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How Do Colleges Evaluate Homeschooled Students?

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Most of the information online in the college admissions sphere caters to students who attend a traditional high school. There’s information about which courses to add to your schedule, which teachers to get letters of recommendation from, and how colleges compare you to students who also attend your high school. But what about students who don’t attend a high school like their peers? For many homeschooled students, the world of college admissions can be confusing and foreign, and there’s a dearth of literature available on the subject. In this blog post, we’ll discuss how colleges evaluate homeschooled students compared to their traditionally educated peers.


Grades and Academics


A homeschool education can be just as rich and structured as any traditional school’s. However, a major difference is that while schools standardize the design of their courses to some extent, so that most students in equivalent courses will have similar coursework across schools, homeschoolers are bound by few restrictions.


In many ways, the flexibility of a homeschool education is a great boon to students; their education is catered to their particular needs and strengths, and other than basic state or college requirements, they are unfettered by restrictions or limited course offerings. Students can also choose a school schedule that allows for travel, daytime work, or time-consuming extracurricular commitments, a luxury not afforded to most traditionally educated students.


However, the homeschool system can also present some complications for admissions committees. Because there is such a great degree of variety between different high schools in terms of academic rigor, extracurricular offerings, socioeconomic status, and more, colleges tend to compare you to students from your school or from a similar area in order to understand your achievements in the context of the opportunities available to you.


However, because home schooled students typically do not have classmates, it can be difficult to gauge how an “A” in a home school course really stacks up to an “A” in a traditional course, unless the class is an AP or IB course with an accompanying standardized test. For this reason, taking the homeschool equivalent of an AP or IB course and sitting for the test at the end of the year is a smart idea for students looking to show off their academic chops to admissions committees.  


In addition, students who are looking to add a bit more structure and rigor into their home school curriculum often take courses at a local community college. Grades in courses like this provide colleges with a point of reference regarding the student’s ability, especially if the student hasn’t taken any standardized tests like APs or IBs. They also demonstrate initiative and a willingness to challenge oneself, something colleges look for especially in home schooled applicants.


Standardized Tests


Standardized test scores, like the SAT, SAT Subject Test, or ACT are weighed particularly heavily in the evaluation of home schooled students’ applications, for similar reasons as described above. Because colleges know little about the design of the student’s courses in high school, and because home schooled students are given such a great degree of flexibility in how they choose to study, colleges value the additional opportunity to evaluate the student’s academic ability in a standardized setting.


Home schooled students looking to attend competitive universities should take particular care in preparing for their standardized tests, because test scores are one of the few ways in which admissions committees can compare them to other students academically. As previously mentioned, comparison to similar students is one of the primary ways admissions committees weigh the significance of an individual student’s accomplishments, which makes evaluating home schooled students particularly tricky. Regardless of the rigor of a student’s course load, colleges cannot determine academic achievement using grades alone.


The Importance of Extracurriculars


The flexible structure of a home school education also means admissions committees consider your extracurricular accomplishments in a different light. The typical student spends 8 hours a day in school, regardless of how long it actually takes them to absorb the material in their classes. A homeschooled student, on the other hand, has full discretion over the amount of time they spend on school, and may end up having significantly more free time given the freedom to work at their own pace.


Therefore, colleges expect you to use this free time wisely. Home school students may not have access to the same student clubs and activities that other students may have, but their schedules allow them to devote more hours to extracurricular activities than the traditional student.


Though home schooled students have the option of joining all-homeschool academic or athletic teams, one particularly smart extracurricular activity for a homeschooled student is a long-term, time-consuming service project or small business that can demonstrate great dedication and commitment to an idea or cause. Entrepreneurship and large-scale community involvement are opportunities that are often denied to traditional students because of their academic schedules, but homeschooled students are free of such constraints and can spend time developing extracurriculars that will go a long way to set them apart from other applicants.


This speaks to a more general trend in admissions for home schooled students: colleges seek initiative, creativity, and independence much more in the home schooled applicant than in the traditional applicant. The unique structure of a home school education allows for students to pursue extracurricular pursuits, be it business, academic competitions, or community service, to a degree their peers can’t. Colleges want to ensure that students have taken advantage of this opportunity, so students who can demonstrate strong themes of leadership and inventiveness in their applications have a strong shot at admissions to the nation’s most competitive schools.


To be sure, homeschooled applicants are much less common than their traditionally educated counterparts. This has given rise to the idea that it is more difficult, or even impossible, for homeschooled students to gain admission to the nation’s top universities. Though home schooled students are evaluated differently than their peers, if they have taken proper advantage to the opportunities granted to them through the home school system, they can excel in the admissions process.


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Anamaria Lopez
Managing Editor

Short Bio
Anamaria is an Economics major at Columbia University who's passionate about sharing her knowledge of admissions with students facing the applications process. When she's not writing for the CollegeVine blog, she's studying Russian literature and testing the limits of how much coffee one single person can consume in a day.