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College Prep

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I am frequently asked about college-prep homeschooling. When some moms consider the high school years as preparation for college, they freak out. I get it. I was worried about high school too. But I shouldn’t have been. This May I will graduate my third high school student and will have my first college graduate. I don’t have all the answers, but my perspective has changed and I want to share my experiences that should calm your fears.

[Listen to Secrets to College Admission with Lee Binz]

Homeschool Graduates

Is it harder to teach college-prep homeschool?

A common question I have received is whether it is harder to homeschool high school, especially when you’re preparing a student for college. I know that question comes out of the idea that the subject matter is more complex and requires a more knowledgeable teacher. My answer to that question is in most cases it is easier to homeschool high school. Your students should be able to read and complete assignments with very little help from you. If your child is self-directed, you may only need to meet with your student to review work, administer tests, and grade papers. If the content is not something you are well-versed in, you can have your student use self-directed curriculum, getting help from other homeschooling parents as needed, have your child take a Learning Center class, or enroll your child in an AP or dual enrollment course. If you have a friend who is skilled in the subject that is weaker for you, trade responsibilities. As I’ve often mentioned, I have a friend who does my kids’ Apologia labs and grades and administers tests while I teach her kids literature and composition. You can do this!

What type of courses should be taught in a college-prep homeschool?

Another question I am often asked is about the types of courses high school students who want to attend college should be taking. Visit HSLDA.org to get a list of college-prep high school courses. Next, look at the requirements of a college your child may want to attend. My oldest had a large list of potential universities and he applied to many of them. He ended up choosing a state school. We were thrilled that he has been close to home and he has said that he is very happy with his choice. Our second two sons are also attending state schools and for financial and family reasons, we plan to send the rest of the kids to state schools. If you make a similar choice for your family, reviewing college course requirements becomes a lot simpler. I will say that you can take your high school student on college visits early on, but a lot of maturity happens in the junior and senior years that may have your student changing his mind.

Apologia science co-op

These are the course choices we have made in our college-prep homeschooling. We have included English studies every year of high school. I have like to alternate literature and composition courses every year and we have done these as part of our home based co-op. I find that my high school students enjoy literature and writing a lot more when they are able to discuss and share their writing with friends.

They have also done four years of math, though the levels of math have varied in the senior year depending on math ability. For science my students have used Apologia and have studied biology, chemistry, physics, and advanced chemistry. Science labs have been completed also in our home based co-op.

My high school students have taken a variety of other courses in high school including world history, American history, government, logic, health, Spanish, theology/worldviews, music, practical skills, and physical education. American history or government is a requirement for one college in our state.

[Read Teaching Pratical Skills in Your Homeschool]

How rigorous should college-prep homeschool courses be?

I am frequently asked about how rigorous high school courses should be. High school classes should be graded so those grades can be included on a high school transcript. I use assignments, participation, grading rubrics for papers, and tests that are included with curriculum in order to give my students an accurate grade. I find that some homeschool curricula requires more work (especially writing) than courses traditional schools require. I don’t like to require a paper a week for every subject, for example, because even college courses don’t require that much writing. On the other hand, to prepare your students for college, there should be increased expectations for evidence of your child’s learning. If there are no tests available with a curriculum you’re using, require your students to write a paper or create a project that demonstrates what your child has learned. Then you grade it.

How do I create a high school transcript?

That leads me to another question I frequently receive: how to create a transcript. There are free editable forms available for you to complete by adding the course name, the number of credits, and the grade. You will want to determine how course credits are typically calculated in your state. In mine, a full-year course is 1 credit. A semester course is .5 credits. You’ll want to choose a grading scale and use it consistently. I do not grade with A-‘s and B+’s, so I use 4 points for an A, 3 for a B, and so on. Keep the names of the courses simple like English Comp I or Spanish II so colleges can compare your child’s coursework to other students’. If you have higher expectations for a course or add enrichment activities to it such as the science lectures we had our students attend in addition to their Apologia coursework, you can label a course as Honors on a transcript (e.g., Spanish I Honors). Keep a record apart from the transcript of textbook used, course instructor’s name (if the class was completed at a learning center or online), and example work/tests should you be asked to present proof of course content.

Should I have my student take CLEP tests, AP courses, or dual enroll?

The next question I am often asked is about CLEP, AP courses, and dual enrollment. My oldest son took online AP courses through Pennsylvania Homeschoolers. He then took the AP exams for those courses and did well in them. Depending on the score received, most colleges will accept those courses for college credit. When he later attended high school, he took enough AP courses with qualifying scores to become an AP Scholar. He had two years’ of college credit by the time he graduated from high school.

My second son took CLEP tests through College Prep Plus. He passed the tests, but when we decided he would attend college rather than complete the College Prep program, we learned that the tests he took would not qualify for credit at the state schools he wanted to attend. That is not to say that the CLEP tests wouldn’t have been valuable for a degree through College Plus. My son had an incredible experience working with a mentor through College Prep Plus and was motivated to attend college and set and complete goals because of the program.

Rather than AP or CLEP tests, my second and third sons took dual enrollment classes at our local community college. Getting college credit that way as opposed to the AP course and exam fee has been much less expensive for us and has been excellent college preparation. I have liked them taking the courses while I am still here to provide support. My fourth son will be taking courses at community college next year. My kids have taken American history, psychology, sociology, Spanish, and math.

I have been asked which option colleges prefer. Colleges aren’t as likely to accept CLEP exams for college credit. So do your research if you plan for your student to attent a traditional college. AP courses are excellent for students who want a competitive scholarship, but they aren’t required for the most common academic scholarships. Even though my oldest son had two years’ of college credits, he was admitted as a freshman and was given scholarships as though he were a freshman. College credits can reduce the amount you have to spend while your student is enrolled, but degree and scholarship requirements may limit the savings. My oldest is graduating in four years, for example.

How can I maximize my student’s chances of college admission and scholarships?

Now I want to answer questions I get on admissions and scholarships. Your student can earn free tuition from many universities with a high GPA and test score alone. Check the schools you are interested in for the requirements. You’ll be offered these scholarships automatically, regardless of your family’s income. You won’t need an impressive list of accomplishments and activities to get them. In fact, the admission form for our state schools doesn’t ask for this information. Their transcript and test scores were all that were required for admission and scholarships. If your student will apply for a competitive scholarship, that is when that list of accomplishments comes into play. If your student’s test scores aren’t high enough for admission, you may be able to use that list to gain admission as well. However, if your student doesn’t do well on tests but does well in the classroom, consider dual enrollment or full-time enrollment in a community college after high school. Your child can then transfer to a four-year college on GPA alone. There are fewer transfer scholarships, but there are some available.

Because the biggest scholarships are based on test scores, it’s important that your student do their very best on the ACT or SAT. Two of my students used workbooks exclusively to prepare for their exams because they’re visual learners.  Two of my sons have used Magoosh to prepare and I highly recommend it. It has short teaching videos and test questions that can be accessed from their phones any time they want to get a short practice session in.  I am considering enrolling my high school student in an ACT course as well because he’s an auditory learner. One strategy my kids have used that is excellent is to emulate the testing format during practice tests as closely as possible. So block out four hours of the day and take the exam in the same way that you will be on testing day. Have your students start studying early. If your student has learning challenges, arrange for testing accommodations. Contact your local homeschool support group for information about how to arrange that.

If you want more information about helping your child secure scholarships, listen to the podcast episode I did with Lee Binz. Investigate other scholarships that are available through the college or university that your child would consider attending. Many that are not based on GPA and test scores require leadership experience. Plan now for opportunities for your child to exercise leadership or gain the types of experience that the scholarship requires. Look for local, private scholarships as well. My dentist’s office offers a college scholarship, for example. Many smaller scholarships require letters of recommendation and if your child has someone who could write an excellent letter on his or her behalf, your child may have a good chance at earning the scholarship. Many smaller scholarships offered by colleges and universities require essays. If your child is a strong writer, you may be able to increase education funding by applying for those smaller scholarships. Of course, there are scholarships for sports ability and other extracurricular skills you should look into as well. Depending on your family’s income, you may qualify for grants to help defray the costs. One significant source of college funding that I had not considered before my second son attended college is serving as a resident assistant. My son was a resident assistant this year and will be next year as well. That position includes free room, board, books, and a small salary. That is a huge help to our family. Becoming a resident assistant does require good grades in college and good communication skills, but it is something to aim for to make college more affordable.

[Listen to Lessons Learned from Homeschooling High School]

Conclusion

Homeschooling high school can be a rewarding time in your relationship with your teen. While preparing your child for college can create anxiety, we can learn how to choose courses, prepare our kids for college entrance exams, and earn scholarship money. We can also trust God to help our kids do what is required to fulfill the plan He has for them. College-prep homeschooling has been much easier than I thought it would be. I hope I’ve reassured you!

Do you have any questions about college-prep homeschooling that I haven’t answered? Comment below.

College Prep Homeschooling

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