As the number of homeschoolers continues to climb toward 2.5 million and more colleges roll out homeschool-specific guidelines for applicants, higher education has taken on a decidedly favorable attitude towards this population of learners. Most homeschooling families still have questions about the college application process. Learn more about the elements of a college application, how homeschoolers do in college, available funding, and expert tips on making a successful transition.
The college application process for a homeschooler versus a traditionally educated student is largely the same, but key differences do exist. Students and their families who want to be prepared should start researching these differences early, so they aren’t caught off guard during the process. According to homeschool mom and scholarship expert Pam Andrews, supplying needed documents is usually the most difficult part for homeschoolers. “One of the biggest challenges for homeschools families may be record keeping,” she says. “Families need to provide admissions officers with an accurate account of their time in school,” but often the process for maintaining these documents at home isn’t as formal as it is within a school system.
The following section discusses all the different pieces of information needed for a complete application and offers tips for homeschoolers unsure how to supply each.
Because homeschoolers can’t simply ask their school to provide a list of all the classes they’ve taken throughout high school alongside their grades, this task is usually done by parents. According to Andrews, transcript requirements vary by college. “Some schools simply require a high school transcript; in other cases, you may need to supply detailed course descriptions in addition to the transcript.” Learners and their families should review application requirements to get a sense of what’s needed and then format the at-home transcript to meet those needs.
Unless they take part in a co-operative program with other homeschoolers, students educated at home typically don’t have a graduation ceremony where they walk across the stage and receive a diploma. In the past, many homeschoolers took the General Educational Development (GED) exam to have a formal document demonstrating their mastery of high school topics. Today, however, the document typically isn’t needed. According to the Home School Legal Defense Association, homeschool programs are approved by individual states and receive the same standing as public and private schools. High school diplomas are issued by school administrators, so in the case of homeschoolers, parents simply issue a diploma once the student successfully passes required coursework.
Sometimes homeschoolers and their families are unsure who to ask for recommendations since the parents serve as teachers. When faced with this conundrum, Andrews says it’s best to plan ahead. “Preference is given to academic references, so families should plan in advance to have their child take classes outside the home, either in a co-op, through college dual enrollment, or by hiring a private tutor so the recommender can provide an accurate evaluation of the student’s performance over time. When considering non-academic recommendations, Andrews offers further advice. “Students should ask least two non-relatives to write their letters; a few examples of whom to ask include someone who taught you in class, someone from a community service experience, or your employer.”
More than 800 colleges and universities in America and 19 other countries now accept the Common App, making it easier for students to apply to multiple institutions without filling out unique paperwork for each. While most of the application is similar to those encountered by individual schools, homeschoolers may be initially baffled by a few sections. One section, the School Report, asks for the student’s guidance counselor to provide information about where they ranked in their class, which GPA scale was used, and how many AP/Honors classes were offered and taken. A homeschooler’s parents typically fulfill the counselor role in this case and provide all the necessary information. They must also upload a transcript showing classes and grades and note that the student is homeschooled. Another section of the application asks for the disciplinary history of the student, including any behavioral issues, or misdemeanor/felony convictions. Parents must also fill out this section in their role as counselor.
While it’s true that many students who attend public and private high schools have built-in opportunities for extracurricular activities, homeschoolers shouldn’t let that intimidate them. The key is to start building an extracurricular resume early on in high school to demonstrate various areas of involvement and growth over time. Depending on their interests, homeschoolers can find local sports teams to join, volunteer at a nonprofit to support a cause they believe in, take up a part-time job, or even complete an internship. The key is to show longevity and dedication to these activities rather than picking up a bunch of random interests during the senior year.
Standardized entrance exams such as the ACT and SAT are used by nearly every college in the country as a tool for ascertaining a student’s preparedness for college coursework. While homeschoolers tend to do quite well on these exams, according to the National Home Education Research Institute, learners still need to thoroughly prep before sitting the exams. Because most homeschool curricula doesn’t include standardized test prep, students and their families should do outside research on test prep materials – in the form of study guides, apps, online programs, or private tutors – to ensure they get a thorough review of high school material. Students who plan to take the SAT may also want to consider taking available subject tests to show mastery of individual content areas, as good scores on these exams help validate parent-provided transcripts and grades.
to gain more insider knowledge about each.
In recent years, much research has been done about homeschoolers success rates, both in getting admitted and once they reach campus.
Though the number of home-educated students is still tiny when compared to the number of learners attending public and private schools – homeschoolers made up just four percent of all students in 2010 – they are well-known and liked by admissions officers due to their unique backgrounds. The Dean of Admissions at Amherst College praised homeschooled students’ “thicker folders, in a good way,” noting these learners typically bring to the table a wide array of extracurricular activities, innovative coursework, and unique perspectives for seeing the world. Evidence of top schools vying for homeschoolers has grown in recent years, with institutions such as Yale University, Princeton University, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) all providing specialized admissions pages for homeschooled learners.
Homeschoolers also tend to earn more college-level credits via dual enrollment than their traditionally-educated counterparts: a study by The Journal of College Admission found that while public and private school students average six college credits prior to freshman year, that number jumped to 14.7 for homeschoolers. The same study found that students learning from inside the home did better on standardized tests, scoring an average of 26.5 on the ACT as compared to the average of 25 scored by their peers.
Upon reaching campus, homeschoolers typically continue to set themselves apart from the crowd according to the study mentioned earlier by The Journal of College Admission. Researchers found that previously homeschooled freshman finished their first year with a GPA of 3.37, while non-homeschooled learners ended with 3.08. By senior year, homeschoolers maintained an average GPA of 3.46 compared to 3.16 for other seniors. Homeschoolers also maintained a higher graduation rate, with 66.7 percent leaving college with a diploma (compared to 57.5 percent for other populations of students).
While all these numbers shine a positive light on the benefits of homeschooling preparing students for the rigors of college, research does provide a few areas of caution. While 93 percent of publicly and privately educated students lived on-campus, only 72 percent of homeschoolers chose to do so. When comparing data from a separate study at Austin College, researchers there found home-educated students joined fewer clubs/groups, played less varsity sports, and worked with their peers outside class to a lesser extent. The same Austin College study found that homeschoolers were less prepared for math and science classes at the collegiate level and therefore fewer studied those subjects. Of all the homeschooled students enrolled at the time of the study, a mere 7.6 percent majored in a science-related area of study.
According to homeschool mom and scholarship expert Pam Andrews, students and their families can take steps before arriving on-campus to ensure they flourish. Her advice includes:
Get to know campus before you arrive. “Support services such as academic advising, campus activities, and student ministries not only make the transition easier, but also provide connections throughout the years when you need continued support,” says Andrews.
Find your place. “Getting involved on campus as soon as possible is key,” she notes. “Joining a club, playing an intramural sport, and volunteering on campus are all great ways to make new friends and ease the transition.”
Meet your professors. “Most professors have scheduled office hours,” notes Andrews. “Make it a point to get to know them prior to a big test, and be sure to seek their professional advice as guides as well as academic support for class assignments.”
Making the move from homeschooler to college student is an exciting new chapter for learners as it offers them the opportunity to learn in new and exciting ways in a different environment. While the experiences of homeschoolers vary significantly based on whether they participated in a co-op or if they followed an unschooling model, many college students may feel a bit overwhelmed by all the changes provided by a college campus – initially.
The author of this guide, Katy McWhirter, was homeschooled from kindergarten through twelfth grade and had little concept of what the transition would look like before reaching Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee. “Leading up to move-in day, I was simply excited by the thought of meeting other students, living in a dorm, and, as silly as this sounds, eating cafeteria food,” she says. “While all of those things proved to be endlessly fascinating, I was also caught off-guard by some of the changes.” For McWhirter, who had never written a paper, raised her hand to speak in class, or shared a bedroom with another person, the first semester felt like a learning experience within a learning experience. “I was so busy with classes and all the other things you associate with being a freshman, but I also felt like I was learning this completely different set of rules that others had probably picked up a long time before.” Some of the things that surprised her along the way:
While all my schoolwork always got done, my family never followed a set schedule for learning. I didn’t have to be awake or attend classes at a specific time, so adjusting to a set weekly schedule took a while. For students who feel this way, one option could be taking part in a summer pre-college program to acclimate them to what college life looks like on a daily basis.
I always had my own room growing up, so it was a big adjustment to share a 12’x20’ room with someone I never met before move-in day. We ended up being great friends by the end of freshman year, but for some reason it was really strange to me to share a bedroom and sink and be in the room together that first semester.
I talked to both my parents while doing schoolwork, but I felt great anxiety at the thought of raising my hand and contributing an idea or answering a question for years in college. I think this is something that public/private school kids get used to early on, but honestly, I really never did. Students concerned about having similar feelings may want to take a couple community college courses before starting their degree to familiarize themselves with the classroom setting.
Even though in my heart of hearts I knew I was smart and that I scored well on the ACT, I fought imposter syndrome the first year of school. I think there was something about not being able to qualify my education in a traditional sense that made me question if others thought I was intelligent or not. Students who feel this way should talk to their professors to get a sense of how they’re doing in the class early on, making it easier for them to feel confident in their abilities.
I figured this out pretty quickly, but I remember receiving my first writing assignment – a response to some readings we did – and being completely overwhelmed by wondering how I was supposed to do it. Simple things like how to format the page and what it meant to “respond” to reading really tripped me up. I think I spent about eight hours on that first assignment, whereas I could do them in 20 minutes by the time I graduated. Like the fear of speaking in class, homeschoolers who gain classroom experience before coming to college can learn these basic skills before the rigors of freshman year set in.
As someone who pretty much always had control of my time growing up, I struggled to find balance between social and personal time the first year. I was so excited to make new friends, join student groups, and be involved on campus, but at the end of the day I’m definitely an introvert. I used to slip off to a local park my freshman year just to be alone as I didn’t really understand that you could just say you needed downtime.
In addition to many online homeschooling programs popping up in recent years, making it possible for students to engage with other learners while completing coursework, online college programs are a natural transition for lots of home-educated students. Check out some of the reasons you might consider an online program below, along with examples of how distance learners engage with their professors and peers along the educational journey.
Lots of homeschooled students decide to participate in dual enrollment to get a sense of the workload in college and complete some coursework before freshman year starts. Students who feel anxiety about their preparedness can use these classes to build self confidence, learn about the basic mechanics of college classes, and save money by enrolling at a community college rather than a four-year institution.
Some students aren’t ready to leave home after they leave high school but don’t want to sacrifice academic quality. Because thousands of colleges now offer online classes and full degree programs, students can attend some of the most prestigious institutions in the country without ever leaving their homes.
These days, lots of brick-and-mortar institutions provide both traditional and online classes. Students who feel they aren’t ready for full-time classroom learning don’t have to miss out on student interaction, as those who enroll at colleges or universities close to their homes can have it both ways. Students can complete their coursework online but still visit campus to take part in student life activities and get to know their peers.
Online education is a great option for homeschoolers looking to save money, as the ability to continue living at home and bypass the commute means they don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars each month on dorms, transportation, and meal plans. Additionally, many public schools now allow out-of-state learners to pay in-state tuition, making it possible for students to attend a prestigious school without paying a premium price.
Because homeschoolers don’t follow state-mandated education plans, they often have the opportunity to study topics not offered in the core curriculum. “In addition to my core classes in high school, I also studied Koine Greek, horsemanship, and entrepreneurship my last two years of school,” notes the author. Students who are used to having choices may find themselves frustrated at the lack of options for majors at local schools, but distance learning opens the door to countless academic paths.
AFHE awards an annual scholarship to students planning to attend a college, university, or trade school who were homeschooled all four years of high school. The award amount varies each year and applications are due March 9.
The Home Education Recognition Organization (HERO) provides this $1,000 scholarship to students homeschooled at least their last two years of high school who demonstrate academic excellence. Applications must be received by March 1.
Texas-based students who were home educated at least two years and are members of the Cypress Home School Association are eligible for this annual award. Applicants must be active members of CHA and send their applications by March 24.
Students from the state of Washington who received a homeschool diploma can apply for this $1,000 award, provided they write a 3-4 page essay in response to a prompt about their experiences with homeschooling. They must also plan to attend the University of Washington.
Homeschoolers Helping Homeschoolers provides two $1,000 scholarships annually to high school seniors who were homeschooled at least two full years. Applicants must demonstrate extracurricular involvement and financial need. Applications are due March 31.
Homeschooled juniors and seniors residing in the state of Virginia can apply for the numerous scholarships provided by this organization, which total up to $10,000. To be eligible, learners must write an essay about Robert E. Lee or Thomas Jackson.
The Christian Homeschool Association of Pennsylvania (CHAP) makes available this $1,000 scholarship to students who are members of CHAP and residents of Pennsylvania. Learners must provide a 1,000-word essay about their Christian walk, experiences with homeschooling, and future plans. Applications are due April 15.
Home-educated students in North Carolina who provide a transcript, standardized test scores, letters of recommendation, evidence of extracurriculars, and an essay about their experiences with homeschooling are eligible for this $2,000 award. Applications must be received by March 15.
Nyack College in New York provides a sliding scale grant for homeschooled students accepted to the school. For every year a student was homeschooled, they receive $1,000. Learners must maintain a GPA of 2.5 or higher to keep their grant.
This private Christian school in Pasadena, California provides scholarships of up to $5,000 to learners who were homeschooled all or part of high school and have been accepted to the school.
Yale University provides a page on their admissions website that gives homeschooled students a sense of what’s expected from them in terms of testing, letters of recommendation, and personal qualities.Home School Legal Defense Association
The HSLDA offers a step-by-step guide for homeschooled high school students seeking more information about admissions, diplomas, dual enrollment, and financial aid.The Homeschool Lounge
The Homeschool Lounge was created as a virtual meeting place where homeschool moms can chat about homeschooling, college preparation, and similar experiences.How We Are Preparing Our Homeschooled Kids for College
The blog “Life as Mom” offers helpful advice to parents of homeschoolers who want to make sure their kids are ready for all that college entails.Indiana Association of Home Educators
The IAHE is just one example of the many state-level homeschool organizations that students can turn to when it comes time to apply for college.National Black Home Educators
Since 2000, NBHE has helped African American families gather all the information needed to home educate their children and prepare them for higher education.National Home School Association
The NHSA offers membership perks such as conventions, webinars, seminars, and support groups about college prep throughout the United States for homeschooling families.