Is it Harder for Homeschoolers to Get Into College?

Colleges of Distinction Staff / Colleges of Distinction »

In the 2021-2022 school year alone, there were an estimated 3.135 million K-12 homeschooled students in the United States. If you or your child were among that 3 million, you might have a few questions about what is possible for the future.

Many homeschooled students looking into colleges may wonder whether their college applications will be affected by the fact that they received their previous education at home rather than at a traditional school. Here, we will dive into the most common questions that homeschooled students have surrounding college applications and how homeschoolers can tailor their applications toward what admissions committees are looking for in new students.

Is It Difficult for Homeschooled Students to Get into College?

While not everyone agrees about the benefits and drawbacks of homeschool education, most colleges and universities do not have a preference about where you gained your education, so long as you know the information and skills you need to succeed on a college campus.

What Do Colleges Look for in Applicants?

Many colleges are very forthcoming about what they are looking for from their applicants. However, remember that the specific requirements for an individual college may depend on what the community values the most. For example, a liberal arts college may put more weight on personal essays, whereas extremely large universities may make decisions based solely on a student’s GPA and test scores.

Typically, the application process focuses on the following factors:

Grades and Test Scores

Most colleges and universities rely on standardized test scores to help them judge whether students are academically prepared for their campus. This said, before stressing about the standardized test scores time of the year, it is essential to note that not all colleges place the same value on standardized test scores today.

In fact, many colleges and universities are conducting test-optional, test-blind, or test-flexible admissions. This means that some colleges are focusing more on the classes you’ve taken and the grades you got in them. Knowing the testing philosophy of the colleges you are applying for is a great way to tell whether you need to take either the SAT or ACT. Most colleges today still like to see included test scores, but not all require scores besides the grades on your transcripts.

Strong Curriculum

When a college or university looks at your application, they’ll be able to see the list of courses you’ve taken on your transcript. Whether you were homeschooled or enrolled in a public or private school, admissions officers typically want to see that you took challenging courses! More challenging studies illustrate that you have been willing to work hard and hone the necessary skills for college courses.

After all, even if you have a 4.0 GPA but have only taken the least demanding courses, your dedication to academic growth and challenge might not shine through. 

Jana Jaraysi, Director of Recruitment and Admissions at Eastern Washington University, recommends an academic opportunity that might be available in your home state: dual enrollment. Known as “Running Start” in the state of Washington, dual enrollment courses allow students to take college classes that count toward both their high school degrees and college credit. Some colleges teach these courses at local high schools, or students can take class on a college campus.”It can show a university or college the level of rigor you have in your coursework,” says Jaraysi. “Even though you have a homeschool transcript, college courses can be added on.”

Commitment to Extracurricular Activities

Regardless of where you attended school, colleges and universities want to know about how you spend your time outside of academics. Public and private schools offer various extracurricular activities, including sports, clubs, fine arts, volunteering, etc. Homeschooled individuals, however, do not normally have the same access to these opportunities and have to find activities on their own.

The importance of extracurriculars cannot be overstated. Colleges look to these activities to judge a student’s commitment and character. They want to see longstanding dedication to an activity of your choosing. Better yet, you’re sure to stand out if you hold multiple roles in an activity or community and can demonstrate the skills you’ve learned from them.

Letters of Recommendation

While colleges and universities place a lot of value on test scores and transcripts, many also base their decisions on the letters of recommendation that a student provides. These letters are typically the best way for an admissions officer to understand what kind of person you are. Written by an adult who has seen your growth and achievements over the years, a letter of recommendation highlights such valuable traits as leadership skills, commitment, and sound reasoning skills. Jaraysi notes that great people to ask for letters of recommendation might include coaches, adults in organizations you’re involved with, or a supervisor. 

Many admission committees rely on these letters to judge whether or not a student would be a good fit for their campus—whether you went to a traditional school or not makes no difference!

Interest in the College

Showing interest in a college’s campus community and demonstrating your commitment to the school can make all the difference for an admissions board. After all, most people apply to several different colleges, so admissions committees accept students with the wish that they will ultimately choose their school over the others they applied to.

Going on campus tours, meeting with admission officers, and attending community-driven events can be great opportunities to show the college that you want to be a part of the community. Another great option to show admissions officers that you are interested in the campus is to get your application in early and/or apply for early decision.

How Are College Applications Different For Homeschooled and Traditional Students?

Many people expect a dramatic difference in the application process for homeschooled students, but that’s rarely the case! For the most part, applications are the same for all students, homeschooled or not. That said, there are typically one or two additional steps that homeschoolers must complete to accurately fill out an application.

Luckily for you, most of these requirements are the responsibility of your parent or primary teacher, as they are the ones who need to create your transcript and send it to colleges. We will discuss how to approach transcripts and diplomas below.

In short, homeschoolers’ applications are typically the same as those for traditional students. They typically require

  • transcripts,
  • diplomas,
  • letters of recommendation,
  • extracurricular activities,
  • standardized test scores, and
  • a school report.

Do Colleges Want Homeschooled Students?

Even if the application process is mostly the same for homeschooled students, you may wonder if you will face some form of bias from the admissions office when applying for college. Of course, this is a normal concern, but you will be happy to learn that the type of bias you will likely face for being homeschooled is actually in your favor.

According to the National Home Education Research Institute, homeschooled students typically score better on standardized tests and perform better academically than students who learn in traditional school settings. In addition, homeschooled students are becoming increasingly sought after by colleges and universities.

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What Homeschooled Students Need on Their Applications

In this section, we will talk about some of the most essential parts of your application and how they may differ from a traditional student’s application.

Transcripts

There are many ways to create valid transcripts for homeschooled students. Some examples include creating a diploma and transcript from scratch, working with an umbrella school education program that makes official transcripts and school diplomas, or joining a homeschool group that produces diplomas and transcripts.

While it may seem more challenging to accurately categorize your day-to-day homeschooler classes into concise courses, it is important to note that there is no standardized transcript for school districts. This means that anything that accurately reflects your academic experience can suffice as a transcript for college applications.

A School Report

School reports are usually completed by a school guidance counselor, but homeschooled students typically do not have this type of individual to complete this report for them. This means that your school report will be written by either your primary teacher (usually a parent) or the administrator of the homeschool program you are enrolled in.

These reports should include the following:

  • a school diploma,
  • your cumulative transcript (including both classes taken at home and outside of the house),
  • a document that includes course descriptions of the classes you took at home,
  • your homeschooling philosophy,
  • your grading methodology, as well as a rationale for how credit was allowed, and
  • sample papers and other academic works (like labs or science projects).

Standardized Test Scores

Many universities like seeing standardized test scores from homeschooled students because they offer a good benchmark for the student’s education. These tests are an excellent way to illustrate the knowledge and skills you have gathered over your education. This said, not all colleges require standardized test scores, and some don’t mind either way.

Letters of Recommendation

Where traditional students can typically get letters of recommendation from any of their teachers, homeschoolers may need to be a little more selective when deciding who should write recommendation letters for them. This is because homeschoolers generally have a parent or guardian as their primary teacher, and colleges tend to prefer letters of recommendation from non-related teachers.

However, there are plenty of ways to get letters of recommendation as a homeschooled student. For example, you can ask instructors about any classes you took at a local community college or online or join a recommendations program for homeschooled education. Another option is to get recommendations from a volunteer coordinator, coach, mentor, or anyone else who can provide accurate insights on what you can do to contribute to the college campus you would be attending.

Extracurricular Activities

As mentioned above, extracurriculars are an excellent way for an admissions committee to see how committed you are to a particular activity. This is crucial for homeschooled students, because reflecting on what you do in your day-to-day schooling can be more challenging than a strict school curriculum. But, if you include the extracurricular activities you participate in in your application, you can more easily show admission officers what you are capable of.

Is College Harder for Homeschooled Students?

The final question that many homeschoolers have about college is if it is harder for them than for students educated in traditional schools. Truthfully, the answer to this question is complicated because each student is different, and while college may be challenging for some homeschooled students, it may be wonderful for others.

On average, however, the biggest stereotypical concern for homeschoolers going to college is that they will not be social enough to function on a college campus. This stereotype has been continually rebutted. According to a collection of studies, homeschooled students are more likely to thrive in a college environment because they can achieve a higher level of socialization and education than in many government-controlled schools.

So, to answer this question simply, college is no harder for homeschooled students—in some ways, it may even be more manageable.

Conclusion

Now that you know that you do not have to worry about a more challenging college application process or facing negative biases from admissions officers, you may be wondering what the most challenging part of the college application process is. Like anyone else applying to colleges, the toughest part is finding the right colleges to apply to.There are so many different colleges that each provides its own unique experiences. Finding the right campus for your college education can be overwhelming—especially if you don’t know where to begin. Colleges of Distinction is a trusted resource for anyone looking to find the best-fitting colleges or universities in the United States. You can search by program, state, or even look into specific colleges from their website to easily map out your top colleges to apply to. So, if you are not sure which colleges you want to apply to just yet, head to Colleges of Distinction to find the right school for you.