A Guide to Extracurriculars for Homeschooled Students
When we at CollegeVine discuss the process of preparing for college application season, we usually assume that most of our readers come to the application process from the typical American educational system or something similar. However, clearly that’s not the case for everyone. College applicants come from many different backgrounds, and one that presents a notably different set of challenges is that of homeschooling.
If you’re a student who has been homeschooled and you’re thinking about attending college, it may be difficult to figure out which of your activities count as extracurriculars, how to get involved in activities outside of a traditional high-school context, and what colleges will think about your unique educational situation. Since it’s still important to be involved, it’s best to get started early with planning a slate of extracurriculars that will make your applications shine.
Are you a homeschooled student who’s interested in perfecting your extracurricular profile? Read on for advice from the experienced advisors at CollegeVine!
A brief guide to extracurricular activities
The activities generally referred to as “extracurricular” can cover a wide range of subjects. All the term means is that these activities lie outside the context of a typical high school course.
There is some gray area in this definition, of course. An extracurricular might make use of content you’ve also covered in a class; however, there is usually an additional element that differentiates it from the usual kind of academic activity.
For example, studying a subject and taking a test is not an extracurricular activity, but doing the same thing in an Academic Decathlon competition is definitely extracurricular. Besides the competitive element, which is present in some but not all extracurricular activities, extracurriculars may also involve performances, long-term projects, or meeting other goals.
Extracurriculars can be individual, group-based, or somewhere in between—for instance, if you take up varsity wrestling, you’re a member of a team that trains and competes together, but during each match, you’re on your own. They may be sponsored by a particular high school, affiliated with another community or organization, or pursued independently.
While this list is by no means exhaustive, extracurricular activities could involve any of the following:
- Academic competition or research
- Athletics (varsity, club, or independently pursued)
- Clubs dedicated to a common interest
- Community service and volunteering
- Cultural, religious, and identity groups
- Paid work
- Political organizations
- Public speaking
- Student government
- Writing and publishing
- Visual and performing arts
Anything that is part of your high school curriculum is not considered an extracurricular.
The things you do for fun may or may not count as extracurricular activities for college application purposes, depending on how much work you put into them and what results you’ve achieved. Forming a band with your friends, for example, could be a casual pastime, or it could be something into which you’ve poured your talent and hard work to develop a local following. It all depends on the circumstances.
If you’re a homeschooler, the boundaries between curriculum and extracurriculars may be blurrier than they are for most students. You’ll just need to spend a little extra time deciding how to classify the various activities in which you’ve participated.
The benefits of homeschooling for extracurricular involvement
If you’re a homeschooled student, you know quite well already that homeschooling can provide you with a particularly flexible and personalized educational experience. With a little work, this can be true for extracurricular opportunities as well as academic study.
For many students who attend traditional high schools, time and scheduling can limit the ability to participate in some activities. Perhaps basketball practice is at the same time as debate club, or there isn’t enough time on a school night to both get your homework finished and volunteer at the animal shelter. As a homeschooler, you have the option of maintaining different school hours, potentially allowing you to pursue some truly unique opportunities.
Being a homeschooler doesn’t mean you have unlimited time, of course, but it does mean that your time is more flexible than that of students who attend traditional high schools, so you have more freedom to adjust your schedule around a certain activity.
This isn’t to say that homeschooling doesn’t have some disadvantages in terms of extracurricular activities. For instance, it will be harder for you to find and join traditional teams and clubs since they aren’t a built-in part of your school environment. You’ll likely need to do more legwork on your own to find extracurricular activities.
You should keep in mind that colleges, who will know that you were homeschooled, will likely have especially high expectations for you regarding extracurricular involvement. They’ll expect that you have used your time wisely and taken advantage of the freedom that homeschooling has given you.
When admissions officers take a look at your list of activities, they’ll anticipate finding evidence of involvement that is not only interesting and possibly unusual, but also highly self-motivated and self-directed. On one hand, this sets a high bar for you, but on the other hand, being homeschooled may give you the opportunity to put together an extracurricular resume that really stands out.
Extracurricular opportunities at local public schools
If you don’t attend a traditional school, how do you find extracurricular activities in which to participate?
First of all, if you live in the United States, depending upon where exactly you live and what your homeschooling circumstances are, it may be possible for you to participate in some of the clubs, teams, and other extracurriculars that are available at your local public high school.
A number of state laws require that homeschoolers have access to some or all extracurricular activities (among other services) offered by the local public schools. However, there may be additional requirements that you need to meet before you’ll be allowed to participate. For instance, some states require a review of your homeschool curriculum beforehand to ensure that you’re meeting state requirements.
Other state laws allow local school districts to make individual decisions about whether and which extracurricular activities are open to local homeschoolers. If you live in a state with one of these laws, you’ll need to speak directly to your local school district about whether they’ll allow you to participate in extracurriculars offered by local schools.
Some states simply don’t have any laws or policies on the books at all regarding homeschoolers and their participation in public-school activities. In these cases, you may not be able to access extracurricular activities at your local public school. Still, if there’s no set policy on the issue, it certainly doesn’t hurt to ask your local school district if they’ll allow you to participate.
Of course, whether your local public school actually offers any extracurricular activities that you would be interested in joining in the first place is another question entirely. Try looking online to see which activities are offered at a high school near you.
There are many benefits to joining an extracurricular at a public school. Schools may have equipment and resources that would be difficult or expensive for you to obtain on your own—for instance, if you’re an aspiring potter, it helps to have access to a kiln, and if you’re planning on becoming a doctor, a chemistry lab with up-to-date equipment can benefit you a great deal.
School teams, whether athletic or otherwise, can provide you with experience working in a group as well as opportunities for interscholastic competition, if that prospect appeals to you. Teams will also give you the opportunity to socialize with other students.
If you don’t have the opportunity or don’t want to participate in activities at a local public school, there are likely still resources and programs available in your community that would allow you to explore topics beyond academics
Your geographic community is one place to start. Even a small town may be teeming with opportunities if you know where to look, from an organization’s Facebook page to the local paper to the bulletin board at the grocery store. Take time to notice the opportunities around you and to build your local network in order to find out what activities might be open to you, from community service to performing arts to local politics.
Finding extracurriculars outside of a school setting may take a little more initiative on your part, but it’s well worth the effort. You may find that certain group activities generally intended for adults might welcome a mature and self-motivated teenager. Your flexible homeschooling schedule may even make you an especially valued volunteer for a local organization.
Of course, it may not be easy to find extracurricular activities in your particular area of interest that are also geographically accessible for you. However, colleges understand that not everyone has access to the same opportunities, and they’re more interested in what you do with the resources you do have.
You might also find extracurricular activities within homeschooling groups or networks, which allow homeschoolers to share experiences and resources while maintaining their independence. If you’re not already involved with one of these groups, you can find them online, by word of mouth, or via a local homeschooling center if you have one.
It can be very helpful to speak to another homeschooled student who is older than you are, particularly if that student made a successful transition from high school at home to college in a more traditional setting. They may be able to give you tips about how to find a good clarinet teacher in town, how to join a local Ultimate Frisbee league, which local organizations are most in need of volunteers, or how to find other kinds of activities, whatever your interests may be.
You may even have the opportunity to participate in an organized group activity, such as a club or sports team, that’s specifically made up of local homeschoolers. This will give you some of the benefits of a school-based extracurricular activity without you having to affiliate yourself with a school. Check with your local homeschooling organization, if one is available, to see if this might be an option for you.
Finally, the internet can provide some additional opportunities that are less limited by geography. You might write for a blog or other online publication, create a YouTube channel, or start your own Etsy shop to sell your original drawings, among many other options. (Be aware that some websites will require you to either be 18 years old or be supervised by a parent or guardian.)
Of course you’ll need to do some background research to make sure an online group or activity is legitimate and safe, but especially if you have few local opportunities in your area, joining some kind of online activity might be a good idea Just remember that you’ll need to justify it on your college application, so make sure it positively contributes to your extracurricular profile.
Designing your own activities
What if you can’t find an opportunity to participate in your desired activity? If the activity means a great deal to you, you can always try to create an opportunity of your own, either as a solo project or as a group which you create and lead.
If you initiate an independent activity, you may or may not have the opportunity to compete or collaborate with others; some activities, especially those that are competitive, require that you participate through a particular school. (There aren’t many independent high-school football teams, for instance.) However, other activities, such as competitive spelling bees, may allow you to compete on your own. Even if you want to remain independent, you’ll likely want to look into local groups or competitions related to that activity in order to see what your options are.
Early entrepreneurship can be a positive contribution college application, especially in the startup age. If you have the desire, opportunity, and resources to start your own business, organization, or project, this can be a great option. The flexibility that homeschooling provides can be a valuable asset for the young entrepreneur.
If you want to create a group activity, cultivating relationships with other homeschoolers, homeschooling networks, and others in your local communities can again be very helpful. Having others with whom to share the activity can defray costs, add additional perspectives and resources, and simply make some activities possible that wouldn’t be otherwise. For instance, it’s rather difficult to play chamber music in a string quartet all by yourself, and your community service project to clean up the local park will be much more effective with more participants.
Starting your own extracurricular from scratch and managing it successfully is not an easy task. However, if you choose to take this path, it will definitely be a positive addition to your college applications. Colleges will be impressed not only by your independence, ingenuity, and creativity, but also in your dedication and leadership skills.
Some students need more structure and thrive in organizations; others are more independent and self-motivated. Either way, a strong extracurricular profile is an absolute must for your college application, especially if you’re planning to apply to competitive schools, so you’ll need to find some way to add activities to your profile.
Of course, not everyone has access to the same activities, and being homeschooled can make things more complicated in this regard. As we’ve mentioned in other posts on the CollegeVine blog, colleges are aware of this fact, and when you apply, they’ll pay attention not only to what you achieved, but also to how well you took advantage of the opportunities available considering your circumstances.
Regardless of whether or not you attended a traditional high school, all colleges will want to see that you’ve demonstrated interest, achievement, dedication, and leadership skills in your high-school years. Colleges need to know that you’ve pursued activities outside of the classroom, and that you’ll be a valuable contributor to the campus community, both inside the classroom and outside.
For additional advice from CollegeVine’s admissions experts on how to navigate the college application process as a homeschooled student, take a look at the following articles from the CollegeVine blog.
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