So your homeschooling high schooler has a lot of A’s? And you worry whether colleges will take their homeschool transcript seriously? You are not alone. I have had some families actually choose to assign their kid a lower grade, just so the transcript looks more “realistic!” It’s a tough spot, especially when the courses are self-studied or designed by the parent.
So what can you do? What can you do to prove that your homeschooler earned those grades? If you are just entering the high school years, now is the time to consider all of your options. If you have a sophomore or junior, you still have time! What’s the answer? Back those grades up!
Do I even need to give grades?
Some homeschoolers choose to give pass/fail marks because they can’t imagine a college taking a homeschooler’s grades seriously. I would advise against this in most cases because your child’s transcript will be compared to those with traditional transcripts. In addition, colleges use those grades for academic scholarships - and you don’t want to miss out on those.
Listen, there is an expectation of homeschoolers to do more and show more. I get it. It is difficult for an admissions committee to know what kind of education their homeschool applicant really received. Normally, admissions folks know how a brick and mortar student compares within the context of their school. They are very familiar with the stats of that particular school. With a homeschool situation, however, they are missing that context, that information.
So the more context you provide schools, the better. Give them an application package which demonstrates your homeschooler’s intellectual vitality. Make it obvious that the transcript grades reflect a kid who is bright, curious, and engaged - the kind of kid who would certainly get good grades. Do this by making wise choices during high school and intentional choices during the college application process.
So how do I plan the high school years?
Your homeschooler can take online courses, community college courses, university courses. Getting a grade from an outside source is a great way of providing validity.
Online tutors are abundant these days. So are in-house tutors. Many of my families use tutors in the high school years, as it takes some of the pressure off of the parent. It can also be a wonderful opportunity to personalize the instruction to the student.
These should be from outside, academic instructors - not a parent. Many schools prefer two references, so you need to have a plan in place. Teach your homeschooler how to establish and cultivate a genuine relationship with outside instructors. Glowing recommendations from credible instructors provide great insight and context to an admissions committee.
SAT Subject Tests.
These are one hour exams given by CollegeBoard. While not as difficult as AP Exams, they are great way for schools to compare your student with other students on a national scale. Some colleges require them from homeschool applicants. Some colleges require them from all applicants. Do your research. Even if they are not required, taking the exams is still a good idea. Remember that the best time to take these exams is in the spring, towards the end of the course, when the information is fresh.
Whether you buy into the AP game or not, there is no denying that more selective colleges prefer to see them from its applicants. There are three ways to take advantage of AP Exams.
- Take an AP Course. There are a handful of providers who offer these as online classes. Just be sure that the courses are officially approved by CollegeBoard or it cannot be listed as such on the transcript.
- Self-Study. One does NOT need to take an AP course in order to take the exam. Even though you cannot list the course as AP on the transcript, the score will be considered evidence of the student’s capability.
- Create your own AP Course. Yes, homeschoolers have the same opportunity as a school teacher. Your syllabus must be approved by CollegeBoard.
Does your homeschooler immerse themselves in a particular subject or project? Create some kind of output for this study - research, paper, presentation, contest, etc. Count up hours spent and be sure to include in the college application or portfolio.
Can your student show a depth of knowledge or talent in a particular subject just by being part of an extracurricular? Check out math competitions, writing contests, science olympiads, foreign language competitions.
SAT or ACT Exams
This is an obvious one, right? The reality is that many schools still put a lot of weight into these scores. Test prep can boost a score, so do your best in backing up great courses and great grades with a great test score.
How can I back my grades up with my homeschool transcript?
As the homeschool counselor, you have the perfect opportunity to put your student’s education in the best possible light. Take care in creating a thorough and professional transcript, school profile, counselor recommendation, and course description list. The effort with which you compile all elements of the counselor’s section of the application is a powerful way to affirm the way you approach your homeschooler’s education.
Transcript. This is a one page document which includes grades, yearly and cumulative credits, and GPA. Make this clear and simple to read. Some parents choose to include test scores on the transcript.
Course descriptions: This document describes courses in detail. For each course, list instructor, provider, credits, grade, description, method of evaluation, materials used, and textbook ISBN numbers.
School Profile: This document describes your homeschool. In it, you will explain your homeschool history, philosophy, educational providers, and grading policy.
Counselor Recommendation Letter: Ah, the counselor letter. Sometimes considered the most difficult part of the counselor tasks (but the most rewarding!), this document provides the ideal opportunity to introduce your student and highlight their qualities that are found nowhere else on the application.
How can the student back grades up with the college application?
Interviews. Schedule interviews with all colleges that provide them. Even if a school says “recommended” we all know what that means. Interviews are just conversations - but conversations that breathe life into a homeschool applicant.
Essays. Start early, revise often. A well-crafted essay can reveal a lot about an applicant. Take the opportunity seriously when choosing the topic and writing about it.
Work Samples: Some schools want to see work samples from the student. Hold on to graded essays and lab reports. Your homeschooler may need to include them in the application.
Homeschooling is a journey unique to each student and each family. How you choose to carve your path is a personal one. And, of course, different schools prefer different things. Stay true to who you are, but be aware that - to some extent - the college application process is a game. Homeschoolers hold different cards than traditional students. In some ways it is more difficult to play, but when you know the rules, it can most definitely be a win!
Lisa Davis is a homeschool college admissions consultant and high school mentor. She is a champion for passionate and talented homeschool outliers who live and learn authentically. Visit her at fearlesshomeschoolers.com.