Lesson Tutor: Looking Ahead to College

Looking Ahead to College
by Maggie Hogan

The “Great College Search” does not have to be the high stress process of which we often hear. We, like thousands of homeschooling families across the country, survived this rite of passage and you can, too. Although we made a few mistakes along the way, our oldest son was accepted into his first choice: a highly competitive Christian college. We’re now beginning the journey again with our youngest son, Tyler.

Number One Tip 

Before we go any further, I want to give you one huge tip: Get Organized! Disorganization was my downfall and explains why we missed an important scholarship deadline to JB’s second choice school! My dear friend Celeste, the Queen Bee of Organization, made a wise decision while navigating the college search two years ago with her oldest child, Rebekah. Celeste kept a Master College Notebook from the very earliest days of their searching. Knowing that she had to be Rebekah’s guidance counselor, Celeste made smart decisions:

1.  She kept a calendar in her notebook and noted every single deadline as she learned about them.

2.  She searched locally, as well as far and wide on the Internet, for possible college scholarship opportunities. When she found one that Rebekah would be eligible to apply for, she filed it in her notebook and marked the pertinent dates on her calendar.

3.  Most of the scholarships and all of the colleges required essays. Celeste assigned these essays as part of Rebekah’s senior English Course.

4.  Celeste kept track of important correspondence from each college and kept good notes of all phone conversations and even personal visits. She then put reminders on her calendar of any follow-ups needed based on her notes.

I could go on but you see what I mean. All of their hard work paid off – Rebekah won enough small and medium sized scholarships to fully her fund her four years at an in-state university. It took much time on
both of their parts to do this but Rebekah will leave college debt-free. You’d better believe I’ll be keeping a notebook this time around!

Begin Early

There are good reasons for researching colleges early, at least by 11th grade, if not 10th. By having some idea of which colleges your student might attend, you can better choose the appropriate high school courses. The extra time will allow you to more thoroughly research scholarship and financial aid option

The extra time will allow your student to visit or correspond with schools, ask more questions, and then do a great job filling out those long applications and essay writing. Your student will have more time to prepare for, and more opportunities to take the SAT or ACT for college admission and scholarship consideration.

There are still those who may say that your homeschooled high school student will never get into a good college. Listen carefully: this is simply not true! Homeschoolers have been accepted to and
excelled in colleges across the nation, including prestigious and Ivy League schools. Homeschoolers are even being recruited by colleges who have seen how well these independent, well-educated young people do on college campuses. You CAN provide your student with a high quality education, tailor-made for his or her gifts, interests, and abilities.

A Big Decision!

Certainly your student should have input into the choice of college, but remember, you are turning them over to this institution for the next four years, so make this a matter of high priority prayer and research. “Visit” campuses by checking out their homepages on the Internet. Call or write for schools’ Viewbooks. Ask people you respect what college(s) they recommend. (Bear in mind, though, many colleges have changed drastically from even ten years ago.) With your student, make a list of potentially acceptable schools.

Looking for a Christian College? Many are Christian in name or tradition only. Where do you stand in your beliefs and how closely do you require the school to match them? Where do they stand on Creationism? What are their rules and regulations? Are they too strict? Too lenient? Ask tough questions. Get the student handbook and see what their policies are on co-ed dorms, curfews, etc. Talk to students at the school. Get beyond glossy brochures and sales pitches. There is a lot more than just academics at stake. Choose wisely. Political correctness has crept into Christian colleges but is rampant in the secular schools. Find out what freshman orientation covers – ask about diversity programs. Some of these are outrageous in nature!

Next, you and your teen need to narrow down the list. It isn’t practical to do an in-depth study of more than six or so schools. Find out their specific prerequisites: course work, test scores, and application deadlines. Ask trusted friends to write a letter of recommendation that you can use for all applications. If possible, arrange a visit to the two or three schools you’re most interested in. Visits can mean a big difference in the final choice (and for competitive schools it shows them your interest). There’s nothing like talking to students, eating in the cafeteria, and sitting in on classes and even spending the night, to help decide if it’s the right school or not.

Good News from College

At the 1995 Clonlara Home School Conference, Robert Blackstock, representing Hillsdale College (MI), commented on Hillsdale’s encounter with home educated students: “We have had a tremendous experience with home schoolers. You’ve heard all the cautions: that they won’t be socially adjusted and they won’t be academically prepared, and I just have to wonder what is it they’re not socially adjusted to because they walk onto our campus and they are just fine. They seem to stand back… and take stock for a couple of weeks and then they become the editor of our paper, they take lead roles in plays, they go into student government… Our experience… has been that their attitude toward learning is better, they’re more fully and more actively engaged in the learning process…they take the tone of the campus easily in stride. So one of the things we look favorably [on] in admissions decisions is the fact that they’re homeschoolers.”

How Do Colleges Assess Homeschoolers?

This is taken from an article entitled “Home Education, College Admission and Financial Aid” in the Journal of College Admissions. It is valuable to understand what colleges consider in admitting homeschooled students.

“Assessment is a very serious issue. Often,
admission personnel cannot easily get a feel for what
has been learned at home, nor can they visit the
homeschool as one might visit an alternative high
school. Since there is no monolithic model of home
education, there is no simple formula for assessment
. . .  Admissions officers might want to look for
descriptions of programs of study, lists of  projects,
books, curricula, correspondence-school curricula
should be examined. Outside evaluations of the
student’s work might be in order, much like the
mentor evaluations in adult degree programs. This is
especially true for projects, many of which admission
officers may neither have there time nor the
background to evaluate. Many home educated
students audit, or take for credit, courses in junior
colleges. Community-based projects could be
important to look at. Obviously, essay and interview
are germane.” 

Widely Used Exams for College Acceptance and/or Credit

Send for information, then read and follow the directions carefully. There are books and computer software available to help prepare for each and every examination. The mega-site for college planning and test registration (except for the ACT) is: www.CollegeBoard.org. Don’t miss this site!

PSAT/NMSQT – Preliminary Scholastic Assessment Test/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test

This test measures verbal and mathematical reasoning abilities. It’s traditionally considered the practice test for the SAT. Eligible juniors who take the PSAT/NMSQT in October will automatically be entered into the National Merit Program. Merit Scholarship awards will be given to approximately 7,000 – 8, 000 students based on their scores. A
number of homeschoolers over the last few years have been granted full or partial college scholarships because of the National Merit Program. Pre-registration and a small fee are required. Although it is traditional to take this test in the junior year (and the junior year is the year that counts for National Merit) consider also taking it in the sophomore year for additional practice. Register with your local high school. For more information:

P.O. Box 6720
Princeton, NJ 08541-6720
(609) 771-7070

SAT I – Scholastic Aptitude Test (Formerly SAT)

The SAT 1 is a three hour test primarily consisting of multiple choice questions that measures verbal and mathematical abilities. It’s administered six times per year; pre-registration and a fee are required. Register directly with the College Board.  (Heads up for 2005 – the SAT is adding essays, replacing analogies with critical reading passages, and expanding the math section.) For a registration packet and a free copy of Taking the SAT 1, write:

College Board SAT Program
P.O. Box 6200
Princeton, NJ 08541-6200

ACT Assessment

The ACT Assessment® is designed to assess high school students’ general educational development and their ability to complete college-level work. The tests cover four skill areas: English, mathematics, reading, and science reasoning. Go to www.ACT.org
for more information and registration.

AP – Advanced Placement Exam

The AP program offered by the College Board gives  high school students the opportunity to receive college credit for what they’ve learned in high school or on their own. Tests are only given in May by
participating high schools. (Although College Board welcomes homeschoolers, you might have to be persistent with the local high school.) Students must register before April. I recommend you work out the details well in advance. For free brochures on this program write:

Advanced Placement Program
P.O. Box 6670
Princeton, NJ 08541-6670

CLEP – College Level Examination Program

CLEP offers credit-by-examination in a wide range of subjects commonly required for college undergraduates. CLEPS may be taken by students of any age. Taking and passing even a few of these tests can save time and money and allow capable students to get into meatier, upper-level college courses sooner. Write for the free CLEP Colleges booklet. Although most colleges accept CLEP credits, not all do. Ask colleges you may be interested in for their CLEP policy. Our oldest received credit for all the CLEP tests he took.

P.O. Box 6601
Princeton, NJ 08541-6601

Of course, there is another option entirely: College at Home. This is becoming more and more popular with homeschoolers but it is an article in and of itself. Finally, think of this as just another extension of your homeschooling. Continue to pray, plan, and prepare as you go down the college path. Happy Trails!