by Lee Binz (The HomeScholar)
A mother (who shall remain nameless) called me during my free office hours last May, seeking advice about college applications.
Her question went something like this:
"It's May of my daughter's senior year, and she wants to go to college. She is very gifted, but we have never done math or foreign language, and she hasn't take the SAT or ACT. She hasn't looked at many colleges, but I know she is smart enough to get into Harvard, and I know homeschoolers can get in there. Can you help me?"
Now, before you jump to any conclusions about this mom, let me just mention that she was not the ONLY phone call like this last May! And no, May of senior year is not the time to begin thinking about college - especially if you want to go to an Ivy League school! Getting into college requires planning. There is a lot of work that needs to be done during junior year particularly, because junior year is pivotal.
In fact, careful planning and conscientious effort during junior year can compensate for a lack of attention earlier in high school. If you have a junior, follow these strategies now and you can be successful at the college admission game. If your student is younger, pencil these into your calendar now, so that you are ready for junior year - when it's your turn to work hard!
Take the PSAT Have your child take the PSAT in October. It will give them experience with taking a standardized test in a cafeteria with hundreds of sick, unruly, unkempt teenagers. Doesn't sound like much fun, does it? But that experience can help them become more comfortable when they take the SAT later in the spring. If your child is likely to become a national Merit Scholar, you may want to study for the PSAT before taking it. There are no second chances, so don't miss it.
Attend a College FairFall of junior year is the time to attend college fairs. Right now, there are college fairs being held across the country. Check out these links to find a college fair, locate the date for each fair near you, and put them on your calendar.
There are college fairs that are specific to your unique student and situation, as well.
A major goal for junior year is to find a college to apply to. It can help to attend more than one college fair. If you want to know more about it, you can ready my article about college fairs.
Do Good Work When you apply to a college next fall, the grades that they see first are the grades and classes from junior year. Colleges will be looking at your coursework. Did you goof off or work hard? Remember that planning high school courses means covering some things EVERY year.
Hard work means more than just schoolwork, too. It also means having a job, doing volunteer work, being involved in groups, and pursuing leadership opportunities.
Complete High School RecordsParents have some work ahead of them too, as they prepare the student's high school records for the college admission process. Homeschool parents need to decide what record they will give to colleges; transcript, reading list, course descriptions? I found it helpful to provide comprehensive records when we applied to college, because we really needed financial aid with two boys applying at the same time!
Take the SAT or ACTJunior year is the time to study for the college admission tests. You student should take either the SAT or ACT in the spring of junior year. My favorite resource is:
Check these calendars for the dates and times of sprint SAT and ACT tests, and put them on your calendar now.
Take some SAT Subject Tests Some colleges require subject tests for admission. Find out if your college choices want these additional tests, and be prepared to take them in the spring. Read about these tests and decide which one, if any, is a good fit for your homeschool. For more information, see these links
Visit Colleges I have mentioned before the importance of going to a college fair. Once you have gone to one or more college fairs, try to narrow down your college choices. You can take virtual tours, and meet with graduates and representatives from colleges without leaving home, and yet there is still no substitute for a college visit. Once you narrow your list, try to visit as many potential colleges as you can while classes are in session.
For more information, see Finding a College.
Choose the Colleges Where you Will ApplyOnce you have visited all the colleges you can, spring and summer are the time to make your choices. Which college should your student apply to? If you are pinched financially, don't hesitate to apply to private colleges. They often have more financial aid than public schools, and can sometimes be even cheaper than a state school. Choose some "safety" schools, where you are fairly confident of admission. Some should be a good fit, where you are likely to get in. Choose some "reach" schools, where it would be a real stretch to be admitted.
Don't Drop the Ball! Plan, don't panic. Planning ahead can make a huge difference in the cost of college. I remember meeting with my financial planner last year. He was so impressed with my sons getting full tuition scholarships. He said, "My daughter is going to a private school, and wasn't given any scholarship money at all, and it's incredibly expensive. I found out recently that she was actually a candidate for a full scholarship based on her SAT scores. She didn't apply in time, and didn't list that college as her first choice, so she didn't get any financial aid!"
What an incredibly sad story, to go from full scholarship to NO scholarship! But he dropped the ball! So learn about the colleges, plan ahead for homeschooling in 11th grade, and make sure you apply on time.
Lee Binz, The HomeScholar, specializes in helping parents homeschool high school. Get Lee's 5 part mini-course, "The 5 Biggest Mistakes Parents Make Homeschooling High School." You can find her at http://www.TheHomeScholar.com.
"I was so excited after talking to you! After I spoke with you, my son and I had a long talk this afternoon--this is definitely one of the best blessings of homeschooling--the closeness that develops as you share your days together. I want to thank you first of all for being so available to help--your breadth of knowledge and expertise are so appreciated! It's been a pleasure to get to know you and to learn from you--virtually and through your excellent materials, as well as by telephone! I didn't get to all my questions today, which is fine--we went off in another, very good direction! I'm going to ask those questions here, and I will call again next Wednesday. Thank you SO MUCH, again, for all the very valuable and appreciated advice!"
Ann in Connecticut"Your transcripts and records were the best organized and documented I have seen"
- Bryan Jones, Associate Director of Admissions,
Seattle Pacific University