College Admission for Homeschooled Students
by Howard and Matthew Greene

One of the major goals of Ten Steps to College with the Greenes is to "level the playing field" by providing students, parents, and counselors across the country accessible and comprehensive information about the college admission process. While filming the program in Indiana, we had the opportunity to interact with many parents and students, as well as representatives of IU. The program was filmed over two evenings with live studio audiences including Indiana high school and middle school students and their parents. What struck us most significantly about these families was the commonality between their concerns and those of families we talk with across the country, North and South, East and West. One of the most interesting questions we were asked in our program concerned home schooling. "How," asked a home schooling Mom, "should a homeschooled student best present himself or herself to colleges? What would be important for this student to show the colleges, in terms of academic accomplishments, extracurricular activities, and evaluations?" An essential point we made to her, and which we would like all homeschool students and parents to know, is that there are many college opportunities for homeschooled students across the country, and that being homeschooled should not limit students' options. There are important steps to take, which we outline here.

According to the National Home Education Network (www.nhen.org), there are between 1.5 and 2 million homeschooled students in the U.S. (3 to 4 percent of the school-age population). Others estimate 850,000 homeschoolers approaching college (Chronicle of Higher Education, 1/17/03). Every state has laws detailing the rights and responsibilities of families who choose to educate their children on their own for a number of significant reasons. Federal attention to homeschoolers and their access to college has increased under the Bush administration, as home schooling organizations lobby for fewer restrictions and requirements for college-bound homeschooled students. Federal and state governments, and public and private colleges and universities are grappling with what types of diploma requirements homeschooled students need to fulfill. States have formal requirements certifying a student's completion of a high school level curriculum and preparedness for college. While we counsel homeschooled students to consider a General Educational Development (GED) credential, and to take a number of standardized tests to present a stronger portfolio, many homeschooled students do not have these credentials. The home school movement is arguing against mandates for them, or "extra" requirements for homeschoolers. Colleges are trying to monitor and adapt to federal and state legislation and Department of Education guidelines that will govern admissions and financial aid eligibility for homeschooled students, as well as an institution's eligibility to receive federal student-aid under the Higher Education Act if they admit students without "the recognized equivalent of a high-school diploma." (Chronicle of Higher Education, 1/17/03) Recent guidelines from Washington, for example, have clarified that colleges are not at risk of losing federal student aid if they admit homeschooled students without diploma or GED.

It is clear that homeschoolers do not represent a homogenous group. While the home school movement has been identified nationally as a conservative movement, homeschoolers are not all religiously or politically conservative, or white, or rural. Many are liberal, or libertarian, or international, or urban dwellers, or African American, or Hispanic. They may have concerns about the substance or style of public, independent, or parochial education. They may be worried about the safety and security of their local schools, negative peer influences, support for physical or learning disabilities, or large class size. There may not be a good school close to their home. Primarily they are concerned parents attempting to make the right educational choice for their children. It is important for parents and students to help colleges recognize the diversity of the home schooling population, and to see an individual homeschooled student as potentially a good match for a particular college environment.

Homeschooled students hoping to continue their education at selective colleges will find, we believe, admissions officers willing to look favorably on their applications, but needing to know more about the students. The first challenge homeschooled students face is their lack of a traditional high school diploma and transcript. That is the core of most admission applications, so homeschooled students will need to present alternate materials to show their strengths in a variety of academic subject areas. Most high schools not only send to colleges a transcript outlining a student's curriculum (the courses they took over four years) and grades (including a cumulative GPA), but they also produce a school profile that indicates levels and types of academic courses offered, standing of the student in the graduating class (a rank or a decile distribution, for example), a list of colleges students have attended, the percentage of graduates going on to college, and so forth. The homeschooled student needs to produce something similar to provide admissions officers with comparable information. While some colleges require homeschooled students to earn a GED diploma in lieu of the high school degree, many will accept a portfolio of a student's academic and non-academic accomplishments, including details of the subject areas covered and in which learning environments, as sufficient proof of suitable pre-college studies. Students may undertake coursework at community colleges and in pre-college summer programs at universities and send transcripts from these programs to the colleges to which they are applying. There are also many on-line courses offered by universities across the country.

Of next importance is testing. Though this is a controversial area, it is imperative that homeschooled students put together a strong portfolio of standardized tests to make themselves more attractive to competitive colleges. Students should take the SAT I or ACT, and consider sitting for several SAT II Subject Tests, such as the Writing and Math tests, and one or more science, history, or language tests. Additionally, students may prepare themselves to take the Advanced Placement (AP) tests given by the College Board each May, as well as tests given by national organizations in languages, mathematics, and sciences. A strong academic portfolio, combined with top-notch standardized test marks, will provide an excellent foundation for homeschooled students' applications. For students who do not do well on standardized tests, a number of colleges have made some or all of them optional. Visit www.fairtest.org for an updated list of colleges with various test-optional policies. Once students have established their class and testing credentials, they can seek out interviews at colleges and with college alumni. They can write exciting essays about their interests and background and goals. They can pursue one or more of their passions, whether in academics, athletics, music, arts, volunteer service, travel, or another unique area, to the highest degree possible. Joining teams, community organizations, or other social groups can help to allay any concerns on the part of colleges about a student's socialization. Students can seek out recommendations from their parents or others involved in their education, and from employers, coaches, mentors, peers, and others who significantly influenced their lives. As with any student involved in the college admissions process, a homeschooled student should be looking for the best fit, and developing a logical understanding and argument as to why he or she is seeking admission to the colleges on his or her list. There is no reason for a concerned and supportive parent who feels strongly that there are advantages to homeschooling their child to believe that college acceptance represents a significant roadblock in their educational journey.

For homeschool students and parents looking at colleges, here are some key points to consider when evaluating appropriate institutions: 1. Does the college have a record of admitting homeschooled students? The NHEN lists over 1,000 selective colleges that have admitted homeschoolers. Is this college on the list? 2. Is the college demanding more of homeschooled students? Colleges should require or recommend the same tests for homeschoolers that they do for "regular" applicants. 3. Is the college open to your sending additional, "nontraditional" information as part of your application? Does the college encourage homeschooled students to provide more information about their education, through testing, portfolios, a GED, an interview, and so forth, so that they may make a better informed admission decision? 4. Are there support networks on campus to link and work with homeschooled students once they arrive? 5. Are there any homeschooled students currently on campus, or are there recent graduates, with whom you could talk about their experience at the college?
© 2003 by Howard R. Greene and Matthew W. Greene. All rights reserved.
This article can be found online at http://www.pbs.org/tenstepstocollege/focus_main.html
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