From Home Education to Higher Education:
Preparing for the Transition
Last month marked the beginning of my family’s seventh year of homeschooling – not necessarily a remarkable anniversary, unless you’re a mom like me who feels the days slipping away faster and faster with each passing year. These have been precious years, full of exploration and learning, as much for me as for my two boys. And as my oldest son, who will be sixteen in a couple of months, begins to think seriously about college, the nostalgia I feel for these past years is slowly transitioning from sweet to bittersweet as I help him plan his first steps into adulthood.
I knew this time was coming, of course, and have been expanding my role of “homeschooling mom” to include the role of “college and career counselor” over the past two years. In 2015, in anticipation of this transition, I got busy trying to figure out how I could best support both of my college-bound sons, and decided to conduct some research about college admissions for homeschoolers. I easily found a lot of helpful information online, but there were still pieces missing as I continued to search. As a former university program director and member of an admissions committee, I knew there was more to the process than just grades and test scores. So, with the support of the Oregon Home Education Network (OHEN), I designed and launched a two-part national survey for homeschooling families and college admissions officers.
I wrote an early article about this research here, and since the launch of these online surveys, I’ve heard from almost 150 homeschooling families from all regions of the country, and almost fifty college and university admissions professionals. In addition, I’ve had the opportunity to interview select parents and admissions professionals to delve deeper into their questions, concerns, and recommendations about the college admissions process.
The perspectives and insights I’ve gained throughout this research have been incredibly valuable in the planning I’m doing with my boys, and I know that there are many, many homeschooling families who would benefit from this information, too. However, given the large quantity of information resulting from this research, I can only share some of the highlights from the research with homeschooling families in this article, and will share the full range of results, perspectives and recommendations provided by the surveys and interviews, including those with college admissions officers, in my forthcoming book (due out Summer of 2017).
From Home Education to Higher Education: What Homeschoolers Want to Know
As mentioned previously, nearly 150 families responded to the online survey over the course of several months. Almost fifty percent of the respondents reported that they were experienced homeschoolers, having homeschooled for more than five years, and approximately ninety percent indicated that their child was “extremely likely” or “very likely” to attend college. In response to the first set of multiple-choice questions asking about which issues related to college admissions for homeschoolers are most important, and how the process could be made easier, more than eighty percent of the survey respondents indicated that “understanding the documentation required” and “understanding test requirements” were both “highly important”, and a similar percentage indicated that the college application process would be made easier with the three following types of information:
- A dedicated page on the college website for homeschoolers,
- A sample homeschool transcript in the format(s) preferred by the school, and
- A checklist for the application process.
A significant number of parents also indicated that a dedicated liaison or counselor and admissions workshops for homeschoolers would also be helpful and appreciated. Next, when asked the question, “If there were one thing you would like admissions officers to know about homeschooled students, what would it be?”, the range of responses was illuminating and compelling. General themes around the ideas that homeschooled students are “different but still qualified,” that they are often above average in both academics and maturity, and that they have high levels of motivation for learning and are largely independent and self-directed learners predominated amongst these responses. Examples of some of the specific quotes include:
- “We believe in whole learning and grades are not an indication of learning achieved. Help us help you translate that into terms you can understand.”
- “Homeschooled students are self-motivated, curious, and have great social skills. They are involved in academic classes, clubs, sports, and the arts. They leave the house frequently!”
- “Just because their schooling isn’t traditional brick and mortar doesn’t mean they aren’t smart/educated, and they shouldn’t be made to jump through extra hoops.”
Overall, the survey revealed a strong level of interest and optimism amongst the broader homeschooling community as we consider the college admissions process. However, there is a fair amount of confusion and concern, too, often leading to feelings of doubt and uncertainty. Based on what I’ve learned during the course of this research, however, it’s clear that homeschoolers do have many reasons to be confident about their ability to gain admission to college. But it also seems clear that it’s time to expand beyond the idea of focusing on “homeschool friendly” schools, as many parents indicate they have, and prioritizing instead our students’ interests and goals as we help them select the “best fit” options. For some insights and recommendations on how to do this, you can find more information, including updates about my new book, at Teach Your Own: www.teachyourown.org
About the Author
Lori Dunlap worked for nearly twenty years in the corporate world, first as a management consultant to Fortune 500 companies, and then at a large research university as a career development program director and adjunct faculty member. In 2010 she decided to make a radical life change and left her job to begin homeschooling her two sons. You can connect with her and find out more about her upcoming book, “From Home Education to Higher Education”, through her “Teach Your Own” web site: www.teachyourown.org