Our High School Journey to College – Our Top 5 Helpful Tips

student studying

I can’t believe it, but the time has come to start planning another high school graduation for another homeschool graduate! But, that’s not what I want to share with you. I want to encourage those homeschoolers who wonder if they have what it takes to bring their children through their homeschool journey to completion and (if their dreams are to go to college) you can apply and get accepted by colleges of your choice without a lot of stress.

Our Top 5 Tips that Helped Us on our Journey

5. Allow your child to explore his/her passions with intent as early as 8th or 9th grade.

What we mean by this is – colleges look for high schoolers who have found an interest or two that they have delved into and to which they have dedicated themselves, taking on responsibilities and leadership positions and showing initiative in projects. These interests give the college admissions office another facet of your child besides academics and transcripts. We found that encouraging our sons starting at the end of middle school and beginning of high school to find what really interests them and explore different types of activities related to that interest helps them to find their passions and maybe future goals. Earlier than this age (at least for us) was more of a try it for a while and then drop it as they get more mature and get to know themselves kind of thing. We wouldn’t recommend waiting until sophomore or junior year to begin this process because it does take some time to find that niche and they may be sorry that they hadn’t tried that activity earlier because now they only have a year or two left of high school and it’s become a lost opportunity or takes more time to find that activity or two that they want to grow in to and the opportunity to grow into a leadership position is not there. For example, activities that include ranks or requirements to be completed to move up like boy scouts or civil air patrol take time and dedication.

4. Let your child help you select his/her course load each year and the materials used for instruction.

Depending on your child’s goals, interests and learning styles, different courses and materials can be selected to complete your high school years. Of course, you have to follow the specified subject areas as required by law, but you can choose together how to accomplish that. The high school years are a prime opportunity to allow your high schooler to flex his/her decision making muscles in selecting the order of their courses, electives, and materials they feel will best accommodate their learning styles. This was one of my favorite parts of homeschooling high school. I love talking about curriculum, and to discuss it with my child and hear his opinion was a treat. We discussed what possible areas of interest he might want to major in and the kind of school he might be interested in and began to shape his high school course load according to what that type of college would look for. (He was targeting military academies which were very specific in what they required in the type of courses and how many and the kind of coursework they expected.) He also began to choose more structured learning materials rather than the Charlotte Mason style he had enjoyed when he was younger. (That came as a surprise to me.) We chose a variety of electives like drama, art, etc based on his interests and to develop a well rounded picture. Sometimes those electives like a foreign language can develop into a career interest. Or, if a series of electives are somewhat challenging and unusual that will attract the attention of college recruiters, that may help with college acceptance. It did for us!

3.  Start visiting college campuses of various sizes and types early in high school.

I am someone who operates better spreading goals over a longer period of time and spreading such things as road trips over a longer period of time. This gives you time to plan, assess, and fit in more trips if you have to. Starting as early as the end of my son’s freshman year, whenever we went on a road trip to visit relatives or were on the way to drop him off at a camp, we stopped at a college campus to get a feel for the size and atmosphere, before he really began considering which college he wanted to attend in the future. These comparisons helped to him to form an idea of what he was looking for in his eventual college choices. Then, as he got older, we started discussing majors, which colleges had those majors and met the criteria he was looking for in a college environment. The more serious visits with appointments, interviews, and tours were reserved for junior year to a narrowed- down list of serious considerations.

2. Prepare for the Standardized Tests over time.

Starting in the sophomore year of high school become familiar with the SAT and ACT tests and what each test is like and the material that is covered. You might want to begin a writing program to prepare your child for the timed written essay that accompanies each test ( it is elective with the ACT, but a lot of colleges require that you take it if you will be using ACT scores on your application). Handwriting does matter. The essay evaluators do need to be able to read the student’s handwriting to score the essay. Another area to consider reinforcing is math skills and timed computation skills. If your child has some weaknesses in areas of math (pre-algebra, algebra I and II, geometry, or trigonometry), begin reviewing and practicing these a little at a time. The same goes for reading and grammar skills. If your child has some weaknesses in reading comprehension skills concerning interpretation, drawing conclusions, and main ideas, practicing these skills will greatly help your child. Another area is grammar, capitalization, and punctuation. A little work on these areas at a time is more beneficial then waiting til the last minute. When your child is ready to take these tests during the Junior year, you will want to allow him/her to take at least one ACT and SAT test. Your child will probably find one they prefer over the other or perform better on. I taught a SAT prep class and actually found my son performed better on the ACT and he stuck with that test, retaking it a few times, his score increasing each time. He used that one to apply to colleges and got into both his choicees.

1. Build your child’s resume and transcript starting in 9th grade.

I can’t stress this one enough. It doesn’t have to be a big formal document, unless that’s where your talents and interests lie. Just keep a running record of your child’s activities, any leadership positions, awards or achievements for each year of high school. List any projects they lead, making note of what they did and the outcome. I really suggest you have your child do this and you keep a copy of it on the computer to periodically update. I had my son do this with all of his, not only because he was more intimately familiar with the appropriate terminology and his activities, but it was a helpful exercise for him to develop a resume and be able to construct his college application later on. I kept a transcript based on my child’s work for each year starting in ninth grade, listing subjects and end of year grades based on projects, tests, papers, effort, and completion of reading and assignments. I found that when I kept up with these grades, when I found a transcript template I was happy with, I was able to just plug these grades in and move on.

An overall tip, I’d share would be to take advantage of any low cost or free workshops or classes that familiarize you and your student with the college selection and application process and the standardized tests. Just hearing different opinions and approaches helped us rule out ones we felt we didn’t need or consider ones that never occurred to us before. This ranged from the idea of “now students apply to ten colleges varying in degree of admission difficulty to ensure they get into at least one of their choices” to “develop a complete portfolio of your student’s work complete with reading lists for each year, a complete description of each course, sample papers and projects complete with pictures to make sure you get into college as a homeschool graduate”.

Everyone’s experiences are different. But our experience was we only had a few colleges that even offered my son’s major or that he was even interested in attending, so that automatically narrowed down our choices. Also, each of these colleges only accepted their application form and a transcript consisting grades and course titles only and your highest test score. Anything else would not be looked at, we were told. We also found that the key determiner at his two choices was his standardized test score, trailed by his course load and its difficulty and his extracurricular activities.

I hope these tips have helped in some way! Hopefully, they offer some assistance in taking away some of the stress and the “element of the unknown” out of the homeschool/college process. Pace yourself and enjoy the decisions you will be making together over these years. It is another aspect of exploring together during your homeschooling journey that you can both enjoy! We did! And with gratifying results! Good luck!