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College Bound At Home, Part II

By Alexandra Swann
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #4, 1993.

Alexandra Swann started college at age 12, shares her study tips.

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Alexandra Swann

For many American teenagers, high school graduation has traditionally been spelled E-M-A-N-C-I-P-A-T-I-O-N. The long awaited commencement ceremony means much more than simply the end of one phase of the academic process; it signals the end of childhood and life in the home under parental authority and the beginning of an exciting new life on one's own free of house rules and other parental restrictions. "Going off to college," thus, becomes a rite of passage into the adult world rather than simply another part of the academic experience.

This prevalent attitude about college can pose special problems for the parents of the teenager who is going to be attending college at home. Parents should take advantage of the high school years to prepare their teenagers emotionally as well as academically for external degree studies so that the student who is watching his friends "go off to college" will not feel disappointed and envious while he pursues his university studies at home.

From my own experience I know that the college student who is pursuing his studies at home has a huge advantage over the student pursuing his studies in the classroom. Because I began my university studies one month before my twelfth birthday, while I was earning my bachelor's and master's degrees at home I never had a sense that I was "missing out." To me, attending the university at home seemed perfectly natural; as the oldest of ten children I saw my younger brothers and sisters complete their undergraduate and graduate studies at home just as I had. We simply could not imagine a classroom more pleasant than our kitchen, an instructor more patient or knowledgeable than our mother, or a peer group livelier than our own. It was not until I began teaching history at El Paso Community College when I was eighteen years old, however, that I really began to appreciate the tremendous advantages that our home study experience had given us.

Making a student aware of these advantages early in his high school years can help create a positive attitude toward home study that will lead to enthusiasm toward studies and overall better performance in the degree program. Parents should help their high schoolers to understand that rather than being trapped at home while their peers are experiencing the liberation of college on campus, in reality they are going to have opportunities and freedoms that are not attainable through a traditional degree program.

For example, the student who attends college at home has much greater leeway in determining his class schedule than does his counterpart on campus. When I was earning my bachelor's degree through independent study, I never had to wait for a class to open. The university program I attended offered all courses at all times; I had only to enroll and send the check to begin working. Further, I could begin my studies at any time of the year, work at my own pace, and complete a course at any time of the year. What a shock I experienced the first time I assisted with registration as an instructor at a community college! I saw throngs of young people standing in long lines hoping to inch their way forward to a counselor before the class they desperately needed for graduation closed. Too often, these frantic students came to me for help asking if there were any way I could squeeze them into the much needed class that had already been stamped 100% full by the college. I found myself having to explain to these unhappy men and women that there was simply nothing I could do; the classroom held only a certain number of chairs, and the number of students signed up for the class now equaled classroom occupancy. Graduation would have to wait another semester.

While, certainly, there are many different university extension programs available today, and each has its own scheduling policies, the teenager who is about to become a college student at home should understand that attending a university through external degree gives him a great deal more freedom in terms of scheduling. In nearly all cases, studying at home guarantees that the student will be able to take the classes he needs when he needs them. Further, the student who goes to college at home does not have to worry each semester about whether he will be able to schedule his classes sensibly. When I was in college I took it for granted that I could sit down at the table at the same time each morning, study for three hours, and then be finished for the day. I saw the difference between my experiences at home and those of the student attending college on campus when I began working with students who were also attending three hours of classes each day -- the first at 7:00 AM, the second at 12:00 PM and the third at 7:00 PM.

The high school student will also be encouraged to learn that earning a university degree at home has a number of financial advantages. Because he can determine his own schedule, he can work full-time in a much better paying job than can students who are juggling classes and homework. (One of the brightest benefits of attending college at home is that the student completes all of his studies during the study hours he sets. This can reduce the time he spends studying by about two-thirds over that required for a student enrolled in a traditional degree program.) For instance, the student attending college at home can use his high school diploma to get a job working as a bank teller while he earns his degree. This means that he will make more money than the student who must work nights waiting tables, and that he will gain valuable job skills and experience to take with him after he graduates. Further, by attending college at home he may cut his tuition costs by as much as 40% to 80% (depending on the program in which he enrolls) which can give him an even greater financial advantage.

I, personally, found that the often broad-based nature of external degree studies was also an unexpected advantage. My brothers and sisters and I earned our bachelor's degrees in the liberal arts, and during the time that we were in school, we found ourselves constantly having to explain that we did not have a major. Often this response provoked disapproving looks from older people who seemed to feel that without majors we were wasting valuable money and precious time. What they did not understand was that our studies were providing us with solid well-rounded educations that could become a firm foundation for a variety of careers and experiences later in life. Certainly, not all external degree programs are in the liberal arts, and many do offer majors, but because these programs require independent study, they stress writing proficiency and cognitive and analytical skills which many more traditional programs lack. In fact, they provide the student with many of the "hidden skills" that are most desired in today's work force. External degree programs teach self-motivation, self-confidence, initiative, and discipline. They require that the student act and think on his own, and they create an environment of active learning that contrasts sharply with the passive environment of the classroom in which students merely listen to the professor and are too often tested on their memory of his lecture rather than their ability to apply information in a meaningful way.

Parents of teenagers who will be "staying home for college" should help their children realize that college at home is no less adult, no less exciting, and no less important an event than the university experience of their friends who will be living away from home. When high school students realize the many advantages of home study, they will begin to see that a degree by independent study can spell E-M-A-N-C-I-P-A-T-I-O-N from the burdens of attending college on campus.

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