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
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.
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.
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.
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
- Learning Strategies: How to read, study, test, and write at the college
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
- 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!
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
- 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!
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.
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
- Packaging the student to make it easy for the college to admit and
- Positioning the student for the greatest range of opportunities,
choices, and options.
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!