For even more details, tips, and answers, see the chapters from Homeschooled & Headed for College mentioned in each answer.
Are homeschooled students at an advantage or a disadvantage when it comes to applying for college admission?
When homeschooling was a rare and novel phenomenon, homeschoolers encountered either resistance from colleges, or (in the case of more “enlightened” colleges) a welcoming environment due to their unique, off-the-beaten-path approach to education and learning. Since then, colleges have become much more familiar with the world of homeschooling and the fact that this educational option is not going away any time soon. In some institutions during the past decade or so, homeschoolers have even been accepted at a higher percentage rate than are the typical traditionally schooled students. Currently, homeschooling is becoming more widely recognized as a viable option, and many college applications have a checkbox for “homeschooled” alongside the boxes for “public or private school.”
To answer the question, homeschoolers who have done their homework in preparing a solid, interesting lineup of courses, have studied diligently for college entrance exams, have pursued their passions, and have made it a point to be involved in the community through extracurriculars and service are generally being accepted on an equal footing to traditional students. Those who have used their flexible homeschooling schedules and environments to go beyond the basic requirements and shine brightly in an area of special interest—perhaps earning national recognition or showing real delight in learning and innovation—have even better odds. However, homeschoolers who have not put effort into the college preparation process or who do not try to present their experiences in a “language” the admissions office can understand may be at somewhat of a disadvantage.
HSLDA offers information on its website regarding colleges that are “homeschool friendly” However, never be deterred from trying others that are not on the “friendly” lists—the more homeschoolers who successfully enter and graduate from our nation’s universities, the easier it becomes for future homeschoolers to gain admission. Chapter 20 “Information, Please: A Tour of a Typical College Application: and Chapter 21 “Working Smart, Not Hard: Tips and Precautions about College Applications” provide guidance in how to translate your homeschool experiences to a format that admissions officers can understand.
How important are honors and Advanced Placement* (AP) courses?
For any student capable of handling the extra work of these courses, they are quite important for demonstrating that the student has challenged himself or herself. Almost universally, colleges ask that the student take “the most demanding courses” of which he or she is capable, as these courses will help prepare the student for rigorous college courses. Students need not take honors courses in every single subject. However, in subjects of special skill or interest, or subjects which could be the student’s college major, honors and Advanced Placement courses will sharpen students’ skills and demonstrate their interest. For homeschoolers, especially, evidence of seeking out demanding courses is important. See Chapter 12, “Jumping Ahead: Honors and Advanced Placement Courses” to learn strategies for finding and creating challenging courses for your student.
What is a “good” score on the SAT* Exam or the ACT® Test?
This question has no single answer, for it depends on the colleges the student is aspiring to attend. A very general answer, for the SAT exam, is that scores in the 600’s for each section are strong and 700’s are excellent; however, numerous fine colleges admit students with scores in the 500’s. For the ACT, very roughly speaking, scores from 32 to 36 are analogous to 700’s on the SAT, 27 to 31 compare with 600’s, and 22 to 26 are similar to 500’s. (See “ACT/SAT Concordance” on the ACT site, act.org.) Note that differences in the tests and their content make such comparisons imperfect.
The best way to answer this question for yourself is to look on the websites of colleges you are interested in, and check their profiles of admitted students. Most colleges will post the average SAT or ACT test scores of admitted students or will post a “middle 50% range,” meaning that 25% of the students admitted fell below the lower score stated, and 25% of the students scored above this score.
Chapter 19, “Sharpen Those #2 Pencils: SAT and ACT Exams…and the Rest of the Tests,” is filled with information and study strategies for these tests and show how you can gradually “attack” the task of test preparation rather than relegating it to a few stress-filled months.
What are colleges looking for in an applicant? Does this differ for homeschooled applicants?
The basic elements of a college application are the transcript (showing the number, level, and rigor of the courses chosen), the grades in these courses, class ranking compared to one’s peers, standardized test scores, student activities and leadership, the application essay, letters of recommendation from teachers, and personal interview if offered. Most private universities or smaller institutions look at these items holistically, not focusing unduly on any one item. Large, bureaucratic public institutions may focus on courses, grades, and test scores in a “formula” for admission.
For homeschoolers, whose transcripts typically come from an unaccredited school, the course grades may take on less significance, causing the test scores and other application elements to rise in significance. Thus it is especially important to present either strong test scores, a clear picture of pursuit of leadership and passion in extracurriculars, or both. On the bright side, admissions officers may be particularly fascinated with the homeschooling process, asking the student to explain what this educational choice allowed him or her to accomplish during high school, or asking the student to tell about these experiences during the interview.
Chapter 24, “Behind Closed Doors: The Admissions Process” lets you in on some of the “secret” happenings in the admissions department and how they result in that all-important “yes” or “no.”
How can homeschooled students submit teacher recommendations?
Taking a few outside classes during the high school years will provide opportunities for teachers other than the parents to get to know the student. Teachers from community college classes, co-op classes, online classes, as well as tutors or homeschool independent study program administrators can all be valuable sources for teacher evaluations. Most universities ask for one or two teacher evaluations in addition to a “counselor” evaluation which is frequently completed by the homeschool parent (but check to see who the college wants to complete this document). It is wise for a homeschooled student to spend time getting to know outside instructors, especially during the junior and senior year, in order to have a source of recommendations. Sometimes colleges will allow a pastor, work supervisor, coach, or other adult to complete an evaluation, but generally it must be someone commenting on the student’s academics.
Chapter 23, “The Sealed Envelope: Letters of Recommendation,” provides a look at what information is requested on a typical evaluation letter and gives tips on who to ask and how to help the process go smoothly.
Will homeschoolers need to supply any additional documentation to colleges when applying?
Colleges vary widely in what they require of homeschoolers. Some do not require anything extra; others hold up numerous hoops for homeschoolers to jump through. The most common additional items you may encounter include extra SAT Subject Test scores, course descriptions from the student’s high school courses, and the School Report on the Common Application®, filled out by the parent or by a suitable person in the role of the guidance counselor. Homeschool parents should keep documentation on course descriptions for home-based and outside courses so that these may be provided quickly at application time.
Chapter 20, “Information Please: A Tour of a Typical College Application” points out areas that homeschoolers will want to know about before tackling the college application.
What are the pros and cons of being a “well-rounded” student when applying for college?
Being “well-rounded,” (participating in a large variety of activities and pursuits) is a rewarding way of living life. A student who enjoys not only academics but also sports, music, drama, and community service is an asset to any group he or she joins, and to any college he or she attends. However, looking too “well-rounded” can cause a student to blend into the sea of thousands of other applicants. The current trend is that colleges look for “angular” rather than “round” students. They still want to see participation in a variety of activities, but they are also searching for that spark of passion. This exciting angle of an applicant shows that the student has spent time developing one or two strong interests in obvious ways—and thus, this student will be an asset to the university.
Chapter 15, “Extra, Extra! Extracurriculars and Employment” highlights numerous ideas for developing strong interests and passions that will shine at application time.
How can a homeschooler demonstrate leadership?
Since homeschoolers can’t run for class president or serve as officers in campus clubs, they have to be a bit more creative. But since leadership is far more than just a title or an office, homeschoolers are ideally positioned to show leadership out in the real world. Such leadership includes the skills of administration, influence, direction, foresight, initiative, creativity, service, and compassion—skills which are greatly needed in our neighborhoods, communities, church groups, and youth organizations. Students should be on the lookout for areas in which they can rise to leadership in organizations they are already in (community clubs, sports, music groups, church youth groups) and should also keep their eyes open for opportunities to lead by starting a new organization and inspiring others to join in.
Chapter 16, “Being a Leader When There’s No Student Body,” provides a detailed look at how homeschoolers can show leadership through community organizations, demonstrate initiative in launching new organizations, and vie for national recognition through programs such as the Congressional Award program or the President’s Volunteer Service Award.
*SAT, AP, and Advanced Placement are registered trademarks of the College Board, which was not involved in the production of, and does not endorse, this product.
ACT® is a registered trademark of ACT, Inc.
The Common Application® is a registered trademark of The Common Application, Inc.