From Homeschool to College: Application Tips for Homeschooled Students

According to recent studies, homeschooled students outperform those from traditional schools once they get to college. They also graduate at higher rates and have higher undergraduate GPAs than their non-homeschooled peers.

Experts believe that this is due to the self-discipline that homeschooling environments foster. Researcher Brian D. Ray cites studies indicating homeschooled students may be able to cultivate a stronger sense of self as a result of the individualized nature of their learning. According to Ray, homeschooled students are attending colleges and universities "at rates equal or higher to the general population."

How are colleges responding to homeschooled applicants?

Colleges and admissions officers have taken note of homeschooled students' potential. Many universities actively recruit homeschooled students and have designated admissions officers who handle and assess these applications. While most colleges accept homeschooled students, some do not; you'll want to check the university's website to confirm its policies.

If you’re applying to college as a homeschooler, be sure you're aware of the rules that govern transcripts and requirements for each school. For instance, the University of California system has specific guidelines to ensure that homeschooled applications satisfy admissions requirements. Moreover, many public universities have policies in place to make certain that homeschoolers meet state education requirements.

Ivy League universities and other prestigious private colleges appreciate the particular assets of homeschooled students. These kids have often been given the opportunity to work on individually tailored assignments that are designed with levels of rigor and complexity less common in traditional schools. In general, colleges recognize that the achievement of these students is often superior to that of their non-homeschooled peers. This is due to a range of factors that includes the unique array of homeschoolers’ extracurricular activities and projects, the depth of their community service experiences, and their strong work habits.

A Student’s Experience

When Daisy (who was homeschooled) began attending college, she was pleasantly surprised by the difference between the two learning environments. She describes going from working at home with her mom and younger brother to transitioning to a large lecture hall, surrounded by other students. While it was a temporary shock, she found that she wasn't embarrassed to ask questions or use the tutoring services available on campus, in contrast to many of her classmates. Like many other homeschooled students, she was both well-prepared and confident about seeking help when necessary.

Daisy explains that at home, "You learn to speak up when you don't understand something, and you also learn what areas or subjects really engage you." Her parents encouraged her to learn at her own pace, without deadlines: "It made me really develop my self-discipline." Daisy possessed the self-assurance and study habits that many traditional students don't begin to develop and hone until after they arrive at college.

University Experiences

Stanford employs an admissions officer who is trained to look specifically for the nuances in the applications and experiences of homeschooled students, and each year, they admit more and more of these applicants. Christine Foster, who contributes to Stanford’s alumni magazine, explains that "Stanford has found that the brightest homeschoolers bring a mix of unusual experiences, special motivation, and intellectual independence that makes them a good bet to flourish on the Farm [the campus nickname for Stanford]."

Other top colleges, like MIT and Princeton, usually offer instructions and tips for homeschooled applicants. They suggest advice for overcoming factors that may seem worrisome in the application process, such as the lack of traditional transcripts or recommendations from teachers. In fact, one school suggests students provide a greater number of letters than is required of traditionally-educated applicants. Other recommendations include tapping mentors, clergy, job supervisors, or other adults (besides parents!) who may be able to comment on a student’s strengths.

If you follow guidelines closely and submit an application that highlights your particular talents, you may actually be at an advantage over other students. Still, competition is fierce, and you will have to submit an exceptional application to stand out.

Common Admissions Criteria

These criteria are among the most common types of assessments and documentation that colleges seek from homeschooled applicants:

  • You'll have to submit transcripts, which might include a GPA or narrative assessments that your parents have maintained. Although this documentation may be in a non-traditional form, it still needs to be detailed, with clear explanations of the courses and curricula you've followed. You want to demonstrate that you have a solid background in standard coursework (math, science, English, history, and so on), as well as any specializations or advanced study you may have pursued.
  • You'll need to provide your scores from SAT or ACT exams for most applications.
  • You should also plan to submit additional standardized test results, such as Advanced Placement scores.
  • You’ll want to submit documentation of any courses that you have taken online or at a local college.
  • You should describe unique projects and specific or unusual opportunities that you were involved in.
  • You’ll want to provide evidence of your extracurricular activities, community service, and volunteering. This is important because it shows that you have strong social connections to groups and community.
  • You may have the opportunity to provide a portfolio of prior work to showcase your talents and distinctions. If a college permits you to submit such work, this is a great chance to highlight the depth of your learning and experiences.
  • You should plan to provide extra letters of recommendations that show a range of perspectives on your aptitudes.
  • You can use your essay to describe the factors that made your homeschooling education unique and exceptional.

Many of the materials in your application will be non-traditional, and this can help to distinguish you from mainstream applicants. Rather than serving as a limitation, this is your chance to shine; highlight the accomplishments that make you distinctive and unique.

And remember that admissions officers will likely be looking at your homeschooled background with particularly interested eyes.

Find more advice about college applications, where you can ask questions of education experts and counselors freely.

Sources:

Foster, C. (2000, December 1). In a Class by Themselves. Retrieved July 19, 2015, from Stanford Magazine.

Greene, H., & Greene, M. (2003). College Admission for Homeschooled Students. Retrieved July 19, 2015, from PBS.org.

Hettle, B. (2014, October 18). Highly Selective College Admissions for Homeschoolers. Retrieved July 19, 2015, from Homeschool Success.

Ray, B. (2015, January 6). Research Facts on Homeschooling. Retrieved July 19, 2015, from National Home Education Research Institute.

Sheehy, K. (2012, June 1). Home-Schooled Teens Ripe for College. Retrieved July 15, 2015, from U.S. News & World Report.