After spending every waking moment this fall and winter focussed on getting my youngest and last child into college, the job is finally complete. She has chosen a small women's college that she will attend in the fall, and she will be on full tuition scholarship, meaning, we are only responsible for room and board. In the years leading up to graduating my kids from homeschooling, and getting this child and her brother before her into college, I did a great deal of research. I called all kids of colleges and spoke to admission and financial aid officers. I also spoke to any parent going through the admissions process I could find. I am glad to report that all of the research payed off.
While the attached video has very good and useful information, homeschoolers have a longer list of do's and don't they should follow. With that said, here are my 10 simple rules for getting your homeschooled child into the right college.
1. Start early. The college my daughter chose in the end is the same college that she visited during her Freshman year of high school. She also spent the summer after her Sophomore year at a camp at the same school. Visiting schools early my kids excited about the college process. It helped us to formulate their high school programs, as we knew what the schools they were interested in wanted them to study. There were no surprises when it came time to fill out college applications. Also, she developed relationships with faculty that proved to be very useful.
2. Focus on math and verbal abilities. Good math, verbal, and writing scores are the things scholarships are made of. Your child does not need to be a genius in both, but they should demonstrate exceptional skills in one, and above average abilities in the other. Consider investing in a tutor, if necessary, to make sure your college bound student has a good grasp of math and can read and write well.
3. Prepare for and take the appropriate standardized tests. Beginning in the 11th grade, homeschoolers should take the PSAT, SAT and/or ACT. My suggestion is to take the PSAT to see if they qualify for the National Merit Award, and then take the SAT and ACT to see which test they are more inclined to. Once you know which test format is easier for your child, they should be encouraged to take that test a few more times to maximize their score. While they don't have to take any tests before grade 11, it doesn't hurt to take them earlier, for practice and to familiarize themselves with test taking.
4. Amass college credits. There are many ways to earn college credits as a homeschooler. Students can take AP exams (and may even be able to access AP classes). They can take CLEP and DANTES Exams. They can take IB courses. They can dual-enroll in a college, online, or in person. While there is no guarantee that the child's end-point college will accept the credits the child has earned (small colleges accept the most, others accept them as electives, Ivies don't accept them at all), the fact that your child tackled higher level coursework will make them more competitive. My kids only gained 6 college credits each through CLEP, which was enough for schools to understand that they are ready for college level work.
5. Focus on their strengths. The biggest mistake that too many parents and students make, both in traditional schools and homeschools is trying to excel in every subject area. While a child can be a strong student in all areas, if they pull back on the areas they are not really interested in, they will have the time, energy, and inclination to be truly exceptional in their areas of interest and natural ability. For one of my kids, that was art and computer science. For my other child, it was theater and literature. I allowed them to study general college prep material in some subjects, and used AP and College level materials in their most prodigious subject areas.
6. Treat your child like an athlete. Speak to the parents of athletes about their college application process. You will find that it is a serious undertaking, that involves years of preparation, planning, and documentation. You will need to have an idea of what your child plans to go in the future. You will need to research the best schools for their subject area and personality. You will also need to document their strengths and find opportunities to compete and display their abilities. This is especially true for artistic children, and math & science kids. In short, you will want to build a resume to show that your child has a strong interest and inclination for a subject, and that they have worked hard through competition and performance to strengthen their abilities.
7. Analyze your students test scores. Once your child has taken the SAT or ACT a number of times, and have maximized the score they are going to get (preferably by August of their Sr. Year), it is time to look at their scores and decide what level of colleges they are most suited to. Generally (very generally), with scores above 2000 SAT/ 30 ACT, a child can aim for Ivy Leagues. With scores above 1750 SAT/26 ACT, students can aim for selective schools like top public colleges and non-Ivy, but popular private colleges. Finally, with scores ranging from 1500 SAT/21 ACT to 1740 SAT/25 ACT students should apply to lower tiered safety public colleges, and lesser known small private schools. Below these scores, you should look at beginning at community colleges or seeking out small school that will provide remediation. (The scores mentioned include all portions of the SAT and ACT, some schools only look at math and verbal.)
8. Don't get discouraged. Please understand that there is no shame in choosing a lower tiered college if your child has done his or her best. It may just be that their talent is not purely academic, but that they have other strengths that a non-elite college will better appreciate. Also remember, that students should still apply to schools that seem to be out of their reach, because there could be something about them that just stands out. My daughter got a very nice scholarship from a school that appeared to be out of her league, though in the end she got a full scholarship from one that sought students with her specific skill-set.
9. Don't assume you can't afford private colleges. The reason for analyzing these numbers is not only to make sure your kid gets accepted into college, but to also make sure your child gets a merit award. My son had median ACT scores, because his strengths (computer science and art) were not measurable on any standardized test. He still received a decent merit scholarship. In the end, his private college ended up costing the exact same thing a local public college would have cost us. Likewise, my daughter's academic merit award and her talent award ended up costing her the same as if she had received the HOPE scholarship grant a public college.
10. Once applications are done and acceptances letters and merit awards are received, take a second look at colleges that will reward your child for their talents. My son had additional portfolio reviews for art scholarships. My daughter spent many weekends competing for theater scholarships. Not all schools offer these opportunities, but the schools that have the best programs in your child's strength area will. Your child doesn't even have to be an artist or athlete to get these extra scholarships. Many schools offer special awards to STEM (science, technology, and math) students as well. Others give awards best on ethnicity and activities. Still others give awards based on religion and service. All you have to do is find the right match for your child.
I am sure that I didn't include every iota of information that you need to find the right fit for your college age homeschooler. This has been an overview based on my research and experience. Come back in the following weeks as I dig deeper into each of the topics mentioned above to provide you a full guide for getting your homeschooled child into college.