Is your homeschooler hoping to be admitted to a top-ranked school such as Yale, Columbia, Harvard, MIT, or Stanford? While there are homeschoolers and unschoolers who are successful in admissions to top colleges, including Ivy League colleges, homeschooling alone is not enough. Homeschoolers who are accepted to highly selective colleges typically have worked exceptionally hard at developing their talents and have very strong academic and extracurricular profiles. If your homeschooler has his or her eyes set on a highly selective school, here are few things to keep in mind.
Admissions Competition is Fierce
Discard everything you know about what it took to get into a top college a generation ago. There are a new set of rules. Homeschoolers interested in top colleges often begin to plan before they enter high school. Successful homeschool applicants usually have performed well in challenging courses, have very high test scores, and have well-developed extracurricular talents. Nonetheless, even many students with perfect SAT or ACT scores are rejected. Admissions officers report that the majority of rejected candidates would probably be successful if they were admitted; there are just too few slots. How tough are the odds? Here acceptance rates for the Class of 2018.
- Princeton 7.2%
- Brown 8.6%
- Harvard 5.9%
- MIT 7.7%
- Duke 10.7%
- Stanford 5.1%
- Johns Hopkins 15%
- Caltech 8.1%
- UC Berkeley 17.6%
- University of Chicago 8.4%
- Rice University 14%
Homeschool High School Four Year Plan
A basic expectation for students who wish to be competitive in highly selective admissions is that they have a rigorous high school education with strong development in all of the core areas: math, English, social science, science, and foreign language. Homeschoolers are advised to make a four year plan as they enter high school. This plan may be revised, but it will create a foundation for core subject studies and ensure that the student has budgeted adequate time to complete the expected courses. Homeschoolers are expected to document their high school academics and present them when they apply to college through their homeschool documents. Those documents include the transcript, course descriptions and school profile.
APs and Dual Enrollment
Competitive students will want to be able to take AP or dual enrollment college level courses in several subject areas. Homeschooling offers some advantages in building a strong academic profile because homeschoolers have the flexibility to choose if they want to do courses at home or to outsource to an online provider, community college, or tutor. Many families end up finding that a combination of these approaches best meets their needs. Also, homeschoolers have the advantage of flexibility to depart from the traditional calendar as needed. That allows for more in-depth studies in areas of interest and a more time to master any subject where the student struggles.
Most homeschoolers and unschoolers who have been admitted to top schools have been able to present clear documentation of their learning. Typically colleges wish to see more than just the parent’s endorsement and this is where “outside validation” comes into play. Outside validation can take many forms, including grades from community college courses, SAT subject test scores, SAT scores, ACT scores, AP scores, recommendations from professors, winning national level contests or awards, and participation in well-known summer programs. Homeschoolers who are aiming at top schools are advised to think carefully about how they want to present themselves during admissions.
Testing is Key
The emphasis on testing is a tough point for many homeschoolers because escaping the national obsession with testing is part of what motivates many to choose homeschooling. It is reality, though, that homeschoolers who are aiming for top colleges need to pay close attention to ACT, SAT, SAT subject, and AP scores. Test scores are weighted more heavily for homeschoolers than they are for other applicants. Even many colleges that are now test optional do not apply this policy to homeschoolers. Testing strategies for homeschoolers should be planned out carefully. Education should be about more than testing and the failure to identify a good strategy for testing can lead to students missing the mark by over-testing or taking the wrong tests. Students should identify the tests that will best validate their transcript and showcase their talent. Select tests carefully and prepare for them properly. Understanding the tests available is the place to start.
It seems there is a lot of buzz in homeschooling circles that colleges admissions offices “love homeschoolers.” This can be easily overstated. What colleges are looking for are students who have developed their talents in the best ways possible given their individual circumstances. The fact that homeschooling is great and your kid is homeschooled isn’t enough. Homeschoolers who are admitted to highly selective colleges have truly exceptional records. These homeschoolers manage to compete with traditionally schooled students by developing a well-documented academic record with challenging courses and high test scores, but they have more than that. Most also have used the flexibility afforded by homeschooling to develop some special area of talent or extracurricular interest. There is no one size fits all approach. Students with who are aiming high are advised to start early and make careful decisions throughout high school.
Paying for College Should Factor into Planning
The cost of college is a huge concern for most families and understanding the college financing system is an essential step in college planning. Highly selective colleges often have astonishingly high sticker prices. But, these schools also have huge endowments and many offer very generous financial aid policies. Some of these financial aid policies at schools such as Princeton do not require students to take out any student loans. Homeschoolers may find if they work very hard in high school to build a strong academic profile and they gain admissions to a top school it will cost them less than the price of their state university. A strong transcript and application can also help students earn significant merit aid scholarships at other excellent colleges. Parents are encouraged to take stock of their options early in high school and talk openly with their children about paying for college.
Bottom line: It is absolutely possible for homeschoolers to be competitive for top colleges. There are homeschoolers every year who are accepted at some of the best colleges in the country. If your homeschooler has these ambitions, plan early and help them prepare a competitive academic profile. Encourage your homeschooler to take advantage of the wonderful flexibility and opportunities afforded by homeschooling.
Success in selective college admissions is aided by careful planning. Please check our services page to learn how your family can benefit from working one on one with Barbara Hettle, certified college consultant and founder of Homeschool Success.