Advocates for Home Education in Massachusetts, Inc.

Homeschooling for College Admission

Part 1: How We Did High School

By Roberta Van Vlack

As I write this I have two kids in college and two in high school, including a high school senior who is applying to colleges this year. None of them ever attended a brick-and-mortar school before going to college. Below are some thoughts on how to do high school as a homeschooler. These reflect my experiences; your mileage may vary, as they say. I will add that while we are not unschoolers, neither have we used a traditional approach to education. My philosophy of education largely mirrors the Charlotte Mason style with lots of living books, art, and nature, and no formal testing. In a follow-up, I will talk more specifically about the college application process.

High School Academics: What to Teach and How to Teach it

What to Teach

It is generally good to have some sort of plan of attack for high school before you begin. If your child plans to go to college or even might possibly some day decide they want to, you will want them to have the requisite classes under their belt. If you have an idea of where they might go, you can look at a few college websites and see what they require. I would say the summer before ninth grade is the time to do this. Things to look at in particular: if the college requires a foreign language and if so how many years; if they require lab sciences; and if they require standardized testing.

Typical college expectations are: four years each of English, Math, and History/Social Studies; three to four years of science with labs; two to three years of foreign language; five to eleven other courses (fine arts, PE, computers, etc.). That does not mean you need to do everything as discrete courses that fit these labels. What you will need to do is turn what you have done into language the colleges will understand. For instance, my children read an economics book at one point in high school and an American government one at another point. When creating their transcript, I lumped these together and called them a half year of civics.

You will want to keep as thorough records as you can along the way. You will be glad you did later when you have to create a transcript. It is surprisingly easy to forget what your kids have read and studied. You will likely find that you have quite a lot of “classes” that you have done over the years. I always found that my kids had way more than enough credits when I looked at everything they had done. Creating a transcript was mostly lumping things together and deciding what to call them and what year to assign them to (more on that next time).

How to Teach It

There is a big temptation for those of us who are less traditional to change methods as we get to high school. This is not necessary. We did outsource some classes—particularly foreign language—but for the most part we continued with what we had been doing. Again, you can find ways to put what you did in language a college will understand. One nice side benefit of outsourcing a class or two is that you will then have another teacher who has had your child and can write an academic recommendation when the time comes.

If you choose to outsource classes, there are a few ways you can go. You can use online classes, the local community colleges, or  local in-person coops, classes, or tutors. We primarily used live, online classes. This was mostly due to our own circumstances and ability to juggle cars (or not). We found that all companies we used—and there were a lot of them—had decent platforms and that it was the teacher that mattered most. Really, we didn’t have any bad experiences with online classes.

We never used the local community colleges, but this is certainly an option many choose. If you are going to go this route, your child will start by taking an accuplacer test. Massachusetts community colleges should all have someone who works with homeschoolers to get them set up for the classes they will take. Sometimes dual enrollment money is available to help defray the costs. If you choose to make use of this option, they may ask for your approval letters so even if your child is 16 or older and you do not need to file an education plan with your town, you may want to continue to do so if you think your child will use dual enrollment. Alternatively,you can pay full price for community college classes out-of-pocket, and in that case you do not have to involve your local school.

You can also find local, in-person options like coops, classes, and tutors. Many coops allow homeschoolers to be dropped off for classes and don't require parent involvement, though this usually also means there is more of a fee involved. My oldest did Latin with a private tutor and his physics labs through a coop, but for the most part the options available to us just didn’t fit with what we wanted when we wanted it.

To sum up:

Ways to teach high school level classes: