Wednesday, October 31, 2012

3 Ways Homeschooled Students Can Ease the College Transition

SAT Subject Tests
SAT Subject Tests (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
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Over the past several years, I have seen an increasing number of homeschooled students in my college courses.

Some studies report that homeschooled students generally have better study habits and higher levels of concentration and achievement than their peers [see a PowerPoint presentation of researcher Michael Cogan's findings here].

Even so, many of the homeschooled students I have worked with have expressed to me their initial discomfort with large classes, struggles to balance the different teaching styles of several instructors at once, and the challenges of classroom interactions with students whose experiences and views are widely divergent from their own.

Even some things we take for granted in education can be daunting: according to Brian Ray, founder and president of the National Home Education Research Institute, the biggest problem homeschooled students must face when they arrive on campus is “getting used to strict schedules.”

Clearly, the transition from a homeschooled education to college can be challenging and at times overwhelming for many students. But homeschooled students and their parents can successfully manage the transition to college and any issues that may arise after enrollment and attendance begin.

The following list highlights the three most important ways homeschooled students can smooth their path to college:

1. Gather documentation of your education

One of the more difficult hurdles a homeschooled student must jump when applying to colleges is the need to supply schools with transcripts and other proof of appropriate pre-college education.

The Innovative Educator points out that, “Sixty-eight percent of US universities will accept parent-prepared transcripts. Others will take portfolios, with letters of recommendation, ACT or SAT test scores, essays, and more, allowing homeschooled applicants flexibility in admissions.”

But Jeff Brenzel, Dean of Undergraduate Admissions at Yale, spoke for a large number of admissions representatives when he reported in The New York Times that,

“We see only a few homeschooled applicants, and we do occasionally admit a homeschooled student. Evaluation is usually difficult, however. It helps if the applicant has taken some college level courses, and we can get evaluations from those teachers. We are not keen on homeschooled students where the only evaluations come from parents and the only other information available consists of test scores.”

One way homeschooled students can address this is by taking standardized tests to demonstrate mastery of traditional subjects, either by taking the SAT subject tests, a state General Educational Diploma, or other state exam, which is what Ball State University suggests.

Many parents of homeschooled students who contribute to online forums indicate that the best practice is to create a very traditional-looking transcript of what the student has studied, and in some cases, course descriptions and lists of textbooks are required. The University of Indiana provides some good information of what their admissions counselors look for in homeschool transcripts.

2. Use the independence and self-reliance you learned as a homeschooled student in new ways

Homeschooled students are taught by parents, usually mothers, who can tailor schoolwork around family schedules, including vacations, family events, and parental jobs. College courses do not offer the same flexibility. For example, in my courses, there is one due date for all students; no one gets special treatment. It is how professors ensure an equal playing field for all students.

The result, according to, is that homeschooled students often have “difficulties adjusting to meeting assignment deadlines, class schedules and the extensive writing and research that’s required by college courses.” The site recommends meeting with professors at the start of the semester and asking for a “sample of a very good paper or project in order to learn what the instructors believe is exemplary work.”

While this may seem like a professional way to address concerns or fears before classes start, to be honest, I don’t know any professors that would do this for one student, and I know very few professors that do this at all.

If professors provide work samples, they usually do so for the entire class but it's not common. Professors cannot be expected to devote significant amounts of time to each student, and homeschooled students need to be aware of this and adapt as appropriate.

3. Be open-minded when meeting new people

As a professor, one of the most common hallmarks of new college students of all types that I have noticed is the occasional difficulty dealing with opinions or information that does not conform to what they have already learned or believe. Young adults are often passionate about their beliefs, so this is not surprising.

For homeschooled students, this may be more pronounced: according to most studies, religious belief is the primary reason parents decide to homeschool their children. As a result, homeschooled students may have less practice dealing with large amounts of diversity all at once.

This, however, does not mean that homeschooled students are necessarily predisposed to being more judgmental than their peers. For example, Sarah Piper, a current college student who was homeschooled and writes for the Christian website, advises that homeschooled students should “take advantage of the chance to get to know one of the most diverse groups of people you will ever meet; you can learn a lot just from talking to others with different backgrounds, cultures, and interests.”

Have you made the transition from homeschool to college? Share your suggestions for students embarking on this new adventure here!

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  1. This is really interesting!

    I'm a homeschooled student about to embark for uni/college studies in the next year or two. (I actually found your blog researching on the origin of the English alphabet for a homeschool assignment!)

    I really appreciate the points you have made about homeschool students, and what to do for uni/college situations. I have a question, though, how do you find homeschool students? Do the initial shortcomings of the homeschool students make up for the "increased academic excellence" etc?

  2. Hi Sara,

    Thanks very much for your comments.

    From my experience, most home schooled students actually do very well in the college/university environment after what is usually a fairly difficult first few months of adjusting.

    Home schooled students generally do better (in terms of grades) in university than most other students, even those from private schools.

    However, the main exception to this rule are those students who maintain overly strict control of their children through a rigid Christian ethos. This is surprising to many, but it is an observation based on many years of experience.

    If you have many more questions, please just reply. I would love this to turn into a wider discussion where we could involve more of the readers.

    Thanks, Robert.

    1. I'm taking you up on your offer. :D

      Just a clarifying question...

      Are you saying that those students who have parents with views firmly in accordance with the Bible do not do well in uni?

      Another question: you stated that homeschooled students generally do better in terms of grades what do they not do as well in? Have you found working with homeschooled students more enjoyable?

    2. Hi Sara,

      Thanks for your reply.

      In relation to your first question, I need to make this clear - the students who do not do well are those that have parents who CONTROL their children through a rigid Christian ethos. It has nothing to do with the Bible, although obviously the two may be parallel in some cases. This is basically because the minds of these children are restricted from thinking freely and creatively - and this is a great shame.

      As for your second question, homeschooled children get better grades, but many people criticise the practice of homeschooling because of the perceived lack of socialisation that the children receive. Good homeschooling parents ensure that their children get lots of varied social exposure. My experience though, is that homeschooled students often have a real struggle in their first year of university because they tend to be a bit more shy in general. However, this evens out between a few months to an year later.

      So, why did your parents homeschool you?

  3. Sara,

    In paragraph 3, I meant to say "those parents who maintain overly strict control ..."