College Admission Requirements for Homeschoolers

Homeschooling college requirementsCollege admission is stressful and challenging for any student, but homeschoolers face additional difficulties above those of their public- and private-schooled peers. If you went through home school either partially or wholly, you must be aware of the specific college admission requirements for homeschoolers.

In the past, homeschoolers have had difficulties with college admission. The Higher Education Act was modified in 1998 to make it easier for those in home schooling to apply to college, but there were fears among university administrators that accepting homeschooled students would affect their federal funds. Only a few colleges accepted homeschooling as a valid alternatives for more traditional high school learning.

In 2003, the Department of Education clarified its position by stating that no university would be penalized in their federal funding in any way for accepting a homeschooler. It also more clearly defined the admission and application requirements for homeschooled students. In the years that followed, the majority of U.S. universities altered their admissions policies to evaluate homeschooled applicants in the same way as all other applicants.

College Applications for Homeschooled Students

College Applications for Homeschooled Students Many universities, including top-ranked colleges and Ivy League schools, receive applications from a substantial number of students with all or part of a home school education. According to the Harvard College Director of Admissions, "We are looking for the strongest candidates in the world and we find some of those among homeschoolers."

Harvard College, along with other top universities, evaluates traditional and homeschooled applicants the same way. Prospective students must submit their scores for either the SAT I or ACT tests — I wrote previously about how to choose between the SAT and ACT — and typically their scores for three SAT II Subject Tests. These standardized tests allow the university to compare homeschooled applicants with traditional students, so scores on these tests are particularly important for homeschoolers.

Your coursework as a homeschooler is also important. You should ensure that you are taking classes that match in subject and difficulty with the most rigorous offerings at local public and private schools. The more closely the rigor of your homeschool curriculum matches that of traditional schools, the more likely you are to be compared positively with your peers. According to the Harvard College admissions website, "an ideal four-year preparatory program includes four years of English, with extensive practice in writing; four years of math; four years of science: biology, chemistry, physics, and an advanced course in one of these subjects; three years of history, including American and European history; and four years of one foreign language."

Letters of Recommendation for Homeschoolers

Typically, traditionally schooled applicants will submit letters of recommendation from teachers or other educators. A homeschooled student may not have the body of teachers to draw such letters from. Keep in mind, however, that letters of recommendation do not always need to come from a teacher. Most universities will be happy to receive letters from anyone who is directly familiar with the prospective student's life away from the classroom. A letter from a sports coach, dance instructor, or volunteer coordinator will carry just as much weight as one from an educator. Additionally, homeschooled students can look for letters from any tutors or other academic professions with whom they work, supervisors at a part-time job, or a religious leader.

Homeschooler's Class Rank

Many homeschoolers worry that their application will be hurt because they cannot provide a class rank. Remember that although many applicants come from large public high schools, many also come from smaller private schools. These small traditional schools also do not give class ranks. At many universities, the class rank is just a single criterion admissions officers use. Lacking a class rank will not hurt your college application in any way, but it will mean that more of an emphasis will be put on other criteria in your application packet, including standardized test scores, course rigor, and extracurricular involvement.

Extracurricular Activities and Home School

Extracurricular Activities and Home SchoolEvery homeschooled student should be involved with outside activities. Academic credentials are important, but a good homeschooler should combine academic performance with extracurricular activities to show a well-rounded education. Homeschoolers often omit activities from their application because they feel non-traditional. Ensure that you fully explore all of your activities, awards, honors, hobbies, and anything else that gives a complete picture of who you are. For many universities, broadly evaluating a student's special interests plays as important a role as evaluating the student's GPA and SAT scores.

Though most colleges do not require anything additional of its homeschooled applicants in terms of testing or additional credentials — and many are actually prohibited by law from doing so — robust academic credentials allow a homeschooler to appear more competitive. Awards and honors you win while in competition with traditional students should always be included in your application. College-level courses taken in conjunction with your home schooling curriculum will also help to set you apart.

Specific Application Requirements for Homeschoolers

Every college is different, but you must often include a high school diploma with a parent's transcript, your standardized test scores, a portfolio review, any written essays required by the application such as a personal statement, and any entrance examinations the university may require to test your preparedness. Most colleges will permit you to submit equivalent documentation for anything that is inapplicable to a homeschooler, such as letters of recommendation. If the school application materials do not explicitly list such alternatives, contact the school's admissions office.

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Can I Slack Off in My Senior Year?

Student suffers from senioritisThe spring semester of your senior year is the most tempting time to start slacking off. With admissions letters rolling in, students feel as if they can stop worrying about the rest of their senior years. After all, you have already been accepted to the college of your choice, so working hard to maintain that 4.0 doesn't feel necessary.

Do I have to worry about the rest of my senior year?

Yes!

It is very important to maintain the same level of academic performance for the rest of your senior year, even when you feel yourself succumbing to senioritis. Your college acceptance is contingent on your ability to finish your high school career. Though you may only feel yourself slacking from an A to a B, it is very easy to slip down into Cs or Ds without realizing it, potentially jeopardizing your ability to graduate on time.

Additionally, colleges receive a final transcript of your grades once you graduate and are able to rescind your admission if they feel that your academic performance is not longer up to their standards. Many universities will check, and students have had their admissions letters revoked for low grades due to senioritis.

Even if your admission is not in danger of post-acceptance revocation, many colleges make determinations for merit-based scholarships after receiving your final grades. If you do not maintain your grades to the end of your senior year, you may lose your eligibility for these scholarships.

College is not going to be any easier than high school, and it is important to keep up with your studying skills. Slacking for your last semester in high school will only leave you struggling in your first semester of college. Keep studying and working hard and you will find yourself well-prepared for your first year at your university.

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Online College Courses

With so many high school students applying to dwindling spaces in colleges, and with adults considering higher education as a way to be more competitive in an unstable job market, the amount of applications universities receive has skyrocketed. With that increasing number comes a growing need to get any edge possible in your college application.

One very common and longstanding recommendation is for students to take a few college courses before the application process to show that the student is prepared for the academic rigor expected in a university. Unfortunately, not all students have access to a nearby school at which to take college courses. Fortunately, many very well-regarded universities are turning to the Internet to offer online college courses. No matter your location, you can enroll in an online college course and use your completion as evidence of your academic prowess on your college application.

Additionally, sampling a few university classes by taking online college courses will help you focus your interests and pick a major you're happy with early — rather than spending your first few years in school switching from major to major.

Open Yale Courses, a free service from Yale University in Connecticut, features introductory courses in a variety of topics, including astronomy, chemistry, economics, philosophy, psychology, and more. The courses are real lectures taught by real Yale professors and are intended for those with little or no background in the subject.

The Isaac Newton Institute for Mathematical Sciences at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom features a rich list of math lessons available for free online. The Institute also features a number of physics and biology topics, such as lectures on string theory or phylogenetics. While many of the topics may be difficult to grasp for someone who has only taken high school math and science courses, a diligent student should find the subjects within reach.

For individuals hoping to sharpen their foreign language skills or even pick up an entirely new language, BBC offers audio and video language courses in 36 different languages. Universities appreciate individuals who are able to view the world from multiple perspectives, and in-depth learning into a language and culture will make you appear more diverse in your college application. Additionally, your language learning may allow you to take a proficiency exam at your university to waive a foreign language requirement.

As a general resource, the education channel of YouTube also has a surprising number of college-level material. With categories including business, engineering, history, journalism, and law, YouTube features videos of actual college courses taught by professors at schools like Carnegie Mellon, Stanford and UC Berkeley. The quantity of videos on YouTube is large, but you may have to look through a lot of topics to find one that interests you.

Though none of these options will give you a degree or certificate, you should discuss your additional educational pursuits somewhere in your application packet. Not only will you show that you have gone above and beyond other students in your preparation for college, you will also ready yourself for college-level material and find a discipline that interests you.

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What to Do During Spring Break

With many students across the nation starting their spring breaks this week, I thought it would be a good time to review ways to maximize your vacation period. I want to first remind both students and parents that spring break should be a time for rest; burning out now will hurt you a lot in the long run. But there are still things you should be doing this week to keep on the college track.

For Freshman: If you haven't started to keep a list of your activities and accomplishments, do so now. When it comes time to write your resume for college, having a list of your greatest achievements in one, centralized source will make your 'brag sheet' much easier. It will also ensure that you leave nothing out. You should also start looking into scholarships you could apply for. Writing a simple 2-page essay could net you a quick $500 for college, and the money adds up really quickly if you commit do doing this for the next four years. Consult with your high school's counselors or with a website like FastWeb.com to find these opportunities.

For Sophomores: In addition to everything a Freshman should be doing, you may also consider starting a preliminary list of colleges that interest you. Keeping in mind the 10 things to think about when picking a college, develop a list of about 15-20 schools that interest you. You don't have to do a huge amount of research on each university just yet, but having this list will at least prepare you for some of the steps you will have to take in the future. You can always add or subtract colleges as you learn more.

For Juniors: In addition to the Freshman and Sophomore activities, you should spend your spring break gearing up for the SAT or ACT if you have not yet taken one. You don't need to enroll in a test prep class just yet, but consider a book like The Official SAT Study GuideOfficial SAT Study Guide to run through a few practice tests and see where you stand. You may also want to tour a few local colleges this week to help add to or subtract from your ongoing list. This is your most important spring break, so make sure to use your time wisely. You have your senior-year spring to party, so spend your junior-year one preparing for college.

For Seniors: Hopefully by now you have received a few college acceptances. Though many will not notify you until mid-April, having a college acceptance or two in hand by now is incredibly comforting. Keep up with scholarship applications, and schedule tours at the colleges that have accepted you to test them out. Many universities offer an "admit day" during spring break to meet with deans, staff, and faculty. Now is also a good time to finish planning your summer. Will you be taking a Summer Early Start program? Perhaps take a few preparatory community college courses? Get a job and earn some practical work experience and money? The choice is yours, but hammering out your plans now ensures that your summer is as productive as possible.

For more tips on how to plan your spring breaks and high school years, read my Action Plan Calendar.

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The Easy ‘A’ vs. the Honors ‘B’: The Myths and Lies of High School Class Selection

Reader Jason S., a high school Junior soon selecting classes for his Senior year, asks:

I have to choose between two classes, one that is IB/AP and will be really challenging, and one that's much easier and I'm sure I'll get an A in. People keep telling me that I should always take the hardest classes I can, but my GPA can really use a boost, and I'm afraid that if I don't get an 'A' in the class I pick, my GPA won't be good enough. What should I do?

Excellent question, Jason, and one almost every student has had to face at some time in their schooling. If anyone ever tells you to, "always take the hardest class," you're getting bad advice. Similarly, if anyone ever tells you to, "get the guaranteed 'A'," you're getting bad advice. The right answer, unfortunately, is "it depends."

High School Guidance Counselor

There are two considerations you must make: balancing the numbers game of the college admissions process and the academic expectations the colleges will have. Which side of the balancing scale you put more weight on depends on your current status as a student and the college you want to get into. In general, if your target university has a particularly competitive application pool, it is more likely that the admissions officers will expect to see greater academic rigor. In these cases, they are already looking at a lot of very successful candidates, and need to use the strength of an academic program to further compare students.

In other words, if a specific college will deeply consider all applicants with a GPA above 3.6, it may prefer a student with a 3.8 who took rigorous courses over a 4.0 student who opted for an easier route. This, however, is no consolation for another applicant with a 3.4 and a history of great academic rigor who was rejected in favor of the 3.8 student who took an easy load.

You should absolutely not automatically register for the hardest classes available. Rather, you must know your scholastic capacity and move to the next reasonable, appropriate level of rigor for you personally in each academic discipline.

In practical terms, this means you should be comparing your GPA with the 25th and 75th percentiles of accepted students at the colleges you are interested in attending (these statistics are usually published by the admissions department and are available online). Let's say a hypothetical college has a 25th percentile admitted GPA of 3.42 and a 75th percentile GPA of 3.76. If your GPA is currently 3.8 (something above the 75th percentile number), you should aim to take the most challenging courses available to you, because a slight drop in GPA will not significantly hurt your chances. If, however, your GPA is 3.3 (under the 25th percentile), you should switch to an easier load to raise your GPA and make you more numerically competitive. Finally, if your GPA is somewhere in-between the two numbers, you should balance these two interests and aim to earn a GPA as close as possible to the 75th percentile while also maintaining a reasonably challenging course load.

Don't forget, though, that part of high school is about preparing yourself for the rigors of college. Wherever you end up going, you will likely find that academic expectations exceed what you were used to in high school. By constantly increasing the difficulty of your high school classes, the step up to college will be more comfortable. Not only does this make for a smoother first year, but it also increases your likelihood of a higher college GPA.

So, Jason, I wish I could say that there was an easier answer to your question. Naturally, I must suggest that you take the harder class and strive for an 'A' as this would be the most preferential outcome, but I understand that it might not be feasible. You must look at your own situation and consider your current competitiveness at your selected universities. Only then can you devise a plan which maximizes your chances for admission at each. Good luck!

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Don’t Worry About the Money: Why Stressing About Student Loans is Unnecessary

Stressed studentI find that students worry about money far more than they should. These worries start during the applications process when the high tuition price tag leads many to make admissions decisions on the basis of finances. Don't do this. Every college in the nation has plans set up to help you afford its education. For most students, educational loans are a necessity. And these types of loans should never frighten you.

Student loans are very different than other types of loans. While you may be seen as a credit risk if you hold $1000 in outstanding credit card debt, carrying twenty times that or more in educational debt does not have the same financial stigma (assuming you make your minimum monthly payments, of course). These types of loans are considered "good debt" because they represent an investment. Further, students loans are incredibly common. 65.7% of graduates go into the real world with loan repayment beckoning and with an average debt of $19,237.

Colleges loans common and harmless, and may even help you financially as well if you're smart about repayment. Consider these comments from John of FreeCollegeBlog.com:

If the student loan is subsidized, chances are that your best bet is to make the monthly minimum payments and forget about it. Most investments, even safe ones like government bonds, can get a better interest rate than what you're paying to the student loan. It might just be 1 or 2% difference, but over the life of the payments you could earn thousands more from investing than you saved by avoiding the almost non-existent interest fees.

In other words, you might actually be able to make money by intelligently investing the capital you've earned as a result of your education. Read the rest of John's investment analysis in his Pay off students loans, or invest? article.

The major point to take away is that educational loans are not scary. It may be daunting now to look ahead to the future and see an eventual debt of $30,000 and a repayment plan stretching 10 years after graduation, but this should never influence your ultimate application decisions. Notice that in my 10 things to think about when picking a college article, I never once mention the cost. Pick a school that you love without worrying about the money. You never know when a handsome financial aid package will be dropped in your lap, even potentially after you've already become a student.

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