There's No Place Like Home
A RECENT PERUSAL OF HO-meschool World, the website of Practical Homeschooling magazine, revealed the following news items touting the accomplishments of homeschoolers this past year:
- A part-time homeschooler won the GSN National Vocabulary Championship and $40,000 in college scholarship funds.
- A homeschooler won $50,000 in scholarship money as an Intel Foundation Young Scientist award winner.
- The Scripps National Spelling Bee winner, for the fourth time since 1997, was a homeschooled student.
These high-profile homeschooled students would likely be attractive to any selective higher ed institution seeking talented and interesting students. Behind these individuals are 1 million to 2 million other full- or part-time homeschooled students (according to the National Home Education Network; estimates of this population vary widely and aren't highly reliable) from every state.
As these children "graduate" through a m?lange of high school equivalent educational experiences, both formal and more alternative, many seek challenging higher ed experiences. We believe the homeschool population represents fertile ground for college enrollment efforts, consisting as it does of many bright students with a wide array of educational, personal, and family experiences.
For admissions officers planning the fall season of school and community visits, consider the population of homeschooled students. They're reachable via the internet by IHEs with a clear message of interest in them on their websites and application materials. It makes sense to state your interest in homeschooled students and to guide them through the admissions and application process.
Many misconceptions exist about homeschooling parents and children, and due to the paucity of good data about who homeschools, it's difficult to establish too many concrete conclusions about the college- bound homeschool population.
A 2003 National Center for Education Statistics study, which estimated a diverse population of more than 1 million homeschoolers, seems to confirm both impressionistic accounts of the current homeschool population as well as other reports on how it has changed over the last several decades. While the homeschool population may once have been predominately composed of white, middle-class, and/or religious fundamentalist families, this is no longer the case. Concerns about violence, safety, and negative peer culture are just as important as a focus on moral or religious teachings among homeschool parents, according to the survey.
Many parents want more freedom to educate their children more broadly, outside the constraints of the traditional classroom and system. Many use well organized curricula; others experiment on the fly. Some utilize local library resources or work in groups with other homeschool families. Homeschoolers might be from the rural Midwest or the urban Northeast. Some have learning disabilities and others are gifted. We have seen families educating four or more siblings together at home, and others who travel with an only child and engage in a variety of experiential learning opportunities.
In our contacts with homeschooling parents and state-level homeschool organizations, we've found any number of parent philosophies, rationales for choosing to homeschool, and goals for college attendance. In many cases, parents are concerned that a "traditional" college education might be foreclosed to their nontraditionally educated child.
The internet provides access points and resources for homeschooling parents, including a list of "Colleges That Admit Homeschoolers." The National Center for Home Education even rates colleges on homeschool admission policies. Homeschool parents have become pretty good sleuths and advocates for their children. The easier institutions make it for a parent to understand whether they admit homeschooled students and, if so, what special requirements are in place for them, the more likely they will be to attract qualified students.
We worked recently with two homeschooled students whose situations illustrate these points. The first, a high school age boy who lives in a small town in upstate New York, was diagnosed with learning disabilities and an attention disorder. His school system couldn't meet all his needs because of its small size and limited budget. With assurance from us that he would qualify for college down the road, his parents decided to homeschool, to provide the one-on-one attention and support he needed, and to use tutors and established online programs (www.oakmeadow.com, for example). Using an accredited homeschooling curriculum, these parents will be able to address their son's needs and make sure he has the skills to allow him to be successful in college.
In the second case, we guided a ninth grade girl in New York City to Stanford University's Education Program for Gifted Youth, an online, highly interactive advanced level curriculum designed for gifted students. This young woman, like so many gifted children in schools across the nation, had been placed in every category- from learning disabled, to socially incompetent, to borderline intelligent- in her public school system.
The true nature of the problem seemed to have been boredom with the expectations and materials in traditional high school. A cognitive learning evaluation confirmed that she possessed a 99th percentile intellectual level of functioning. No wonder she couldn't get up in the morning and face school; she was reading and thinking at a second- year college level in all subjects! Now in her second year in the Stanford program, she is continually stimulated and exhilarated. She complements her studies with active participation in drama classes and an internship in a hospital research center.
The typical college application presents many hurdles and questions for homeschoolers. Consider how they might grapple with these elements: school reports or counselor recommendations, high school transcripts, standardized test requirements, teacher recommendation letters, curricular requirements (such as four years of high school math and English, three years of science, history, and foreign language), and the high school College Board code.
Few colleges have an easily accessible admissions webpage for homeschooled students. Hamilton College (N.Y.) shows how a college can present an open invitation to homeschoolers while clarifying requirements they need to fulfill and offering an admissions contact.
First steps in considering homeschool admissions include discussions between admissions and enrollment management staff . Are there many homeschoolers on campus? Have you never admitted any? Are there support resources in place in the admissions and student life offices to help homeschoolers manage the application process and transition to college?
Then discuss admissions requirements. What exceptions/modifications would you be willing to make for those educated in a nontraditional setting? Will standardized test scores be more or less important? From whom will you accept recommendation letters? How will you verify completion of adequate pre-college work? Will you ask for a writing sample or other evidence of college-level ability? Will you make an interview available if you don't already, or require one if you do?
The next step involves incorporating these admissions policies and practices into an easily found, readable web resource and a written application supplement or addendum. Even given our experience with researching admissions practices and websites, we've found it terribly difficult to determine particular colleges' homeschool admissions approaches, even among IHEs considered homeschool friendly.
Another discussion involves the extent to which your school wants to promote itself among homeschooling communities here and abroad. Besides national homeschool membership and advocacy organizations, there are numerous state-level homeschooling networks. Many groups host seminars and large-scale conferences. One can bet that college admissions is a topic at many of them. Your institution could serve as a resource for one or more of these groups by participating in conference panels, providing free or low-cost admissions materials, and advising these networks on how best to help families prepare for higher educational opportunities.
As IHEs profess to diversify their student body in terms of socioeconomic backgrounds, interests, abilities, geography, and other factors, we believe that the outreach to homeschool students will prove successful and be a welcome contribution toward meeting that goal.