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12 Things Homeschool Parents Need to Know About College

By Dr. Kuni Beasley
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #108, 2013.

Advice for choosing a college, getting into the college you choose, and paying for it
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Dr. Kuni Beasley

1 Start NOW!
The single most important variable in college success is timing. The best time to start college preparation is now. We start our formal preparation in the sixth grade. It is estimated that for each day after a student starts the ninth grade that you delay starting a formal college prep process, you will lose $100 a day in potential college funding; that is $36,500 a year! Timing is also important with starting certain preparation programs, such as SAT/ACT prep, starting the college selection process, and meeting deadlines for applications.
2 Get Professional Advice!
The average cost of a college education exceeds the average cost of a home in America, making a college education the single most expensive investment a family will make. Families need to get advice from a college-admissions professional, not a financial services person or well-meaning friend. Certainly don’t depend on someone who tells you “I’ve heard that…,” anymore than you would have someone other than a doctor remove your appendix.
3 Take the PSAT, SAT, and ACT Early and Often
The single most important factor in admissions and scholarships is the SAT/ACT score. In my program, we start our students taking these tests in the sixth grade in preparation for the Duke talent-search program.
My recommendation is that in grades 6 through 8, the student takes the PSAT, SAT, and ACT once a year. In the grades 9 and 10, the student should take the PSAT in October, and take one SAT and one ACT each semester.
I recommend starting a formal test-prep program in the spring of the sophomore year or the summer in between the sophomore and junior years, to prepare for the PSAT in October of the junior year. This will be the score considered for National Merit Scholarship Competition.
I recommend that a student takes any combination of four SATs and ACTs before we start formal test-prep training. A student who has experienced the test will have more understanding and be able to learn how to improve their scores better, faster, and easier than a student who is starting from scratch.
During the junior year I recommend students take as many as six SATs and ACTs. The goal is to achieve the “go to college” score by June of the junior year, because application deadlines are in the fall. There’s not enough time to get good scores in the fall.
Regardless of what you’ve heard, you can take the SAT an unlimited number of times and you can take the ACT up to 12 times. Colleges can only see the scores you release.
4 High School Curriculum v. College-Prep Program
Do not confuse a regular (or advanced) high-school curriculum with a college-prep curriculum. Many curriculum providers add AP and a Test Prep course to their regular high school curriculum and call it a “college prep” curriculum. AP equals AP, not college prep! Others define “College Prep” by the number of English, Science, Math, etc., credits the student needs to go to college. Real college prep consists of:
  • College Essentials: Counseling, long-term test prep, college selection/applications/funding/enrollment, and an informed search for college money.
  • Learning Strategies: How to read, study, test, and write at the college level.
  • Academic Strategies: The proper mix of content, rigor, independent learning, and exposure to opposing perspectives.
  • Self-Management Skills: Time management, goal setting, personal organization, and independent living
  • Support Team: Those who will help provide tracking, evaluation, accountability, and monitoring of progress.

If your program doesn’t have these, then it is just a high-school program with window dressing.
5 Learn to Use These Tools
Guess what: 88 percent of college is online. If the student is not trained in Microsoft Office (Word, PowerPoint, Excel) and is not able to navigate the internet, he or she is entering college woefully unprepared. Internet discipline needs to be learned before the student goes to college.
6 Hazards of Dual Credit & CLEP
Many homeschoolers tend to be aggressive about taking college courses or CLEPs while in high school. Though many believe this is a means to validate their homeschool education and give them a head start on college, there is a downside. Students who earn too many credits can be disqualified for freshman scholarships, because they are technically sophomores and considered transfer students (with fewer scholarship options). Also, not all colleges accept CLEP. Some require you be enrolled before you take the tests. Make sure you look ahead and have a plan when you do this.
7 Don’t Worry About Majors
Less than 17 percent of college students finish with the major they first declared. You don’t have to decide in your teens what you will be in your 40s. Unless the student has a Damascus Road or Burning Bush experience, I don’t focus on the major. I usually recommend a range of colleges that has their original major, but is large enough that if they change majors, they don’t have to change colleges and lose any scholarships they earned.
There are a host of surveys available, but they become invalid once the student gets exposed to other areas and develops new interests. Mostly, these “find your major” surveys make the parents feel better, but are of little practical value.
8 What Colleges Look For in Homeschoolers
Colleges look at five things:
  • Grades with the right subjects and unweighted GPA. Homeschool transcripts are accepted by colleges, but are often at least partly discounted, no matter how pretty or how official they look. Unless it has been issued by a College-Board recognized organization, they believe Mom printed it on the laser printer—which is true. Without an objective assessment of student progress, it is disregarded. But it really doesn’t matter.
  • Rank in class. Unless you have twins, the student will be 1 of 1. This doesn’t matter for homeschoolers.
  • Experiences (employment, community, volunteer, travel, etc.). This is a consideration at more competitive colleges or for scholarships, but don’t go wild with elective credit for babysitting or turning the song slides at church.
  • Activities (athletics, arts, clubs, etc.). Like Experiences, these are considered by competitive colleges.
  • Test Scores (the most important factor). The national leveler. This is what will determine your viability for admissions and scholarships. Indeed, many colleges award scholarships on test scores alone!

Focus on what’s important: Test Scores!
9 Types of Colleges
I place colleges into four categories:
  • Competitive Colleges (Harvard, West Point, Stanford, etc.) consider all five areas, but with homeschoolers, only Experiences, Activities, and test scores matter. Many competitive colleges use the SAT/ACT score to rank the homeschooler.
  • Conventional Colleges (Texas Tech, San Diego State, South Florida, etc.) consider test scores predominantly and may award scholarships on scores alone. Some may look at Experience and Activities.
  • Community/Junior Colleges don’t really care as long as you have a diploma or GED. Most require an assessment to place students and SAT/ACT scores can be used to waive development courses.
  • Creative Colleges (Thomas Edison, Excelsior, Harvard, etc.) really don’t need anything beyond a transcript. Even Harvard’s Extension program has open admissions where you can challenge three courses, and if you make a 3.0, you’re in!
10 Start Early
Spend the 9th and 10th grades building skills, content knowledge, and taking the PSAT, ACT, and SAT for practice. Take an intensive prep course the summer before the junior year. Start looking at 20–30 colleges in the spring of junior year, and trim that list down to 12 by summer. Of those we want to look at four “Reach” colleges (a challenge to get in), four “Level” colleges (you’ll probably get in), and four “Safe” colleges (you’re sure to get in and possibly get scholarships). Prepare application material the summer before senior year, lining up recommendations and preparing essays, and looking for private scholarships. Be prepared to send out applications between Labor Day and Columbus Day. Then wait and see what happens.
11 Attract Scholarships
Any motivated, well-prepared, and properly managed homeschooler should be able to attract scholarship money. I’ve worked with homeschoolers who have attracted over $300,000 in scholarships from major institutions, received full scholarships to top colleges, and received service academy appointments. It all comes down to:
  • Preparing the student in college essentials, learning strategies, academic strategies, self-management skills, and forming the proper support team.
  • Packaging the student to make it easy for the college to admit and award scholarships
  • Positioning the student for the greatest range of opportunities, choices, and options.
12 Avoid Vanity Colleges
Don’t get sucked into expensive colleges and huge debt. There is no college in the nation worth encumbering yourself with $100,000 or $200,000 of student debt. You need to be prudent and not go into huge debt for college.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. There are a gazillion things you need to think about. We’re here to help!
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