College Admissions Guide for Homeschooled Students
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College Admissions for Homeschoolers
Homeschooled children and their parents frequently worry that they are at a disadvantage in the college admissions process, and that admissions officers won’t know how to deal with their applications. While there are many unique challenges to applying to college as a homeschooled student, admissions officers see many such applications, and treat them fairly. As with all other applicants, homeschooled students are evaluated based solely on the merits of their application.
While numerous factors can impact homeschooled applicants, there are two that colleges focus on. These are:
- Level of Accreditation: Attending a well-known and accredited online or remote school, and enrolling in the highest level of coursework offered by said school (such as AP or IB classes) demonstrates a student’s academic qualifications. This is especially true for students who maintain high grades in these courses. On the other hand, if a student does a significant amount of untracked work across various institutions or entirely independently, more effort is required to demonstrate the student’s specific experiences and competencies on their college applications.
- Brick-and-Mortar Institutions: Has the student attended any brick-and-mortar (i.e. in-person) institutions? While not essential, attending some form of in-person learning institution can help set an applicant apart from other homeschooled students. Some examples of brick-and-mortar institutions include hybrid education models that consist of a combination of traditional and remote/online classwork, and classes taken at a local community college.
Because there are no national homeschooling guidelines, accreditation requirements and practices vary a great deal at the state level. While some states do not require parents and/or guardians to notify the state when a child shifts from normal school to homeschooling, others have instituted rigorous mandatory assessment and progress reporting benchmarks. You can check the exact laws in your state here.
With the right tools, homeschooled students and their parents can craft an application that highlights their strengths and demonstrates the value the student will bring to the institution in question.
Extracurricular activities are especially important for evaluating the quality of homeschool applicants. In recent years, many colleges have begun to place greater value on extracurriculars. You may be wondering: Should I do a ton of different activities to show that I am well-rounded and multi-talented, or do I focus on one or two things that I am very passionate about and skilled at? There is no definite right or wrong answer. What’s important is that you act deliberately, participating in activities that help you grow as a person and student, and developing your interests and passions, both academic and otherwise.
The goal of all college applicants is to show admissions officers what their passions are, and what they will contribute to the broader campus community. The best way to do this is by accomplishing something remarkable through your extracurriculars, as this shows both your passions and your ability to contribute.
Imagine a student who begins as a basic volunteer at a hospital. Over time, they gain experience and knowledge that enables them to take on bigger and more challenging projects, and to build upon and improve the system they work within. A progression like this, developed over the course of several years demonstrates character, and makes it easy for an admissions committee to understand student’s identity and how they will contribute to college classrooms and campus culture.
Now imagine a student who volunteers at a library in their spare time. Their work reading to kids unlocks their passion for working with children, and they begin volunteering as a mentor at an after-school program. They also need to make money to supplement their family’s income so they decide to take on a regular babysitting job. While this student doesn’t have the same clear continuity of extracurricular experience, they have a number of interesting experiences that reflect their obligations (e.g. supporting their family) and evolving interests. This evolution of extracurricular involvement also has the potential to tell a compelling story and indicate a strong understanding of self. While these two students are very different, they have both done an excellent job getting involved outside of school in ways that best suited them.
While homeschooled students are not required to have a GED or diploma, they must meet their state’s requirements when applying to universities. Once these requirements have been met, the next step is constructing a transcript. In all likelihood, this transcript won’t look at all like a traditional school transcript – but don’t worry! College admissions officers are well aware of this.
Transcripts should provide a comprehensive report of the student’s education. Whether you purchase a transcript with a detailed list of subjects and mastery from a company that builds transcripts and diplomas, participate in a homeschooling club that produces professional transcripts, or are constructing a transcript on your own, the aim is to produce the highest caliber materials possible. Ideally, you should think this through before high school starts, and plan out the best way to present the student and their competencies. College consulting companies can be extremely useful to both help ensure that the student’s academic plan is sufficient to reach their personal, academic, and college admissions goals, and to provide you with peace of mind and confidence in these plans.
Standardized testing plays a significant role in college admissions decisions at most major American universities. In recent years, some schools have become test-optional, and do not require applicants to submit standardized test scores. This is not true for homeschooled students, who must complete a college entrance exam. Because homeschooling can vary so widely between students in terms of coursework and accomplishments, standardized tests provide a more objective lens through which colleges can evaluate homeschooled applicants. As a result, colleges tend to rely more heavily on standardized test scores from homeschooled students than traditional students.
We recommend that students take a practice SAT and/or ACT during their freshman year, which will provide an understanding of their strengths and weaknesses, and leave plenty of time to study and work through them. By 10th grade, homeschooled students should take the PSAT at their zoned school. By the end of 11th grade, the student should be close to their maximum score on the official SAT or ACT. We also recommend that homeschooled students take AP tests in their strongest academic areas. It is essential that homeschooled students be proactive about standardized test preparation to ensure they have scores they are proud of when applying to colleges.
Many homeschooled students are uncertain about who they should ask to write recommendation letters for them. While a parent may be their primary educator, you should not submit a letter from a parent. The ideal recommender is instead someone with no familial relation to the student who has recognized academic experience and can attest to the student’s unique skill set.
After obtaining a letter of recommendation from an academic counselor, the student should request additional recommendations from people who can speak to their character, ethics, authenticity, passion, or other significant attributes. Beware of overdoing it, however – there is no need to inundate the admissions office with more recommendation letters than requested. Unnecessary extra letters do not increase your chances of being accepted to a school. If you have a truly exceptional recommendation letter that you feel must be part of your application, you can submit an extra letter when the school permits.
Homeschool College Admission FAQ
Does homeschooling properly prepare students for college?
In the same way that traditional schooling can better or worse prepare students for college depending how much students challenge themselves during high school, a homeschooled student’s college preparedness depends largely on their choices throughout high school. If a homeschooled student is taking advantage of the opportunities available to them and working to the best of their ability, they are likely to be just as prepared as traditional students for college.
How do homeschool students perform in college?
Homeschooled students who attend college do generally perform better than traditional students. It is difficult to pinpoint exactly why this is given the myriad variables at play, but one contributing factor is that the more independent nature of homeschooling helps prepare students for the largely unsupervised study environment of college.
How do colleges feel about homeschooling?
Colleges are aware that many homeschooled students have uniquely flexible schedules that enable them to experience a wide range of academic and extracurricular activities. This can be a double-edged sword. Upper-tier university admissions officers generally expect homeschooled students to demonstrate that they have used this flexibility to their advantage. Thus, it is essential to highlight the student’s experiences and achievements that would not have been feasible within a traditional schooling framework.
Why might colleges want homeschooled students?
A university’s primary concern when evaluating a student is how that student can positively affect the culture of their school. A diverse population in race, culture, income, academic interests, and extracurricular interests is highly sought after by most institutions. Colleges understand that homeschool students with key benchmark achievements like strong test scores and extracurricular activities can add a unique layer to the culture of their university.
Are homeschooled students accepted to colleges at the same rate as non-homeschooled students?
While the simple answer is no, context is key. Homeschooled students with achievements and test scores on par with traditional applicants are accepted at approximately the same rate. Furthermore, homeschoolers that use an accredited program, take AP classes, and participate in extracurricular activities fare just as well as their traditionally-schooled counterparts. Homeschooled students with a laxer approach are judged more harshly by admissions officers.
Do homeschool students score well on the SAT/ACT compared to non-homeschooled students?
On average, homeschooled students earn marginally higher scores on standardized tests than non-homeschooled students. Notably, the average homeschooled student earns a lower score in math than in reading and writing. One potential explanation is that homeschooled students lack access to higher-level mathematics courses or opt out of these courses. That being said, homeschool students can take classes offered by their zoned school including AP Calculus and other AP mathematics courses.
Can a homeschool student take some classes at their zoned school?
Many parents struggling with the decision to homeschool their children don’t know that they can still have their children take classes of their choice at their zoned school. Homeschool students can also take all standardized assessments offered at the zoned school, including annual assessments, PSATs, and AP exams. Students who aim to attend top-tier universities should take advantage of these opportunities, which will acclimate the student to test-taking and help them demonstrate their performance relative to traditional students.
Can homeschooled students play sports and/or participate in other extracurricular activities at their zoned school?
The answer is typically yes, but this can vary based on state-level regulations. States that allow homeschooled students to participate in school-based activities usually allow them to take advantage of any resource available to the general student population. In this case, a potential hurdle is establishing the student’s involvement with the appropriate school staff members or sports coaches. You may need to advocate for your child’s involvement by providing information on the relevant policies. While this can be overwhelming at first, once surmounted, participation in school-based activities can provide valuable enrichment to your child’s academic and social life.
Anyone who feels compelled to homeschool their children should not let fear of the college application process persuade them not to. The most important part of the process is establishing an understanding of curricular and extracurricular expectations for homeschooled college applicants. From there you can work backwards to determine the steps that must be taken in order for your child to meet those expectations.
It is crucial to acknowledge that many families simply don’t have the time or expertise to build this big-picture understanding without some outside assistance. At Ivy Scholars, we have a depth of experience guiding students through both pursuing their passions through extracurriculars, and in crafting the best possible college applications.
If you want information about how we can help you and your student, or have questions about your specific homeschooling or college application journey, schedule a free consultation with us. We’re always happy to hear from you.