Over the past decade as the number of college-bound students has decreased and university budgets have been tightened, colleges have increasingly relied on more quantifiable methods of assessing the quality of their incoming students. While qualitative factors, such as the assessment of a student's leadership skills, learning ability and character remain an important ingredient in the admission process, some colleges have been forced to rely more on test results and GPAs in order to achieve recruiting goals in the most efficient way. In my ten years working in college admission, the last five years of which has been spent advising college-bound homeschoolers, I have developed an appreciation of the struggles that homeschoolers have encountered as they begin the college admission process. Some colleges are skeptical of a system of education that is not measurable by traditional assessment methods. Most admission offices are far more comfortable evaluating Carnegie units, AP credits, and honors classes than they are reviewing a homeschool portfolio. Measurement of homeschool applications is time consuming and can be difficult for colleges that are not familiar with reviewing homeschool documents. It is necessary to thoroughly read many pages of documentation, gain an understanding of the various teaching methods used, and ascertain the student's degree of leadership and community involvement.
Unfortunately, some colleges are just not willing to spend 2-4 hours reviewing the admission materials for one student. Are these colleges missing out on some terrific students that could be assets to their campus? The answer is Yes!
More and more colleges are beginning to understand that homeschooling is not going away and that it is necessary to review their admission policies to allow creativity and flexibility to enter into the admission equation. I think the tide is changing; admission professionals are beginning to understand that well prepared homeschoolers deserve an equal chance to prove themselves in the collegiate environment and that they can be wonderful additions to an educational community.
I have had the pleasure of counseling many talented young men and women who have been educated primarily in the home. I have come to greatly value the highly developed sense of self-discipline and love of learning that is fostered by this style of education. I find homeschooled students to be well-read, independent and uninhibited about expressing their views in a classroom. But, I also greatly appreciate the inherent dilemma a student faces when it comes time to choose a college or university for further study. Will the college continue to foster the same love of learning that homeschoolers have thrived on? Will the curriculum challenge students' thinking in new and exciting ways? Homeschooled students and parents have distinct requirements and a vested interest in building on an important educational foundation that has been fostered in the home. I find that homeschooled students truly understand that learning occurs everywhere and most certainly it is not confined to a classroom.
How Do You Select a College That Is a Good Match for a Homeschooler?
The college search process is traditionally begun by reviewing guide books, surfing the internet, reading university publications, and attending college fairs all in the quest for important indicators of a university's quality. Students and parents evaluate the college's ranking among its peers, leading to questions like, how large is the school? What is the student-to-teacher ratio? What laboratory facilities are available? All of these questions are very good, but do they give you a real picture of what happens day-to-day in that academic environment? Does this numerical data tell you if students graduate with greater intellectual and social maturity than when they enrolled? It is easy to get caught up in measuring the numbers instead of looking for a vibrant nurturing educational community that is a good fit for the individual student.
A good college match really comes down to finding a campus with bright students that are interacting with a teaching faculty. The faculty should be interested in student learning and will supplement their classroom teaching with relevant collaborative experiences and internships that allow students to test their classroom knowledge in real-life situations. The faculty should think of themselves as orchestrators rather than performers, guiding thought and encouraging excellence as they interact with students. The college should offer innovative internship programs, study-abroad programs and programs that connect students to the institution's alumni.
To find a university that fits this "formula", ask some of these questions.
* What is the "quality" of the whole educational experience?
* Will I interact with other bright, diverse students?
* Will I leave college a much broader, well-educated person than when I began?
* Will I discover things about myself and the world around me that will make a difference in the way I view life?
* Will the skills I learn allow me to adapt to a rapidly changing world?
* Will I have an opportunity to test these skills and concepts in real life situations?
* Will this college prepare me for graduate work or employment?
Once You Have Found a University That Is a Good Match for You, How Do You Gain Admission?
Academic Portfolio - This document is a record of your course of study grades 9-12. A big portion of the admission process is determining if a potential student is the kind of learner that will thrive in that particular academic environment. You can assist admission officers by painting a complete picture of yourself as a learner. Portfolios should include, but are not limited to information about book lists, extracurricular activities, writing samples from each academic year, tests, recommendations, volunteer work, travel experiences, examples of a hobby or craft, and honors or awards. If you have affiliated with a distance learning center or correspondence program of any type, a portfolio can still be a very useful supplement to the basic academic transcript that is usually produced by this type of organization.
Admission Office - Contact the Office of Admission at each college in which you are interested to receive admission material at least one year prior to enrollment. Over the course of the next year, visit each campus for a tour, interview and to make personal contact with the admission counselor that will be reviewing your file. (This may not be possible at large institutions) Pay very close attention to deadlines for applications, financial aid paperwork and housing agreements. Request an opportunity to sit in on a class and/or stay overnight in the residence halls.
Testing - Register to take the SAT or ACT in your sophomore or junior year of high school. This will allow time in the senior year to take the test a second or third time if needed. Take the appropriate SAT-II tests in the senior year if the college of your choice requires these tests for admission.
Joint Enrollment - While simultaneously completing a high school curriculum, students may wish to enroll in one or more appropriate college courses at a local college. Joint enrollment can help prepare you for some of the changes that home schoolers face transitioning into the college classroom. Attending a college class can familiarize students with: time limits or deadlines on assignments, college note-taking, working in teams, class discussion, and adjusting their writing style to different instructors.
In addition to these valuable benefits, in most cases the college credit earned during joint enrollment can apply toward your undergraduate degree. Recommendations completed by the instructors after joint enrollment classes can also be very valuable additions to your academic portfolio.
Changes in admission policies will not occur overnight, but as the homeschooling movement explodes around the country, college admission professionals must take note of the increasing number of "non-traditionally educated" students. These students when given the opportunity can enrich college campuses. When you combine bright students with a love of learning and a strong, engaging faculty, and you assist them with making connections to the community, you have created a powerful thing... an education for a lifetime.
©1999, Barbara B. Henry
This site is sponsored by Home Education Magazine.