Getting into college can seem like a daunting task for many students, but particularly for homeschool students. Colleges tend to have inconsistent standards for admittance, and often require additional proof of the students’ educational background. Taking a few simple steps throughout the high school years can make this process much simpler for homeschool students and their families. Record keeping, scoring well on SAT and ACT tests, getting letters of recommendation from others outside of the family, and keeping a portfolio of work samples are included in these steps. A simple filing system or folder can be maintained in order to streamline this process and the time taken to set these systems in place early can be time well spent.
One of the first things that is highly recommended that homeschool high school students do is to maintain a log or journal of their volunteer hours, employment hours, extracurricular activities and any awards or honors that they earn. These can be kept on a year by year basis, freshman through senior years, divided by category, and added to throughout the year. A log of this type is easy to update on a weekly basis, and when it is kept current, there will not be a last minute panic to try to recreate a picture of the students’ high school “career” for applications. This should be kept in a binder or notebook and used throughout high school.
Additionally, homeschool students should plan to take SAT and ACT Prep courses that teach how to take these types of tests, and how to navigate some of the patterns of questions that are asked. Most College Application Process will look first at a homeschool student’s SAT or ACT scores before they look at anything else, so scoring well on these tests is critical. Ideally, in the freshman year, students would take both standardized tests without any preparation in order to get a base line of their abilities. Then, beginning in the sophomore year and thereafter, they can continue the testing process, both in the fall and spring semesters, but add in a test taking skills and preparation course. A good course will include instruction on how to manage time on these tests, how to “read into” the question, and how to let the test give them some of the answers. Courses like this do require that the student spend some time practicing the strategies, so time should be built into the student’s schedule in order to do this.
Beginning in the junior year, students should seek letters of recommendation from those with whom they interact. A variety of letters such as volunteer coordinators, employers, church leaders, scout leaders, etc. should be asked to write a generalized letter on the student’s behalf. These letters can be kept in plastic sheets in the same binder that the log is being kept, and then if the student is asked to submit a portfolio for their college application, these can be included. If possible, students would also ask the individuals if they would be willing to write a more specific letter at a later date, but having the general letter is a good starting point, and can come in very handy.
Most homeschool families know that they may be asked to show a portfolio of work samples, but many do not know that this portfolio should include a listing of the pieces of literature that the student has read, as well as samples of any essay assignments that show critical thought and analysis. Literature that the student has been exposed to is an important reflection of what the student has acquired in terms of thinking and life skills. Writing skills and analytical thought are some of the elements that colleges say are most lacking in freshman applicants, but if a homeschool student can show these skills in advance, they are well ahead of the curve.
Good records and increasing standardized test scores will show the college admissions offices that the student has been diligent and conscientious throughout their high school years. This will speak well for them. Often, admissions advisors will request a personal interview with a homeschool student, and this should be considered an opportunity to shine. Having good records and showing diligence will be very impressive and these interviews are great opportunities for that. Students who can show extracurricular activity and adult leaders who endorse them will also be a striking reflection of a homeschool student when combined with high SAT and ACT scores. Remember, the high SAT and ACT scores will be the first point of contact, so a solid academic foundation is a must, along with repetition of test taking strategies, but once those skills are reviewed, personal letters of recommendation will be given credence and value.
The winning package is the homeschool student who has all of these things neatly accessible and ready to compile for college applications. The binder with the logged “snapshot” of the student’s extracurricular activities, the samples of essays and literature read, copies of test scores, and letters of recommendation will become a family gold mine as applications are being filled out. There will be no difficulty remembering details, and the process will be very smooth. Start keeping these records now and your homeschool student will be glad you did.