Aim for College
Parents can provide a college preparation during high school for every student, which can benefit every child. If they ultimately don’t go to college, then your homeschool education will be the only education they get. Make it great! They’ll be well prepared for life and their civic responsibilities. Plus, if they ever change their mind and decide to go to college, they will have a much easier time getting in. On the other hand, some parents know early on that their children are college bound. For them, a college prep education can influence the quality of the colleges they get admitted to. College preparation can benefit everyone!
During eighth and ninth grade, find out about your own state requirements and make a plan to meet those requirements. Review the common college expectations for recommended high school courses. For help with courses, see my previous article on Planning High School Courses.
Look over your high school plan at least once a year. As you begin to focus on college and career goals, you may need to adjust your plan slightly each year as you go. Budding nurses and engineers may need to buckle down with math, and missionary preparation could benefit from more foreign languages. So review it yearly while you relax and enjoy a lifestyle of learning. Try to include essay writing in your plan. The ability to write a few paragraphs quickly can be beneficial for both college and career dreams.
Plan for Tests
High school testing can cause stress for parents AND students. What test do you take when, and how do you know? Most of those answers are found on two websites: The College Board and ACT. Take the PSAT in 10th grade for fun, but only the PSAT taken in 11th grade will count toward the National Merit Scholarship. It’s only offered once each year, so register before September of the student’s junior year, in 11th grade. College admission tests, the SAT and ACT, are often taken in 11th grade and repeated if necessary. Take some time to think about additional subject tests to measure knowledge in specific areas. SAT 2 Subject tests are best taken immediately after you complete each subject. So for example, take the SAT 2 in French right after you finish studying French. Consider taking AP exams when you finish courses as well. They are more intensive subject tests, but they can earn college credit!
Encourage Extra-Curricular Activities
You want your kids to be well-rounded, and the colleges want that too! Encourage your child to volunteer for community service. Consider employment, internships or apprenticeships. Encourage activities like sports, music, art, and other experiences. College love to see kids are passionate about something. They can see this elusive “passion” in extra-curricular activities that students continue through all four years of high school. The Washington Post suggests that it’s best to focus on one or two areas to specialize in, rather than doing a little of everything.
Find a College
Finding a college is more than watching where your friends and neighbors go to school. Take your sophomore or junior to a college fair, or search online for the perfect college match for your student. Once you have some possibilities, visit the college in person. Visiting is the only way to see if it’s a perfect match. Try to whittle down the list to a handful of colleges by the end of junior year. When you visit, ask about their homeschool admission policy. Find out what records they want from you, and any additional testing requirements they have. Consider getting my DVD, Finding a College for more detailed information.
Consider College Finances
We all know we “should” be saving for college, but we certainly have varying degrees of success doing it! You can look for scholarships at any time, but if finances are a huge concern, you may want to really work on a scholarship search during sophomore and junior year. When you are looking at colleges, don’t be afraid of private schools. They often give significantly better financial aid than public schools, and often their prices are comparable. Forbes Magazine published an article called “The World's Most Expensive Universities” that explains, “Those costs reflect a trend among private American universities--charge a stratospheric tuition fee, then offer a generous financial aid package.” So don’t be afraid of the list price of a school. In January of senior year, the parents should complete the FAFSA. This IRS-style form will help colleges determine how much money the government thinks you can afford to pay for college - often with hilarious results! Here we are worrying about the price of gasoline, and they think we can afford that amount? The FAFSA will be used to determine how much financial aid the colleges will give you.
Prepare High School Records
Once you decide what colleges your child will apply to, ask those colleges what high school records they want from you. It can vary significantly, and there is no way to know unless you ask. They may only ask for a transcript. Some colleges will also want a simple reading list, but others will want exhaustive course descriptions and grading criteria. Some college will have very strange and unique requirements. Find out their requirements early so that you can give them what they want. That’s why I always recommend keeping everything in high school – you never know what they will want. One college asked me for an English paper that I had graded. Another college wanted subject tests in many different areas. Like a boy scout, be prepared! At the very end of homeschooling, at the end of senior year, remember to send the college a final transcript that includes graduation date, final grades and grade point average.
Apply to College
College applications are long and complicated. Admission essays are tedious and time consuming. Plan to begin the application process during September of senior year to allow enough time to complete it in a timely fashion. It’s possible to write college application essays in junior year if you want to plan ahead. You can always edit it again right before submitting it. Start early. Each college may require two or more essays, and their application can be many more additional pages. Sometimes admission and financial aid decisions are “first come, first served” so it can really pay off to plan ahead. I encourage students to finish applications by January first whenever possible, be in the best possible position. The college deadline may be later, but they will be swamped with applicants near the deadline. They can give your application a more relaxed reading if you turn it in early.
Be Confident in the Benefits of Homeschooling
Homeschoolers have the advantage in college preparation! We are intimately involved in the education of our children. We really know their strengths and weaknesses, their goals and passions. We can provide the best guidance counseling for them because we are love-givers, not care-givers. In school settings, a guidance counselor may know a lot about tests and deadlines, that’s true. But they have hundreds of students to help, and they may speak to each student only once or twice. Just like our wonderful student-teacher ratio, our student-advisor ratio just can’t be beat!
Be brave! Parents know their child better than anyone, and they are perfectly capable of providing the guidance they need through high school. You can do it!
Lee Binz is a veteran homeschooling mom of two and the owner of The HomeScholar, “Helping parents homeschool through high school.” Sign up for our free monthly e-newsletter on homeschooling high school, The HomeScholar Record, and get great homeschooling high school hints, tips and advice delivered to your inbox each month!