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Tips for nontraditional high school students applying to college

This is the first post in a series about homeschooled students and the college admissions process.

In the beginning, college applications seem fairly straightforward:  start by filling in your biographical information, add extracurricular activities, and request a transcript.  Write about yourself; ask others to write about you.  For students following a traditional high school path, this seems to make sense.  Every year, however, I hear variations on the following:

Why was a student at my high school accepted at x college with an SAT score 200 points below the average?
If the college requires 3 years of foreign language and I took Spanish 1 in 8th grade, have I fulfilled the requirement by 10th grade?
Is Art History considered an art course or a history course?
Is AP Economics considered as rigorous as AP European History?
When the college allows for an optional essay or recommendation, should I submit it?

Very often, the answer I give to each is “it depends.”  It depends on the high school environment, the college in question, and the student.  If you are a homeschooled student, the open-ended variables loom even larger.

Homeschooled students make up only a small percentage of students applying to college in any given year, but that percentage is growing.  Like traditional students, they are applying to highly selective colleges, small liberal arts schools, and flagship state universities.  They are gaining admission and winning merit scholarships.  In most every admissions office, there is someone who can answer questions about homeschooled applicants in great detail.

Homeschooled students have a very different set of concerns when applying to college:  Have I taken the correct classes?  Does my taekwondo class count as a PE credit?  Can I use my research project in immunology as a science class?  Should I prepare for and take AP or additional SAT II exams? How many recommendations should I plan to submit?  Who should write them?

As a student with a self-designed education, the burden of proof is on you to demonstrate both your mastery and your passions. Doing this effectively takes considerable thought and time. A complete and thorough application may include additional curricular information, more extensive testing records, extra letters or recommendation and essays.  As you plan your application, give yourself the necessary time to file complete college applications.  Over the next few months, I’ll discuss in future blog posts the primary aspects of the college application with a specific eye to the homeschooled applicant. I’ll reveal the steps and tactics to showcase your distinctive and outstanding qualifications.

However, for now, just know that if you are completing high school in a non-traditional environment, early planning is essential to your college applications.  No doubt, you will identify colleges that you believe are a great match academically and socially, but prepare to spend extra time ensuring the admissions office fully understands your high school experience.


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