College application tips for home schoolers
Home schooling can add a rich variety of learning experiences to a student's education, and many home-schooled students flourish in a higher-education environment. In fact, according to a study published in the Journal of College Admission in 2010, home-schooled college freshmen earned a higher grade point average during their first semester in college compared to freshman who attended school outside the home prior to college.
As a graduate of a home-schooling program, you need to state your case on your college applications, just like any other student. Your personal pitch to the college of your choice is more complicated than other applicants, however, because you probably don't have a standardized transcript and the roster of in-school activities that's typical of most applicants.
Here are six tips from admissions officers on how to best package your academic record and other experiences when applying to college.
1. Know what's required
It's critical for home-schoolers and their parent-educators to know the subjects colleges require at the start of the high school years. These often include two-years of a foreign language, a certain level of math proficiency and laboratory science experience. You also should attend local college nights to get information on particular schools and details on financial aid packages.
"I can't emphasize enough the research they need to do when they start to look at colleges they're interested in attending, so they're not caught off guard," says Rita Gagliano, regional director of recruitment for the Southeast for the Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, Ga.
"There's no cookie-cutter answer what they need to do, because every school has different requirements. I always recommend to do what the state requires. It's the safest thing for them, if their plans change or they end up going to a state school, they've done what they needed," Gagliano explains.
2. Network with other home-schooling families
If parents are feeling less-prepared to guide their children to their college destination, the family might want to join up with a home-school network that can provide assistance with curriculum and other issues.
The Boston Home Education Network, for example, hires recent college graduates to provide specialized, in-home learning in physics, English literature and other courses in which parents don't feel as well versed, Silvio Vazquez, a former board member of the Boston group who is dean of admissions at Westmont College explains.
"Typically, it's the mother that's home-schooling--she may be proficient in eight or nine areas, but there's a gap in math or science or history," Vazquez says. "Home-school networks provide a way for families to fill in those gaps in areas where they may be able to complement one another."
3. Provide an academic record
Unless you are affiliated with an umbrella school, you probably won't have a traditional transcript to include with the college application. However, there are several ways to convey academic accomplishments.
Students can submit an "academic portfolio," that includes a parent-prepared transcript and standardized test scores. Additionally, a "resume" detailing a list of completed at-home courses, a reading list, awards, college-level courses and other achievements is a good idea to submit--along with a writing sample.
"The more we see, the more it becomes a portrait of the student," Gagliano says.
If you're following a standard curriculum, you don't have to give detailed descriptions of familiar-sounding classes, such as geometry or 20th century British literature on your transcript--a list will suffice.
You may choose to include a description of materials included in a course, however, if you think it will help establish your credentials, Gagliano says.
4. Tell your story outside the classroom
Activities and sports are areas where home-schoolers can further set themselves apart when applying to college. You can present these extra-curricular activities on the application form and supplement them with a resume-style presentation if you need more space.
"What I find is home-schooled students are so intentional about providing reasons for why they do what they do," Vazquez says. "A resume can allow the students to say, 'Here are my gifts, my experiences, my talents and my passions. Here are the things I'm committed to.'"
5. Mom or Dad's good word isn't enough
While your parents may be able to write an objective recommendation, you're better off asking a third party--whether it's a boss at a summer job, a professor at a community college, a pastor, a coach or drama director--to supply a reference.
"I've seen parents write references I thought were very well-done and seemed very objective, but that's very rare," Vazquez says. "As legitimate as it may seem, it's still your mom and dad. There has to be somebody else who can speak to the child's character or potential."
6. Aim high with academic programs, scholarships
The home-schooling experience, because it is an independent form of study, translates well to university-level honors programs and other forms of small-group learning. "Home-schooling is modeled after many honors programs," explains Vazquez. "I believe home-schoolers have an advantage in that field."
You also should remember to check out scholarships that may be advertised to public and private schools, but not as widely known if you're not a part of those learning communities. "Home-schoolers may lack the surrounding peer group that is striving to achieve and get into certain programs," Vazquez says.
The U.S. Department of Education reported there were 1.5 million homeschooled students in the U.S. in 2007. These students are poised to make great contributions to society, which, for many of them, will start with receiving a quality college education.