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Preparing for college is a challenging task for all teens and their families, but for homeschool young people the process can be even more demanding.
Planning a college-prep course of study is critical, but so is the documentation of the work for prospective colleges. In fact, the college admission process itself is an important step to your child’s successful transition to post–high school studies. Don’t let college admission requirements take you by surprise. Plan ahead as you help your child negotiate the process.
According to the National Center for Home Education, the majority of colleges and universities have a homeschool admissions policy, and some have an admissions officer dedicated specifically to homeschool students. The application process varies from school to school, so one of the first steps in your plan needs to be the selection of the college and early contact with the admissions office. Before applying you should ask for details about the college’s homeschool admission policy and whether the school has homeschool students currently enrolled. You want to be sure that the school will review your child’s application before you attempt the admissions process and pay the required fees.
The Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) has conducted extensive research on college admissions policies nationwide. The results show that, although more and more homeschool students are succeeding in getting into statefunded universities, public colleges aren’t as open to homeschool grads as are private colleges. Private schools have more freedom than do state-funded schools in administering their admissions policies. Although HSLDA continues to lobby for nondiscriminatory practices in public college admissions policies, many schools lack clear criteria and flexibility in their current admissions procedures.
What does all that mean for you and your college-bound teen? Know that each college evaluates homeschool grads differently, and consider first the schools that are friendly to homeschool students. Recognize that if your child chooses a school that currently enrolls few or no homeschool grads, you should be prepared for an admissions battle to see your child accepted. In any case, the following list outlines the basic requirements for typical college admission.
Colleges expect competence in key college preparatory coursework. You need to be prepared to document completion of four years of college-prep math studies, three-tofour years of lab science, four years of English studies (with emphasis on literature and composition), three-to-four years of history/ social studies (American history, world history, government/economics), and two years of a foreign language.
If you belong to an organization that helps produce transcripts and offers a high school diploma (such as The Academy of Home Education, which is under the auspices of Bob Jones University, then this documentation is easier to demonstrate. However, there are other ways to show academic competence.
You should design your transcript for the convenience of admissions directors who review hundreds of records from prospective students. You’ll want it to be clear, easily accessible, and simple yet thorough. The records should include only grades nine through twelve. Remember that only courses using high school–level textbooks can count for high school credit. You also want to continue academically rigorous classes through the last year of high school—schools don’t want to see an "easy" load for that last year before college admission. The transcript should include the grade level and grade for each course as well as your grading scale. Calculate and report a yearly and cumulative grade point average. Translate the courses into credits earned, usually based on the time spent on the course (9 weeks = ¼ credit; 18 weeks = ½ credit; 36 weeks = 1 credit).
Feel free to include work experiences, workstudy, internships, or apprenticeships as elective courses. You will need to provide a short description of each nontraditional course you use for high school credit. Keep the explanation to one or two sentences.
Whether or not you have a graduation ceremony, you’ll want to include a specific graduation date on the transcript. The prospective college will want to know when the student has completed all preparatory studies.
The college may also request a bibliography of high school literature and a sample essay to evaluate the student’s background and thinking skills.
Many colleges require a college admissions letter from the applicant explaining why he wants to attend the particular college as well as his view of his qualifications. This letter of explanation can go far to show the admissions officer your child’s readiness for college and his fitness for the school of his choice. If the college looks for such a letter, the application form will say so. Your child’s letter should supply only the information requested. If the admissions department wants to know more, it will ask.
Most colleges prefer online applications, which can be processed more quickly and will prompt you if you are missing information.
Most colleges require either the SAT or the ACT. You can register easily online for either test, but mail-in applications are also available at local high schools, community colleges, or sometimes even the public library. Check with the college to see which test it requires and the scores it expects. Your child may take these tests several times, and most colleges will consider the best results.
Note that you don’t want your student to attempt the test until he has completed high school algebra and geometry, both of which require skills included on the tests. The new SAT also includes some advanced math and trigonometry. Most colleges use a combination of the test scores and high school grades to make enrollment decisions; the higher the test score, the less critical the course GPA. The significance of the test scores varies from school to school.
For information about achievement testing as well as a variety of other assessments and test preparation materials, contact BJU Press Testing & Evaluation.
Most colleges require a letter of recommendation from a teacher as a character reference. Since your child’s primary teachers are his parents or other close relatives, he will need to seek a recommendation from at least one unrelated adult who knows your child well but who will be viewed as unbiased. This person could be a work supervisor or employer, a teacher from an elective course (music instructor or sports coach), a pastor, or a youth leader. It needs to be someone in a leadership position who has known the applicant for a significant period of time and who can offer information about your child’s character and abilities.
If your child is at all uneasy about his admissions prospects, you may want to consider seeking interviews with the admissions officers. If research reveals that the college of choice does not have a history of regularly accepting homeschool applicants, your student may want to present his application in person. A personal meeting will allow the officer to get a more accurate impression of the student, and a positive impression will make it harder for the officer to deny admission.
Of course, these tips address the college admissions process generally. Keep in mind that each college is different, and each homeschool’s situation is different as well. Remain flexible; keep on top of dates and deadlines—and serve in a supporting role as your child plans his future.
Dr. Rhonda Galloway teaches English at Bob Jones University and writes for BJU Press during her summer break.She has been a featured speaker at both state and national homeschool conferences.