Colleges for Unschoolers

College QuadCollege decisions are very personal. Teens, including unschoolers, need to balance a wide variety of concerns to find a school that is their best fit academically, socially, philosophically, geographically, and financially. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, but this article explores some of the college options that may be most appealing to unschoolers.

Unschoolers vary widely in the experience they choose for the high school years. Some teens choose to focus primarily on a single interest such as a foreign language, learning computer coding, or honing musical talents. Other unschooling families remain child led, but opt for a more traditional route such as dual enrollment at a community college. No matter what the student chooses, if college is a long-term goal, it makes sense to know what colleges expect. It is important for teens to understand how their high school plans may affect the range of of realistic college options.  A consultation as the student enters the high school can help students and families plan a strategy for documentation with college options in mind. While teens can always change their minds as they grow and develop, understanding the basics of the process will allow the student to make informed choices.

College Options That May Be Appealing to Unschoolers

One Course at a Time Colleges
Much like unschooling, this approach allows students to focus intensively on just one topic at a time. At one course at a time or block schedule colleges, courses typically run about six weeks. During that term, students can eat, live, sleep, and study that one topic. This approach can be particularly appealing to those who choose majors involving field study because it allows students to be out of the classroom and on-site for hours a day. Students interested in block colleges may consider Cornell College of Iowa and Colorado College.

Open Curriculum Colleges
OCC colleges allow students to be free of highly structured lists of general education and major courses. Students work with advisers to plan a path through college that allows them to pursue their own unique interests. Rather than having to check off a list of courses like Biology 101, US History to 1877, Sociology 101, etc., a student may decide to focus their studies primarily on an eclectic combination of interests such as geology and art history. Examples of colleges with greater curriculum flexibility that may appeal to unschoolers include Brown, Hamilton, Grinnell, and Smith.

Highly Selective Colleges
It is possible for unschoolers to be admitted to highly selective colleges, including Ivy League colleges. Some students who have enjoyed years of self-directed learning find that as they hit their teen years, they long for intellectual peers and the research opportunities and challenges provided by an elite college. Teens who wish to pursue this path must be open to a bit of “hoop jumping.” Unschoolers who have pursued nontraditional interests in creative and intensive ways can be appealing candidates to selective college admissions officers. Students who are self-motivated and have a passion for learning often really enjoy and excel in college. However, having a passion or being interested is not enough to guarantee admission to an Ivy League college. Students must put effort into showcasing their unique talents and accomplishments.

Teens who seek admission to most competitive colleges are well advised to plan to demonstrate some outside validation of their learning. This often takes the form of additional testing or community college work. It is an individual choice if teens find it worth going through those steps to reach a particular goal. If students are aiming at highly selective colleges, they should look at their expectations years before college, so they have time to plan. Students may wish to consider a homeschool college admissions planning consultation and also carefully review the admissions expectations of highly selective colleges.

Global Immersion
One unique option for college is enrollment in a college focused on global education. Long Island University offers a unique opportunity for students to study in eight different countries over the course of eight semesters. Students deeply engage in academic and service opportunities in each country.

Minerva Schools have developed a global undergraduate experience where students live and travel in a small cohorts to different parts of the world. Minerva’s student population is international and diverse. Students will live in seen different major cities during their time in college and study through a combination of seminar-style online courses and local opportunities in each country.  Minerva’s admissions process is unique and places emphasis on better understanding student’s passions and talents through the completion of a series of writing exercises and interviews.

Direct to Career Programs
Some unschoolers are drawn to apprenticeship or trade school programs. Preparing for a trade such as HVAC, plumbing, or electrician is an excellent path for many young people.  A formal apprenticeship program may be offered through a local union. Students interested in the trades may also attend a program at a community or technical college. If the young person has a direct to career goal, planning remains important because most programs have very specific requirements, and some careers require preparation for licensing exams.

Unschooling College
Choosing not to attend a formal, traditional college is another choice many unschoolers consider.  After years of success with a self-directed education, teens may question the value of the time and financial commitment required by a traditional classroom education. The accessibility of university lectures through free options such as MOOCs and Coursera may offer unschoolers material only previously available through paid enrollment. Students interested in unschooling for college may find direction in books such as Blake Bowles’s College without High School, Maya Frost’s The New Global Student: Skip the SAT, Save Thousands on Tuition, and Get a Truly International Education, and the classic Teenage Liberation Handbook from Grace Llewellyn.

Combined Programs
Some unschoolers find their passions early and have already studied their area of interest in depth before college. These students may be attracted to time-efficient programs that de-emphasize introductory courses and allow them to earn more than one degree in a shorter period of time. Program options include earning both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in a four or five-year program or BS/MD programs where students interested in studying medicine are admitted directly from high school into a program that leads to medical school admissions.

Online College
Some unschoolers and homeschoolers express an interest in online education. Online courses typically allow students to engage in schoolwork during the hours that appeal to them most. The student who wants to be out in nature during the day may find they can do their school work at 2 A.M. This option also allows students to travel or attend a college that is not geographically nearby. The downside of online education is that it is sometimes not significantly less expensive, and some students feel it is harder to have a community in an online college.

Students who are highly motivated to complete an online degree may wish to explore employment with one of the companies that partially or fully fund the cost of online education for employees.  For example, Starbucks funds 100% of the tuition for a bachelor’s degree from Arizona State University online for qualifying employees.

Bottom Line
Unschoolers are a diverse group of teens who may be attracted to a wide variety of college options. It is possible to unschool for high school and still be a competitive candidate for a top college. Unschoolers possibly interested in attending a traditional college are well advised to think carefully about how they will present their interests and accomplishments during the college admissions process.


  • You may want to add Goddard College in Vermont to the list. I toured it with my daughter and it was one of her top options. Low residency (10 days per semester) and the rest of the work you do at home. Better than online–because you can design curriculum 1 on 1 with faculty. Designed for adult learners–but homeschooled traditional college age is a growing segment for them.

    Also, I would suggest AP/CLEP/DSST testing–as it is a way of self study to place out of core basic classes.

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