Homeschooling into College

I was supposed to finish and post this a week ago. But I’m like the pig with the pancake. This morning I cut some dahlias from my garden, and put them in a vase. I put the vase in a window. And because it is late October, and there aren’t a lot of flowers left in my garden, I wanted to take a picture to share to Instagram. But the window behind the vase had a less than lovely view. So I decided to move the vase to a different window. But when I did, I realized how dusty (filthy, but that’s embarrassing) the blinds on that window were. So I got out the vacuum cleaner and dust cloth to deal with the blinds on that window. And the other two windows in that room. And the window sills. And the baseboards. And that’s how it goes with me. And I’m five days late with this post.

As you might have guessed from the title, this post has nothing to do with flowers. Or windows. Or blinds. Or vacuum cleaners. But for someone like me, following rabbit trails affects every facet of my life, including getting my homeschooled kids ready to apply to colleges. My oldest just turned 19, and is in her first semester as a full time college student. During her senior year as a homeschooled high schooler, she took concurrent classes at our local community college. It’s a good thing she did, because that is the only thing that kept us from being a year behind in the whole application process. And having my first two children less than 18 months apart seemed like a great idea 17 years ago, but now it means I’m playing catch up with child #2. My hope is that this post helps some of my fellow homeschool mums get on top of this issue. And for those, like me, who have missed the first boat, or two, know that you aren’t alone, and it’s not hopeless.

I have been homeschooling kids for over 13 years. And in that time, I have never gotten the hang of being organized, on time, or ahead of the game. However, I have become someone whom others turn to for homeschooling advice. A big part of that advice has included the idea that you don’t have to do a perfect job homeschooling in order to do a terrific job homeschooling. So if your kids are all in the equivalent of 8th grade or lower, great. Listen up, because it’s not too late. If your kids are older, still listen up, because it’s late, but never too late. Most of what I will share was unknown to me before my oldest was in 11th grade.

I feel like I should insert a disclaimer here. Not all kids will go to college. Not all kids SHOULD go to college. When I was in college in the 80s and 90s, I sat beside many, many kids who would have been better off in a job, trade school, or two year degree program. I cannot overemphasize how great some of those alternatives are in many cases. I have a friend who earned more with her two year technical degree than I earned four years after earning my four year degree. And for those who plan to homeschool their own children in the not so distant future, a four year degree might not be the most practical path. If your daughter plans to be home with her children by her mid 20s, there are a lot of other ways to spend her post high school years that could be helpful. So if you and your kid don’t see a traditional four year college as the right path, don’t take this as an attempt to convince you otherwise.

All that having been said, let’s talk about how to get into college. Four paragraphs in, and just now getting to the point. Rabbit trails. Let’s begin with a list of things I did not know until I it was almost too late (there are probably variations for every school and state, but I suspect they are not completely different):

  • Applying to college happens beginning the summer before the senior year.
  • Some deadlines are in October and November of the senior year.
  • A lot of scholarships have been decided by the end of the calendar year before a kid graduates.
  • The ACT test in September of the senior year might be the last one that can be used for applications.

I strongly recommend that you and your kid research these deadlines no later than the middle of the junior year, if possible. If you are already past that point, just do it now.

Backing up a bit, for those who are not yet in the red zone, let’s talk about transcripts. Again, I assume there are a variety of differences among the states. I’m in Arkansas, which does not have any requirements for homeschooling beyond an annual Notice of Intent to Homeschool. This is a good thing. Parental control of a child’s education is the goal. But it does mean that no one holds Arkansans accountable for what their child is learning until it’s time to apply to colleges. At that time, you might find yourself stressing about how to make a transcript that will meet the requirements for admission. Here are some suggestions for things you should do. (I didn’t do most of them for my two oldest. Child #3, however, is in the catbird seat due to my new knowledge.)

Keep a list of every class your child takes beginning around age 13. This includes classes with co-op groups, public libraries, scouting organizations, peer groups, etc, etc, etc. Keep a record somewhere. It doesn’t matter if that two week summer drama camp seems like it’s just for fun now, you’ll want to remember it later.

Pay attention to the scope and sequence/requirements/standards for your state. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, just do a little Googling. You’re a homeschool parent, you’ve Googled how a jellyfish poops. You can do this. Basically, there are things that are normally taught in public schools at each grade level. Prior to high school, these probably don’t mean much to you, because you are a homeschool parent, and you are making learning meaningful and interesting. Beginning in about 9th grade, start casting your eye toward these bits of information, and using them to your child’s advantage. For example, if you are debating which science curriculum to use next year, take a peak at these standards and compare them to what you’ve already done. Maybe you’ve got biology covered, and it would be useful to do chemistry or physics next year. Maybe you’ve done a couple of years of middle school Spanish, and it would behoove your child to keep that going. This does not mean you need to make your child’s education a strict, unyielding source of drudgery. It just means you are planning ahead. Like when you wipe those little compartments in the door of the fridge, because your mother in law is coming to visit next week.

Look for ways to meet requirements while maintaining the desired feel and goal of your homeschool. For example, my daughters were able to fulfill history requirements by serving as junior docents at local museums. They learned all of the necessary information, but did it in a way that was meaningful. Likewise, physical education requirements were met through classes like taekwondo and shooting sports. A community robotics group helped meet a lab requirement without adding an extra class.

When your child is high school age, check the website of your local community college to see what it takes to enroll in a concurrent program. That allows your child to earn college credit for things you were going to make them do in high school anyway. Keep in mind that there might be ways to make this more affordable. In Arkansas, some public school allow homeschoolers to take these concurrent classes at a greatly reduced rate. I didn’t look into any of that until it was too late for my two oldest kids. We made them take chemistry and physics, but we didn’t do it in a way that earned them any college credit. I have since found that the gal who oversees concurrent students at our local community college is herself a homeschool mom, and I could have done things better.

Finally, use your local public school as an information source. It’s likely that the school counselor uses social media to post information about upcoming deadlines. There’s no shame in utilizing that information. In fact, if you can attend a meeting for junior or senior parents, do it. Take those handouts and gather that information. We all need to help dissolve the barriers of animosity between homeschool and public school folks. In all likelihood, your local high school counselor is a lovely person who just wants to help kids do well.

I hope this has been helpful. And if you are a parent with a kid in the final year or two of high school, and you’re just learning some of this, take heart. My oldest is in the honors program and making great progress, despite the fact that we didn’t start working on college “stuff” until the spring of her senior year of high school. That made it harder, but not impossible. My 13 year old will be so far ahead of the game by the time she graduates, I hope she will receive her AA along with her high school diploma. And to bring everything back to where it began, here’s a pic of my late October dahlias, in front of my clean blinds.

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