In previous articles, I addressed What Colleges Look For in Homeschoolers. Colleges look at five things:
- Grades with the right subjects and unweighted GPA. Homeschool transcripts are usually disregarded no matter how pretty or how official they look. Unless it has been issued by a College Board recognized organization, they believe mom printed it on the laser – which is true. Without an objective assessment of student progress, it is disregarded. But, it really doesn’t matter.
- Rank in class – Unless you have twins, the student will be 1 of 1. This doesn’t matter for Homeschoolers.
- Experiences (employment, community, volunteer, travel, etc.). A consideration at more competitive colleges or for scholarships, but don’t go wild with elective credit for babysitting or turning the song slides at church.
- Activities (athletics, arts, clubs, etc.). Like Experiences, usually considered by competitive colleges.
- Test Scores (the MOST important factor). This is the national leveler. This is what will determine the viability of admissions and scholarships. Indeed, many colleges award scholarships on test scores alone!
Focus on what’s important – Test Scores!
In addition, I mentioned Packaging the student to make it easy for the college to admit and award scholarships. Now let’s get into some details. We need to look at Mindset, Strategies, and Actions.
Mindset: You have to play according to their rules! As a Homeschool family, you exercised a considerable range of freedoms and liberties and operated with a significant degree of independence in thought and action. Colleges have the right to the same range of freedom, liberty, and independence you enjoyed, and theirs may not be perfectly aligned with yours. Every year I have dozens of Homeschool parents express irritation with “Why can’t they just do X?” “How come I need to do Y?” or “How come they don’t see all the Z my child has done?” Just like you may have thought and said “I have the right to do what I believe is right for my children,” colleges have the same right to state what they think is important and what they expect from students they admit.
No two colleges are exactly the same on how they handle Homeschoolers. More and more are becoming Homeschool-friendly, but they still have processes, procedures, rules, and criteria expected of all their candidates. So, practice the “Golden Rule” respecting the colleges’ right to do things their way. The sooner you realize this, the easier things will go.
Strategies: In a previous article, I discussed Four Types of Colleges: Competitive, Conventional, Community, and Creative. Of these, you will encounter the most challenge with Competitive Colleges (Ivy League, Military Academies, Top Tier), and a lesser degree with Conventional Colleges (State Colleges, smaller Private Colleges, etc.). Community and Conventional Colleges do not present any major issues for Homeschoolers in my experience. Here are some Strategies for Competitive and Conventional Colleges:
- “Apples to Apples” Strategy. Competitive and Conventional College admission offices are set up to receive applications from students from public and private high schools. Therefore, you need to package your student so it is easy to set their applications side-by-side with public and private school students. Don’t expect that admissions staff can read between the lines or interpret things through Homeschool eyes. “Apples to Apples”!
- “Validation” Strategy. As mentioned above, Homeschool transcripts are often ignored, regardless if the parents have PhD’s or if the parents were high school dropouts. For competitive colleges, students need to provide some form of Third Party Validation to substantiate the course and grade. Umbrella schools that provide testing, online schools, and high school Credit by Examination (CBE) from schools and colleges (I like Texas Tech the best) provide this validation and documentation. This levels the playing field and provides an “Apples to Apples” comparison.
In addition, many colleges require Homeschoolers to take the SAT Subject Exams to validate their subject mastery. Some colleges require this for Homeschoolers only, and most Competitive Colleges require these of all applicants. Advanced Placement (AP) and College Level Examination Program (CLEP) tests can be used, too. However, BEFORE you get into Subject Exams, AP, and CLEP, get competent counsel because doing this on your own or with inaccurate information can create more problems than you think you’ll solve.
- College “Advice” Strategy. To segue off my last statement, ask yourself, “Who is providing your College Advice?” In my presentations, I put up the picture of John Belushi in Animal House, and get a good laugh. However, some of the worst advice I find comes from well-intentioned people: friends, other Homeschool parents, and… ill-advised “experts.”
I am constantly approached with statements like “I heard that…,” or “Someone told me that…,” and they go on with some myth or misinformation. Far too many parents, especially Homeschool parents, tend to rely on unreliable sources for the biggest single financial expense of their life – sending their kids to college!
My best advice is that you get good advice from someone with the credentials and experience to help you do what you want to do with your student. A wise man once said, “Never take financial advice from someone who makes less money than you.” Likewise, never take college advice from an amateur, dilettante, or anyone who has never done what you want done.
- Start NOW. Get advice, get your Packaging Strategies together, look at a range of potential colleges online and list their admission requirements so you can design your Homeschool program around them. Pretty much consider 4 English, 4 Math, 4 Social Science, 4 Science, 3 Language, 1 Computer, 1 Speech/Communication, 2 PE, and up to 4-6 Electives as a model for Competitive Colleges.
- Start PSAT/ACT/SAT Testing Early. These are the great levelers and mitigators. Many colleges award scholarships on SAT/ACT scores alone. I recommend starting in the 6th grade with one PSAT, one SAT, and one ACT. 6th grade is when the student can qualify for the Duke Talent Identification Program (Duke TIP) which takes place during the 7th Big dividends if your student qualifies. Continue with one PSAT, ACT, and SAT each a year through the 8th grade. 9th graders take the PSAT, SAT, and ACT in the fall, and one SAT and one ACT in the spring for experience. Don’t worry about the scores. 10th graders take the PSAT, ACT, and SAT in the fall, one SAT and ACT in the spring – preferably in June. Prepare for the PSAT and National Merit competition during the summer before the junior year. Plan to take 4 of each SAT and ACT throughout the junior year to get your “go to college” score by June. Take additional tests as needed in the fall of the senior year. Take BOTH the SAT and ACT until you see a clear advantage of one over the other. Please DO NOT rely on these “off the shelf” assessments you buy in bookstores on which one to take.
- Electives. I have seen some outrageous items put in a transcript for elective credit. Babysitting, washing dishes, cleaning the house, and emptying the cat box as “Domestic Science?” This is called “fluffing,” and when most colleges see this, they will assume the rest of the transcript was “fluffed” also. The key areas for electives are Academic, Athletic, Arts, and Activities. Award elective credit for legitimate Academic or quasi-Academic courses with an organized curriculum, organized Athletics, organized Arts (music, art, dance lessons, etc), or recognized extracurricular Activities one would normally find in a conventional school. Driver’s Ed, flying lessons, Karate lessons, music ensemble, and travel (even a mission trip) are also considered legitimate electives. No more than 6-8 elective credits or it could be considered “fluffing.”
- Brag Rag. Start a list of activities for everything the student does beyond school. List activities, dates, amount of time involved, and person in charge. Include Jobs, Community Service, Boy/Girl Scouts/Campfire, Civil Air Patrol, Clubs and Organizations, Church, etc. You would generally NOT put these on a transcript for elective credit. Flipping music slides at the church would fit here. I’m not big on resumes. In 30 years, I’ve never encountered a college that requested one, though some online applications require as much detail as you would put on a resume. Keeping a Brag Rag helps keep the information readily accessible if needed.
Finally, remember you have to play by their rules. You are competing against public and private school students who already have their material organized the way colleges want them, so you need to level the playing field for your student instead of hoping the college will do that for you.
Originally published in Practical Homeschooling magazine, © 2013, by Home Life, Inc., publisher of Practical Homeschooling. All Rights reserved. Used by permission.