By Guest Blogger Laura Simon

“But what will you do when they want to go to college?

I hear this all the time when strangers – and sometimes, friends – find out I am homeschooling my kids. It’s the second thing they ask – right after the inevitable question about socialization.

My short answer? We’ll send them! In fact, the decision to homeschool has everything to do with wanting our kids to be well-prepared for college and beyond. We want them to spread their wings and fly. We hope they’ll pursue a traditional degree. We don’t plan to have them living under our roof forever.

Or course, these well-meaning strangers are often wondering something a little more complex: how does a homeschooler go about getting into college without the traditional trappings of high school? You know, guidance counselors, transcripts, and National Honor Society. In fact, I know some parents who really want to homeschool their kids, but they’re afraid it will limit their college options.

Fortunately, that’s not true at all. Colleges look favorably on homeschooled students, many of whom have a wealth of experience outside the classroom, as well as a strong grasp of essential basic skills and excellent critical thinking abilities. In addition, admissions officers examine a wide range of evidence when determining admission, and with the exception of a transcript, most of what they’ll ask for is easy for homeschooled kids to produce.

But before we get into the nuts and bolts of applying for college, I want to tell you the same thing I used to tell the kids I taught in public high school: colleges care about so much more than grades. When I was working as an adjunct at my alma mater, the admissions office sent out an email every spring with the stats on the incoming class. Yes, it included the average GPA and ACT scores, but it also waxed eloquent about the extracurricular pursuits of the soon-to-be freshmen. Colleges want to accept good citizens. They want students who will be involved in the arts, in sports, in extra-curricular clubs, in philanthropy, and in student government. They want leaders who will take initiative and leave the campus better than they found it. They are not particularly interested in a valedictorian who stays holed up in his room 23 hours a day. They want students to show up and engage.

So what’s the best thing you can do to make your homeschooled child marketable to prospective colleges? Place value on more than academics. Help him find a hobby. Look for service-learning opportunities. Take medical mission trips. Let her get a part-time job, or better yet, start a business. Get your kids involved in a local church or philanthropy. Help them catch a vision of a world that is larger than themselves. Quality definitely trumps quantity here, and the flexibility of a homeschool schedule will allow your child to get involved in ways their traditionally-educated peers cannot. Colleges recognize that most homeschoolers do not have opportunities to serve in student government or National Honor Society, but they also recognize that the experiences homeschoolers do have often provide something even more valuable: real-world experience.

When you work with your teen to determine the right “fit” for him or her, keep in mind that colleges like activities that allow for leadership and that broaden the student’s perspective on the world. It’s also wise to start a resume as early as middle school and have your son or daughter update it regularly. You’ll be surprised at how blank everyone’s mind goes when that college application stares them in the face. The updated resume should contain both jobs and volunteer work, and it will make sure no one forgets anything. Also, stay in touch with coaches, pastors, and supervisors. Almost every college requires letters of recommendation from someone outside the family, so you’ll need other adults in your children’s lives that can vouch for their character and ability.

Now, aside from the citizenship requirement, colleges will also need evidence of academic progress. Traditionally, they ask for two things: a high-school transcript and a standardized test score – often the ACT or SAT.  The standardized test tells them your child’s aptitude; in other words, how well-prepared is he or she for the content they’ll cover in college? The transcript tells the college about your child’s work ethic. For example, a knock-out test score with lackluster grades is a warning sign that the student is probably bright but unmotivated. And excellent grades combined with a poor test score can signal a lack of rigor in the school curriculum.

The test score is the easy thing to procure. You can sign up for it via the ACT or SAT website, and you can find test prep online as well. Studies show that scores usually improve the first two to three times a student takes the test, and after that they decline. I’d suggest having your kids take the test once during the junior year, and again right after they complete their junior year. Also, the writing portion of the ACT is optional for many colleges, but it’s smart to take it. Anything you can do to show that your child has top-notch academic skills will be helpful.

That transcript is trickier, unless you’re homeschooling through an accredited online program. If you aren’t – and most homeschool families mix and match resources instead of using a one-stop approach – you’ll likely need to create your own transcript. Fortunately, North Carolinians for Home Education (NCHE) maintains this webpage that outlines how to go about creating a transcript. It even includes some templates. Also, when you plan your high school curriculum, be sure you check on some prospective college websites to make sure you are covering everything their admissions department specifies your child will need – and then some. Not all colleges require a transcript from homeschooled students, but those that do will expect the same program of study that traditionally schooled peers are required to complete. Typically, homeschooling families go above and beyond basic expectations, but it helps to be prepared.

Finally, as you begin to approach the process of choosing and applying for colleges, start contacting admissions offices at the colleges your child wants to attend. Many schools now have a separate page in their admissions website that addresses the expectations for homeschooled kids, but there’s really no substitute for speaking with a human being who can answer your specific questions. Every college does things a little bit differently. You’ll find some schools that wave the transcript requirement completely and other schools with very specific expectations. Some schools prefer the ACT; others like the SAT. The best thing you can do is communicate early and often.

If you’re doing a knock-out job of educating your children at home – and I bet you are – they’ll be an asset to any college they choose. And while the college admissions process can feel daunting to any teen, regardless of educational background, the good news is that homeschooled kids have every opportunity to find their way to the college of their dreams.

Other Homeschooling Blogs from Our Archives:

So You Think You Want to Homeschool?
Our Modern One-Room Schoolhouse
Back to School for the Homeschool Mom
The Benefits of Homeschooling
To Homeschool or Not