Should You Homeschool High School? (Part 1)

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By Katherine O’Brien, MA CCPS

Katherine O’Brien, MA CCPS is a Catholic homeschooling mother of six who has homeschooled since 1998.  She is the founder of Celtic College Consultants and has served college bound teens all across the US since 2004.  Students in her recent classes were offered over $225,000 each, on average, in merit scholarships. In 2017, Katherine compiled and released Every Catholic’s Guide to College: The 315 Best US Colleges & Universities for Practicing Catholics, 2018.  It is available on Amazon.com.  Kolbe Academy families are eligible for 10% off of all services.

 

Introduction

In this series of articles I will address a number of factors of high school education from a college admissions perspective.  As a Catholic homeschooling mother of six and a professional college consultant, I will share some of my experience and knowledge in this series of four articles.  In this first article, I’ll discuss the overall perspective colleges have with regard to homeschoolers and I’ll explore the various tests that are often part of the high school experience.  In the second article, I’ll examine the various types of courses high school students can take.  Next, athletics, extracurricular activities, and leadership will be the focus of the article.  In the final article, financial aid, scholarships, and college funding topics will be addressed.

My goal is to educate families through these articles so that you can prayerfully make the best decision for your children.  Each child and family is different.  Out of respect for that, I seek to provide information, not to persuade you to a particular action when I do not know your situation.

Not Sure Whether Your Student(s) Is/Are College Bound?

What if you aren’t sure that college will be the appropriate path after high school for your child(ren)?  At this stage, it is important to both keep the various higher education options open as well as foster the emerging interests and inclinations of our children.  If you aren’t certain, proceed in a manner that leaves college as an option.  However, if it is already clear that a different path will best serve your child(ren), skip the academically focused sections of this series and focus your attention on the other sections. Explore the certificate and apprenticeship programs available in your area and in your child(ren)’s area(s) of interest.  The Occupation Outlook Handbook found on the Bureau of Labor Statistics website, bls.gov, will be helpful when researching any prospective careers’ expected growth and pay ranges.

Homeschooled students are welcome on campus!

Before going any further, it’s important to make it clear that homeschooled students are welcome on college campuses.  Many admissions offices have special instructions and/or admissions counselors just for homeschooled students.  On campus, homeschooled students fit in just as well as, if not better than, students schooled in other situations.  Academically, as long as they have learned to turn in their work on time during high school, homeschooled students tend to flourish.

If his or her high school transcript will be unaccredited, there are a few schools that won’t accept the student.  Most notably, the UC system is considered closed to homeschooled students.  Officially the University of California colleges accept homeschoolers, but it is quite challenging to meet all their requirements.  For full information about those requirements, please see the homeschool portion of their admissions website: http://admission.universityofcalifornia.edu/freshman/homeschool/index.html.

While special admissions requirements for homeschooled applicants are somewhat common, the more selective the college is, the more likely it is that there will be special requirements and that they may be significant and/or take time and planning to meet.  The most common requirement is for homeschooled students to submit subject test scores to validate their coursework.  Most often SAT subject tests are requested although it is often possible to use CLEP or AP test scores instead.  The advantage of CLEP and AP scores is that many colleges and universities will give college credit and/or waive course requirements for students with high scores on these tests.  Each college has its own policy regarding whether and how they accept scores in lieu of required courses.  Some give no credit while others give elective credits and still others will waive required courses, accepting the scores instead.

Testing

Test scores typically form a significant part of college applications for all students.  For homeschoolers, as mentioned, tests are often used to validate the student’s grades.  There are many tests, all of which have different goals and are available on different bases to homeschooled students.  Keep in mind that there are currently approximately 1,000 colleges and universities that are “test optional” or “test flexible” for admissions.  FairTest.org has information about them.  However, be aware that most test optional schools still require test scores to qualify for their academic merit scholarships.

75-80% of colleges and universities require applicants to take the SAT or ACT and submit their scores as part of the application process.  Be aware that both the College Board and the ACT sell student information to colleges (if you look closely there is an option to opt-out on their registration form).  Be sure to have your student use a different email address, not their usual one, when s/he registers for the tests.  That way the flood of marketing emails will not overwhelm their primary email account.

ACT Aspire – This test is a “standards based system of assessments to monitor progress toward college and career readiness from grade 3 through early high school.  Based on the information on the DiscoverACTAspire.org website, this test seems to be geared to give educators feedback about this students.  As such, it is not applicable to homeschooling families.  This test will not be part of any student’s college admissions application.

ACT Tessera – This test is offered by the ACT organization to measure social and emotional learning skills of 6th – 12th grade students.  Each student will receive a personal proficiency and growth report and be encouraged to set goals and identify strategies for improvement.  Having a child with Asperger’s compelled me to include a note on this test.  This test will also not be part of any student’s college admissions application.

PSAT 8/9 – This preliminary SAT test is given to 8th and 9th grade students. The score is on the same scale as the SAT and a national ranking is provided.  Score information can be used to create a high school course plan.  Primarily, the test gives an additional opportunity to take an official, proctored national exam.  This test score is not used as part of the college admissions process.

PSAT10 – The Preliminary SAT test is given to sophomores and usually provides the first nationally ranked test score students see. The PSAT score report also provides the student’s equivalent SAT score, which is very helpful information to have when exploring the academic fit of various prospective colleges.   This test score is not used as part of the college admissions process.  Many find it helpful to have a nationalized test score early in their college search as well as to have the opportunity to take an official, proctored test before taking the SAT, ACT, or CLT.

The PSAT is Common Core correlated and includes an English and a math section.  This test is only given to the students of brick and mortar high schools.  Contact your local schools’ testing coordinator in August of sophomore year to arrange for your student to take the test on their campus.  Public schools are often welcoming but are not required to allow homeschooled students onto the campus.  If they do not welcome you, contact private high schools in your area.  The test is typically given in mid-October.  Recently, some schools have begun to offer the PSAT10 during the spring instead.  Consult your local schools directly to obtain their testing schedule.

PSAT/NMSQT – The Preliminary SAT test given in October of the junior year and is the National Merit Scholarship qualifying test.  The only way to win a national merit scholarship is to score in the top 10% of the juniors who took the PSAT/NMSQT in your state.  Those students are semi-finalists and will be contacted by the National Merit Corporation and asked to submit a high SAT score and a transcript as part of the scholarship qualification process. The PSAT is Common Core correlated and includes an English and a math section.  It is only given at brick and mortar high schools.  Contact your local schools in August of junior year to arrange for your student to take the test on their campus in October.  Public schools are often welcoming but are not required to allow homeschooled students onto the campus.  If they do not welcome you, contact local private high schools in your area.

Pre-ACT – The Pre-ACT is given to sophomores and provides a practice ACT experience and score as well as information on students’ college and career readiness.  The score report also provides the student’s equivalent ACT score, which is very helpful when exploring the academic fit of various prospective colleges.   The test is Common Core correlated and includes English, math, science, and reading sections. Like the PSAT, the Pre-ACT is only given at brick and mortar high schools.  Contact your local school’s test coordinator in August of sophomore year to arrange for your student to take the test on their campus.  Public schools are often welcoming but are not required to allow homeschooled students onto the campus.  If they do not welcome you, contact private high schools in your area.

SAT – Homeschooled students register for the SAT just like all other students, by going to the CollegeBoard.org website and registering.  Testers can select the test site (you can even take it far from home if you’re traveling!)  There is a special high school code for homeschoolers.  If you homeschool through a program that gives an accredited diploma check with your school; it might have a high school code.  The SAT may be taken with or without the essay.  Check the admissions requirements of your student’s prospective schools regarding whether or not the essay is required.  If so, be aware that admissions staff will be able to read students’ SAT essays.

ACT – Homeschooled students register for the ACT just like all other students, by going to the ACT.org website and registering.  Testers can select the test site (you can even take it far from home if you’re traveling!)  There is a special high school code for homeschoolers.  If you homeschool through a program that gives an accredited diploma check with your school; it might have a high school code.  The ACT may be taken with or without the essay.  Check the admissions requirements of your student’s prospective schools regarding whether or not the essay is required.  If so, be aware that admissions staff will be able to read students’ essays.

CLT – The Classic Learning Test was developed in recent years and is accepted by more than 100 colleges and universities in lieu of the SAT or ACT.  For full information on this test, which is offered at sites all over the US, please see CLTExam.com.  Many homeschooling families using a Christian and/or Classical curriculum find the CLT, which is not Common Core correlated, to be a more appropriate test.  The CLT includes an English and a math section.  Check their website frequently as the list of colleges accepting the CLT is increasing steadily.  If you are interested in the test and in a college that does not yet accept it, do not hesitate to call the admissions office and suggest they start to accept it.  Contact the CLT team as well; they might be able to assist you with getting the test accepted by that/those college(s).

AP exams are given in physical high schools every May.  Students are NOT required to take AP courses in order to take the exams.  AP exams are offered in many subjects and may be taken during any year of high school.  It is possible to take several AP exams during the same year. See the CollegeBoard.org website for a complete list.  Contact your local school in January to arrange for your student(s) to take the test with their students in May.  Be aware that not every school offers every AP test.  Just as is the case for the PSAT and Pre-ACT, homeschooled students must get permission of the testing coordinator in order to join the students on campus for the AP exams.  The fee for AP exams is handled by the high schools.

IB exams – The IB/International Baccalaureate program is a robust program consisting of six courses taken in the junior and senior years of high school, each ending in a test.  At this time, these are only available through institutional schools.  They are highly regarded by colleges and universities, including the most selective campuses.

SAT Subject exams – Some colleges and universities recommend or require these tests for admissions.  “Recommend” means the test is not absolutely required.  However, it is expected that all successful applicants will take them, unless there are geographical or financial constraints that prohibit the student from doing so.  A list of the subjects and the dates each test is offered may be found on the CollegeBoard.org website.  Homeschooled students register for SAT subject tests just like all other students, by going to the CollegeBoard.org website and registering.  Up to three SAT subject tests can be taken on most test dates.  The SAT and SAT subject tests cannot be taken on the same day. Testers can select the test site (you can even take it far from home if you’re traveling!)  There is a special high school code for homeschoolers.  If you homeschool through a program that gives an accredited diploma check with your school; it might have a high school code.

CLEP tests – Homeschooled students can take CLEP exams any month at sites all over the country.  See the CollegeBoard.org site for a complete list of the subjects tests as well as to find test sites in your area.  Testers make arrangements with the local test site to take the tests.  The website also has a list of the colleges and universities that accept CLEP scores.  Families will need to make arrangements with the test site directly to schedule and pay for CLEP exams.  Students may take more than one exam at a time, if they wish.

DSST tests – Homeschooled students can take DSST exams in a wide variety of subjects (including business math and criminal justice, for example). These college equivalency exams are offered at test sites all over the country and are designed to give college credit for job training,etc.  A complete list can be found on the getcollegecredit.com website.  A list of institutions which accept these scores is also available on the website.  Testers register on the DSST website as well.

More to Come…

In the next installments, I will address financial aid, scholarships, athletics, high school courses, transcripts, AP courses, dual enrollment, leadership, & extracurricular activities.