What does a college look for from homeschoolers?
As homeschoolers, you’re probably wondering how to navigate the college admissions process. There aren’t many things you do in life just once, with so much riding on it. You usually get to practice skills first, in a low-stakes situation.
But not college admissions. To make matters worse, the guidance counselor (you, lol!) has probably never experienced this process before, either. The blind are leading the blind!
The process can seem daunting and confusing, I know. I’ve navigated it 3 times so far with my 3 oldest children.
You should know that colleges have actually streamlined the process for homeschoolers in an attempt to simplify it. Homeschoolers are known as terrific students, and universities actively recruit them.
I hope I can calm your worries as we discuss what universities are looking for in each section of the admission application.
First, though, a little friendly advice.
Record Keeping is Your Best Friend
This won’t help you much if you’re reading this on the eve of the Early Decision deadline. But hopefully you’re not a procrastinator and you’re reading this well in advance of actually beginning the college application process.
Keeping good records throughout high school of your class schedules, course descriptions, and grades will make assembling your homeschool transcript a breeze. It will also help you keep track of whether you’ve met all of the course requirements for whichever university you are applying.
Colleges need to see that you’ve met certain criteria, and they need it to be presented in a format with which they are familiar in order to best understand your qualifications and preparation. That format is called your transcript.
I’m talking to you, now, fellow homeschooling mama! You are the guidance counselor in your homeschool, and it is your job to prepare transcripts for your graduates. Athe homeschool counselor, you have the perfect opportunity to present your student in the best possible light.
One thing that worried me when about my oldest daughter’s transcript was that she had straight A’s, and I had given them all to her. I was pretty sure the college admissions personnel would think I was a huge liar. I even debated giving her a couple of A-‘s, just to make the transcript more believable ha, ha!
Our homeschool just operates in such a way that I don’t accept poor quality work. My kiddos correct any problems they miss in math and they rewrite papers they didn’t put sufficient effort into.
You actually don’t need to worry about having too many A’s. College admissions personnel have seen it all. They realize that they have insufficient context with which to judge your teens transcript, so they’ll consider it as less weighty in the decision. But they won’t think you’re a liar, unless the rest of the application tells them a different story that your teens transcript.
If your teen has all A’s in English, but his admission essays lack in proper grammar, the admissions personnel may doubt the legitimacy of the grade. So just don’t give them any reason to doubt.
Provide as much context (outsourced classes, SAT subject tests, math competitions, science olympiads, AP and CLEP exams) as possible to prove that your teen really is bright, curious and deserving of all those A’s.
Concurrent enrollment (aka dual enrollment) classes, which allow high school students to take college classes during high school and receive credit concurrently, filling both college and high school course requirements, are another excellent way to provide context to your homeschoolers transcript.
On average, homeschoolers earn more than double the number of college credits during high school than their public schooled counterparts. In addition to lending credibility to your teens transcript, all of those college credits can add up to a huge discount on a college education.
If you’ve taken classes online or outside of your homeschooling, be sure to contact each institution to make sure they also send an official copy of your transcript to the schools to which you are applying.
“The vast majority of our admitted homeschool students have taken advantage of advanced classes outside the homeschool setting, such as through a local college or an online school such as EPGY. Transcripts of these courses, in addition to evaluation of the homeschooling portfolio, are very helpful. Some students will also take advantage of MIT’s OpenCourseWare.” ~Matt Gann, MIT Admissions
The link above contains everything you need to know about creating a homeschool transcript for your teen, from what it should contain to how the information should be presented. It also contains a link to a free homeschool transcript template.
There is no room on your teen’s transcript for course descriptions. They belong in a separate document. The Common App doesn’t require course descriptions, but you may upload them as a second page of your teen’s transcript, or in one of the extra transcript fields, if you haven’t used them all.
Some college applications will not allow you to upload course descriptions at all. But if you can, take advantage of the opportunity to describe your homeschool courses in detail. List a course description, the curriculum and materials used, textbook and literature ISBN numbers, grade and instructor (even if it’s you).
This is a good place to add context to that transcript full of otherwise unsupported A’s.
It’s also a great way for college admissions personnel to assess the rigor of the course. Public schools tend to standardize their courses across states, so that students in equivalent courses will have similar coursework.
Homeschoolers present an entirely different case, however, which can be complicated for college admissions personnel. Your job is to give them evidence to lessen those complications, and course descriptions will be a huge boon.
A high school diploma is a certificate that documents the completion of a course of study. A high school diploma certifies that a student has successfully completed a program of secondary education.
Upon graduation of your homeschool, your teen earns a homeschool diploma, whether you actually print him a certificate to commemorate the occasion or not. Homeschools can issue diplomas just like any other institution of learning.
What about the GED? A friend told me once that homeschooled students could not qualify for federal financial aid without a GED — that a homeschool diploma was insufficient. This is not true.
Letters of Recommendation
If you have limited time to spare to help your homeschoolers through the college application process, this is where you should spend the bulk of it. Your letter of recommendations, as your teens guidance counselor, provides the ideal opportunity to introduce your student and highlight his qualities that are found nowhere else on the application.
Universities typically place more weight on letters of recommendation received from adult mentors and teachers other than parents. You should plan to include at least three letters of recommendation (including the one from the guidance counselor aka mom).
It’s wise to ask these adults well in advance of the college admissions deadlines. And there is nothing wrong with following up to make sure the letter has been sent. Be sure to ask adult mentors or teachers who know you well and can share insight into how you will contribute to the academic and social aspects of a college campus.
“Extra recommendations can be especially helpful for many homeschooled applicants. We welcome a recommendation from a parent, but require at least three recommendations in total (usually a counselor and two teachers). We encourage you to submit additional recommendations (but don’t submit more than 5 total recommendations) from those who know you well, such as coaches, mentors, job supervisors, clergy, etc.” ~Matt Gann, MIT Admissions
The School Profile
This document describes your homeschool. In it, you will explain your homeschool history, philosophy, educational providers, and grading policy.
Completion of the School Profile is usually handled by a high schools guidance counselor. However, in the case of a homeschool, it will be completed by a parent.
This document describes your homeschool. It explains your homeschool history, philosophy, requirements, grading scale and grading policy. It should also include your method for awarding credits.
The Importance of Extracurricular Activities for Homeschoolers
Transcripts, course descriptions and the school profile are all pretty formulaic. In addition, they are weighted less heavily for homeschoolers due to the lack of contextual evidence to support the grades.
The extracurricular activity section of your application, however, is one place where you can shine. Make the most of it!
Universities are well aware that homeschooled students typically spend less time on coursework and have more freedom to spend pursuing extracurricular activities. They expect homeschooled students to have taken advantage of this opportunity and to have something to show for it.
Universities expect to see more initiative, creativity and independence from homeschoolers. They want to see dedication and long-term commitment to projects or causes. Another thing college admissions personnel expect to see in homeschoolers is entrepreneurship.
Homeschool students who can demonstrate strong leadership skills and ingenuity in their applications will have a competitive edge. Colleges also look for unique interests. They may have 7000 pianists and 700 violinists apply, but may only have one bagpiper.
Demonstrate your involvement within your community, so the person reading your application will be able to envision how you will involve yourself in the campus community. Prove to them that you’ve had enriching experiences outside the classroom.
Your extracurricular activities can go a long way toward setting you apart from the rest of the applicants. However, you will be limited (on the Common App) to writing about ten activities. Be sure to choose the ones that best demonstrate what the university wants to see.
The quality of your activities is more important than the quantity. Make sure that each activity you include reflects a significant time investment and a learning opportunity.
It’s not a problem if you don’t have ten activities. College admissions personnel would prefer to see a few activities that you’ve made a significant contibution to than several activities you have been less involved in.
“One quality that we look for in all of our applicants is evidence of having taken initiative, showing an entrepreneurial spirit, taking full advantage of opportunities. Many of our admitted homeschooled applicants have really shined in this area. These students truly take advantage of their less constrained educational environment to take on exciting projects, go in depth in topics that excite them, create new opportunities for themselves and others, and more.” ~Matt Gann, MIT Admissions
Standardized test scores, like the SAT and ACT are weighed more heavily for homeschooled youth just because they are standardized. It’s the most accurate way of comparing student’s academic abilities.
Many colleges recommend that homeschoolers take additional SAT subject tests although it’s not required by all schools. Check with the university you want to attend to see what their testing requirements are.
Your Application Essays
Your application essay is of the utmost importance. I would say that the weight denied your transcripts is transferred over to your application essays. That’s how much weight they carry.
A well-crafted essay can reveal a lot about an applicant, and it can make or break your application. Even college admissions personnel who don’t typically spend much time on essays will always read essays from homeschoolers, due to the transcript bias.
That means you really need to take your application essays seriously. When your English teacher told you to, “Edit, edit, edit!”, she wasn’t kidding.
Interviews don’t have to be a part of the application process. Most universities merely recommend them. But I advise you to schedule interviews with all universities that offer them. Those simple conversations can make you an ally who will go to bat for you when an applicant decision goes to committee.
Wrapping Things Up
Whew! I’m sure that felt like a lot of information to digest.
How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.
I suggest you visit the site of each university you are considering applying to and notating the different application dates, early and regular decision, on your calendar.
Work backward from those dates to where you currently are, setting periodic goals. For example, if you want to apply early decision and you see that the deadline is 6 months away, set yourself a goal (and actually write it in your planner) to complete one section of the application each month.
Be sure to break each section down into it’s components, too. The transcript section might require that you round up records to create the transcript. So set periodic, smaller goals for requesting or creating records, leading up to accomplishing the larger goal of completing the transcript.
If you’re at all like me, you’ll feel less stressed by just creating a list and getting started.
Good luck with your college applications!
If you’ve been through the college application process as homeschoolers, I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments below! Feel free to ask questions, too, if you have any!