welcoming of homeschool students), and Taylor University to name a few.
What to do about the GED
Generally speaking, if you are able to provide good records of all the completed coursework, GPA, number of credits earned, and transcripts from other outside institutions, then you don’t need to provide a GED or diploma to the schools you’re applying to. The GED is still an option for homeschoolers that want to be very thorough, but many schools will not require it. Homeschool students just need to declare that their homeschool education meets state law requirements.
Extracurricular activities are an important thing that colleges look for in their prospective college students regardless of their background. This is something that homeschool students already do a great job with because of the nature of homeschooling. Being a part of community groups, volunteering and performing service in the community, playing on sports teams, all show the extra initiative that helps a homeschool student stand out from their peers.
Letters of recommendation
All colleges and universities require letters of recommendations for all incoming students. Obviously, there may be a bit of a bias when parents write letters of recommendation for their own kids, so colleges prefer letters from outside teachers. For this reason, it’s a good idea for students to ask coaches, mentors, clergy and other religious leaders, and volunteer coordinators for letters of recommendation.
Preparing for College: Tips for Students
Students, it’s time to strike out on your own and chase your dreams. Here are a few tips that will help you get ahead in college.
Read, read, read, read read
You probably knew this one was coming, didn’t you? Read a lot, and learn to read quickly. As a college student, you’re going to do a lot of reading in college. Every professor will want you to read entire chapters of the textbook before the next class (sometimes two or three chapters even). That’s 20-30 pages of dense academic reading, per class. Depending on the number of classes you’re taking sometimes that means you have to read 60-90 pages of textbook within two days.
90 pages! That’s a lot. Especially if it’s dense material that takes time to understand.
What to do? Reading the material is essential for success in classes. That means that learning to read quickly is an essential skill. There are different ways to develop this skill.
- Learn to skim quickly and pick out and highlight important things.
- Make effective notes so that you don’t waste time backtracking because you didn’t understand a passage.
- Learn how to speed read. Speed reading isn’t just reading fast, it’s about reading several phrases or sentences at once so you can get the main idea of the text quickly. Sounds like a useful skill for college right?
- Read difficult subject materials. Don’t just read pulp fiction or top ten lists on the internet. Take time to read more intellectual articles and stories. Your reading comprehension will improve and you’ll be able to handle college-level reading a lot better.
One of the byproducts of reading a lot is that you also develop a better sense of how to write, which leads us to our next tip.
Write, write, write, write, write
If you think that you’re not going to need writing as a skill to get by in this world, you are deluding yourself and you need to stop right now. There are a few fallacies when it comes to writing that we hear a lot of here at EdSmart. “Oh, I’m going to be an engineer, I don’t need to write for classes.” “My profession doesn’t require writing.”
WRONG. Everything requires writing.
As a college student, you’re going to do a lot of writing. You’re going to write paper after paper for every class. You’re going to write emails to professors and companies for internships. You’re going to write cover letters, resumes, reports, thesis, statements of intent, articles, and more. But the writing doesn’t stop in college. As an adult you’re going to do a lot of writing. You’re going to write emails. You’re going to write reports. You’re going to write presentations. You’re going to write briefs, releases, announcements, articles, opinion pieces.
That’s a lot of writing. So, it helps if you start now and improve your writing ability. No one is going to take you seriously if you write the way you may text or communicate digitally. Practice writing in the five-paragraph essay form, and then move beyond that. Good writing requires revision, so go back and fix your mistakes. Read a lot—understanding what makes good writing means you’ll be able to write better.
On top of that, there are a lot of people in college and the workforce that don’t write well and wish that they were better writers. Don’t be one of those people. A good writer is an essential part of every team.
Just do it now. Future you will thank you.
Glossophobia is the fear of public speaking. It’s a very common fear, and according to Psychology Today, 25 percent of people experience it, and that 75 percent of all people experience some degree of anxiety when it comes to public speaking. But here’s the thing, being comfortable with public speaking will put you light years ahead of your peers.
Learning to speak publicly or in front of groups of strangers can help fight the anxiety before it sets in. It can improve your self-esteem, and help you make a good impression with new friends and roommates. Public speaking also helps with organization and communication skills (it’s not the ability to get up and ramble about nothing). You’ll also be able to earn all the participation points (yes, a lot of teachers actually count participation points) in classes, and become an active part of the class rather than a passive learner.
Freedom! You’re away from Mom and Dad and you’re finally not going to have anyone telling you what to do and when to do it. Isn’t it amazing? Not so fast. College has a lot of demands on your time. Between classes, sports, hanging out with friends, dating, and homework, you probably will be stretched in more directions than you’ve ever been before. That’s why time management will be more important than ever.
You may have had some experience managing your own time with your homeschooling experience but time management as a college student will be significantly different without the structure of your own home. With all the demands that school and friends will place on you, you will need to figure out best how to honor your commitments, without sacrificing too much.
Meditation and Focus
With all the things that are clamoring for your attention right now, it’s more important than ever to unplug and find time for yourself. A great way to do this is through meditation. Meditation has a proven track record for helping people deal with stress, anxiety, and depression, as well as increase focus, learning concentration, memory and attention span. The slow, repetitive breathing movement focuses attention on the breath and not on all the problems of the day. A mindfulness practice of 10 minutes a day can have enormous benefits to your life as a student. And let’s face it, you probably spend more than that amount of time looking at your phone anyway right?
Using Two-Year Community College as a Gateway into Four-Year Schools
We’ve talked about enrolling in community college earlier in this article as a way to earn high school and college, but students and parents should consider using community college as a way to earn credits and take general education courses (first and second-year classes).
This is a very popular option for high school graduates from both traditional and homeschooled backgrounds. It allows students to stay close to home and become accustomed to the pace and rigor of college classes before making the jump into full four-year college life.
Academically, students can take advantage of small class sizes to have more interaction with their instructors. Since college is a fresh start, students with low high school grades or SAT or ACT scores can use this as an opportunity to overcome poor grades.
Community college is also a great way to save money. According to College Board, the average cost of a year of tuition for a two-year community college is $3,440 compared to $9,410 for a four-year college.
Tips for Parents and Students
College Entrance Exams for Homeschoolers SAT or ACT Prep
One of the biggest factors in determining admittance to college is the ACT or SAT. These college entrance exams are a critical part of preparing for college, which is why we’ve created this handy guide to help parents and students get ready.
Why are these tests important?
Colleges and Universities easily receive thousands of application every year, but they can’t admit everyone to the school. So how do they weed out hopeful applicants? The truth is some schools base their acceptance on tests scores alone. As long as you score above the minimum threshold, they will consider you admitting you. On top of using the test as a way to thin out the applicants, many schools use the test to determine whether students will receive scholarships, and how big those scholarships are.
Another reason why these tests are important is that it stands as “proof” of whether homeschooling has been effective. Because all prospective college students have to take this test regardless of their academic background, it’s an even playing field for students from public and homeschool. These tests also help eliminate bias from parents or other instructors—a necessity since homeschooling can result in very subjective evaluations.
What test should a homeschooled student take?
The short answer? It depends on what university or college you are planning on attending. Generally speaking, the SAT is more prevalent on the east coast, and the ACT is more accepted from the midwest to the west coast. And there are many schools that accept both. The point is to do your research and find out what kind of test the school will accept.
Students technically only need to take the test once since all you need is one score to apply for college. However, it’s worth it to take it at least twice on the chance that the test score will improve. Remember, some schools use the test as their metric for giving out scholarships, so a higher score will ALWAYS help your chances.
ACT and SAT Test Tips for Homeschoolers
Homeschool students can actually have an advantage over public school students when it comes to testing preparation since parents are able to incorporate practice into the curriculum. Here are a few tips for Homeschoolers getting ready for college entrance exams that have worked for us.
Do the practice exams
Get used to hearing this tip now—especially if you’re planning on going to graduate school in the future. Practice exams published by the College Board are probably the best way to prepare for the test. Why? Because all the practice tests were actual exams that were administered to students in prior years.
SAT practice tests and questions can be found on the official website. Additionally, the Khan Academy has a fantastic SAT prep section that they’ve created in collaboration with College Board. It’s definitely worth checking out.
The written portion of the exam is optional for both the SAT and the ACT. However, there are certain schools that are looking for this part of the test so be sure to check with your school. The scorers of the exam are looking for a very specific type of essay, so it helps to become very familiar with the “five-paragraph essay” format. When practicing writing essays for the exam, be sure to have a timer out so that the student will get used to the timing and the speed necessary for the exam.
You can find a great guide on the basics of the five paragraph essay here.
Don’t worry. It’s not like your entire future depends on this test. Seriously though, just remember that students have the option of taking the test multiple times. Schools usually take the highest score. Having a bad score isn’t the end of the world (though it may feel like it.) Learn from your mistakes and have another go at it. Even a small improvement in test scores can make a big difference.
Homeschool Friendly Colleges
- Harding University
- John Brown University
- Lyon College
- North Arkansas College
- University of Arkansas Community College
- Academy of Art University
- Biola Undergrad
- California Institute of Technology
- California State University
- Claremont McKenna College
- La Sierra University
- Loma Linda University
- Pacific Union College
- Stanford University
- University of California
District of Columbia
- Florida College
- Florida Gulf Coast University
- Florida Hospital College of Health Sciences
- Florida International University
- Florida State University
- Palm Beach Atlantic University
- Southeastern University
- Agnes Scott College
- Augusta State University
- Armstrong Atlantic State University
- Berry College
- Brewton-Parker College
- Dalton State
- Emmanuel College
- Gainesville State College
- Georgia College
- Georgia Gwinnett College
- Georgia SouthWestern State University
- Georgia Tech
- Savannah College of Art and Design
- University of West Georgia
- Chicago State University
- Greenville College
- Judson University
- Lake Forest College
- University of Chicago
- University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
- Ball State University
- Bethel College
- Grace College
- Hanover College
- Indiana Wesleyan University
- Oakland City University
- University of Notre Dame
- Andrews University
- Calvin College
- Cornerstone University
- Griggs University
- Hope College
- Kalamazoo College
- Kendall College
- Kuyper College
- Lake Superior State University
- Rochester College
- Spring Arbor University
- College of the Ozarks
- Columbia College
- Evangel University
- State Technical College
- Missouri State University
- Missouri University of Science and Technology
- Southeast Missouri State University
- Stephens College
- University of Central Missouri
- College of St. Mary Magdalen
- Keene State College
- River University
- Southern New Hampshire University
- University of New Hampshire
- Brooklyn College – CUNY
- The College at Brockport
- Davis College
- Eugene Lang College
- Houghton College
- Jamestown Community College
- The King’s College
- Nyack College
- Sarah Lawrence College
- New York University
- Belmont Abbey College
- Brevard College
- Duke University
- High Point University
- Lees Mc-Rae College
- Montreat College
- Warren Wilson College
- University of North Carolina-Asheville
- Franciscan University of Steubenville
- Kettering College
- Miami University
- Mt. Vernon Nazarene University
- Wright State University
- Xavier University
- George Fox University
- Lewis and Clark College
- Linfield College
- Southern Oregon University
- University of Oregon
- Western Oregon University
- Arcadia University
- Elizabethtown College
- Gettysburg College
- Grove City College
- Hussian School of Art
- Lancaster Bible College
- Lebanon Valley College
- Messiah College
- PTI – Pittsburgh Tech
- Theil College
- Austin College
- Houston Baptist University
- LeTourneau University
- Northwood University
- Southwestern Adventist University
- Southern Methodist University
- University of Dallas
- University of St. Thomas
- UT at San Antonio
- Evergreen State College
- Trinity Western University
- University of Washington
- Walla Walla University
- Washington Adventist University
- Whitworth University