By Lara A. Major
A former homeschool student currently in college gives advice to peers about the college application process ~ with perfect 20/20 hindsight. (Used with permission.)
Subtitle: My, Aren't These Forms Fun to Fill Out!
If you’re anything like me at the end of my junior year, the college application process is going to hit you like a ton of bricks. Lead bricks…with a side of monster trucks. I knew better than to put off my search, but I did anyway, waiting until nearly the beginning of my senior year to do more than casually look into colleges.
SAT’s, college applications, and scholarship projects all seemed parts of a remote and slightly frightening future – until they were next week.
If the not-quite-eighteen-year-old-self writing this could time travel to advise my junior self, I would lecture her on preparation. Just looking at the entrance requirements for a big college would have allowed me to plan both my junior and senior years around preparing the “perfect package.” As it turned out, I was able to restructure my senior year, although I nearly had a nervous breakdown between taking SAT subject tests and three Advanced Placement courses, filling out applications, and writing scholarship essays.
After I took my PSAT at the beginning of my junior year, I was swarmed with brochures from dozens of colleges (I had signed up for the College Board college search as part of my PSAT). The brochures were the usual smiling students and flattering quotes; but, along with a library copy of a four-year college guide, they were useful for choosing a pool of colleges.
Once I had a list of potential colleges, I prepared some questions for them, and went on the road to college conventions. There are actually quite a few conventions in the Seattle area – even a few geared especially toward homeschoolers. The most helpful conventions, however, were the larger ones, where colleges from across the nation had booths. Let me say it now: conventions are miserable. Expect five or more hours in a crowded, cold area reciting the same questions to a dozen admission counselors. That being said, the conventions are the best way to meet the people who will be admitting you to college. So, try to stand out from the busloads of bored public school students who will be there! Wear nice clothes; smile even if your feet are killing you; and, most of all, make sure they can easily remember you and your circumstances later when they are looking at the black and white essays. I took advantage of the fact that my mom and I share the same name to be memorable – maybe you have a funny anecdote or an unusual hobby that you can use.
After the conventions, you, hopefully, will have answered most of the questions you have about college – from price to admission requirements, as well as met the admissions counselors who will be your contacts at each college. Then comes the fun part – collecting and filling out the admissions paperwork. You’ll probably want to apply to several colleges, but keep in mind just how much paperwork is involved with each one (scholarships, parent/teacher recommendations, financial aid applications) in addition to the actual application. I applied to four colleges – two national colleges with well-known science programs, a local private college, and, “just in case,” an inexpensive state college; just with these four, though, I was buried under paperwork for several months.
Most colleges use the Common Application for admissions (although a few have their own paperwork). You’ll definitely need the following:
- Official high school transcripts (neatly typed, including grades and standardized test scores, and signed by your parent/teacher)
- Essay written on a topic suggested by the Common Application or of your choice
- Letter(s) of recommendation written by parents, other teachers, and/or adults not related to you
I was surprised to find that the guidelines for an application package aren’t “hard and fast.” Actually, although you need to fulfill the basic requirements determined by the individual college, you should even try to throw in some extra stuff, too – be it short stories, photographs, essays, or perhaps a performance CD. Anything that can help you stand out from the crowd, while developing the picture your application paints of your personality, is definitely helpful at this point (remember, though, that the admissions officers have to read everything you send – so save that 2,000 word novel for another time.)
Once you’ve got the paperwork in – and the earlier the better, unless you want to take your chances with a waiting list – you’re down to waiting. Ironically, although the colleges expect you to meet their every deadline promptly, they can be, to put it mildly, a little lax when it comes to sending out acceptance and financial aid paperwork. But don’t waste the break you have now. Although you don’t want to badger them about your acceptance, keep in touch with your admissions counselors. Ask him/her questions about the school, and, if possible, try to visit the campus a few times. And start in on those outside scholarship applications!
Once you’ve been accepted to (at least one) college, you only need to work out the financial aid package (based on your FAFSA) and accept the college that is the best fit for you at a reasonable price. The college admission process is certainly not something to be frightened of…as a homeschooler you will have to do some extra work (for instance, preparing your own transcripts and course descriptions), but you certainly won’t be at a disadvantage. As long as you are willing to put the time and effort into the college search, you’ll have four years at the college of your dreams to look forward to next year.
"My overall impression of the presentation is that it is FABULOUS and fills a GAPING need in the homeschooling community. You teach people how to take their unique homeschooling experience and translate it into a college-prep program. What a gift!! For me, you helped bring validation to some "scattered" learning experiences while also bringing clarity and focus to some areas that needed attention. I absolutely can't wait to get my hands on your college series and I can promise you that I will buy anything you produce!"
~Deann in Texas
"I watched "Getting the Big Scholarships" yesterday. "WOW!" I LOVED IT! I decided to watch it first without taking notes so I could just soak in what you had to say, and now today I am going to watch it again and take notes. I am also going to have my daughter watch it with me so she can see what it is going to take to have a college desire to have her attend their university and want to invest money in her. I think this will help her see how important SAT or ACT scores are and how she will also need to "stand out" and be more unique than their other college applicants. Also, I think it will be good for her to see that she can start working on her college application essays early so she can continue to improve them. What a great idea! Well, can you tell I enjoyed the DVD? Now, I can't wait to take notes! Thank you for your encouragement."
~Lori in California