Much like homeschooling, the college admissions process is mostly a juggling act. Students need to stay on top of classes and activities, nurture relationships with teachers who will write recommendations, find leadership activities and ways to make an impact, as well as preparing for standardized tests and eventually writing essays. I know when my boys were going through the process, it was very difficult for me not to take over and “teach” them how to apply. Choosing a college is often the first big-ticket adult decision that our teens will make, so they need to drive the process. However, in your role as school counselor, you too have a lot of work to do.
If you haven’t created a transcript, course descriptions, a book list, and an activities resume for 9th, 10th and 11th grades, start those now. Do them in a Word document or an organizing program like One Note, because you will be cutting and pasting these into applications for scholarships and colleges.
Your transcript is simply a list of classes and grades earned, organized by year (like traditional schools) or by subject (for students not following a semester system). I used Transcript Maker.com for my boys, but sample transcript formats abound on the internet.
Your activities resume is a list of all extracurricular activities your child has engaged in. Keep in mind that if you’ve given your student a grade for it, it is not an extracurricular. For example, if you’ve listed Violin as a class, it is not also an activity. However, the state violin competition would be an activity. For each activity, record the name, the number of hours devoted to it (both hours/week and weeks/year) and any leadership positions, or honors or awards earned. Colleges use the amount of time recorded to evaluate how involved your student was in the activity. Yes, it’s okay to count all the hours for a service trip or other overnight activity, such as “168 hours/week, 3 weeks/year: Travel to Mexico with a church group.”
Keep all the grades, evaluations, course descriptions/syllabi, work samples and reading lists in a three-ring binder for easy access. I had a binder for each boy, for each year. Don’t spend a lot of time deciding whether to keep or throw. In senior year, you can go through to pull out the best examples to incorporate into your student’s application. Course evaluations, even from academic camps, can also be used in your counselor letter.
Every college’s website has two very important pages for homeschoolers: the homeschool application requirements and the net price calculator. The highly-selective colleges our gifted kids aspire to often list extra requirements for homeschooled students. These may take the form of additional SAT subject tests and/or additional essays. Better to know now what is required, instead of finding out in December, after the SAT exam date has passed. If you have trouble finding or understanding the requirements, contact the admissions office and ask for the admissions officer in charge of homeschooled applicants. Many colleges, especially highly-selective ones, now have a designated counselor for homeschooled students.
The Net Price Calculator is there to help you determine what your family is likely to have to pay at a particular college. The NPC is required by the federal government, so colleges must supply one, but the NPC is not always easy to find. Finding a college that is a financial fit for your family is just as important as finding one with the major and environment your student wants.
As you build your college list, investigate which applications those colleges accept. The Common Application is most common with 700+ members. The Coalition Application is gaining ground, especially among highly selective colleges. If a college accepts both, the Coalition app has more options for a creative student to express him- or herself, but do not do both applications if you don’t need to.
Find fun things for your student to do over the summer. Selective academic camps—those you apply for—look better on an application, but anything your student does in a group setting allays those “socialization” fears. Camps and other activities can also be great essay fodder.
Find a college fair or other presentation from colleges on your student’s list. Shaking hands and meeting with representatives is still more important for homeschoolers than other students. Assume that your student will do one or more interviews in the fall, and include those deadlines in your application plan. For example, Harvard’s application deadline is two weeks earlier for students who will interview than their published deadline.
Critical Things To Do for Your College-Bound Junior (and a Couple Do Nots)
The headache started as soon as the holiday decorations were put away. For the first boy, obviously, the college process was brand new for all of us, but it turned out that each boy had a different college admissions process. Applying to early college as a homeschooler was different than applying to traditional college as a homeschooler, which was different than applying to traditional college as a partially-homeschooled actor. Still the anxiety, and the tension headache and sleeplessness that accompanies it, hung around until the May 1 Decision Day deadline. I researched long into the night to make sure I knew what I was supposed to be doing and what to do next, because I didn’t have a college counselor to lean on. This is what I learned.
- Encourage your teen to take initiative in the process from the beginning
She or he should be considering teacher recommenders, creating a music or art portfolio or audition pieces if she/he wants to major in the arts, and making an effort to contact the admissions officers of favorite colleges through email/online portal, college fairs, local visits, and even just opening and reading messages the colleges send. Yes, the schools can track not only whether you opened their email but exactly how much of the video they sent you watched. This is called “demonstrating interest” and is very important to some schools.
- Organization is life.In addition to updating your transcripts, course description, and book lists regularly, create a spreadsheet or filing system to track information and important dates as you come across them. I use Excel because I can add and rearrange it as ideas come to me and it gives me a Big Picture overview of what’s going on. I need that.
- Create an Activities Resume right now.
An activities resume is a list of all the extracurricular activities your student took part in while in high school. Keep track of how many hours per week and weeks per year she or he participated, as well as any leadership positions and honors/awards. Yes, this will go directly onto the applications. Don’t try to reconstruct senior year what you did three years earlier.
- Plan standardized testing early.
ACT, SAT, and any subject tests you take will need to be finished by September in order to be ready for early applications. Start your testing in winter of junior year to ensure you have time to re-take a test or two you’re not happy with.
- Research colleges before spring break.
Make sure the schools have both the major and environment you want, but also are a financial fit. Use the Net Price Calculator (NPC) to see how much you might need to spend for a year at that school. The College Board’s Big Future website has a great search tool to create a preliminary college list, as well as calculators you can use to get an idea of your Estimated Family Contribution (EFC).
- Plan college tours during the school year.
You will get a better sense of the school, and have more convenient times available, if you tour during the school year. In the summer and during holiday breaks, the opportunities for tours are generally fewer, and you want to officially register for a tour to demonstrate interest. Be sure to take notes and pictures or record a video of your student talking about what they liked and didn’t like. Your student will not remember the details six months from now when she needs to write “Why Us?” essays.
- Research the applications before senior year.
The Common Application will let you create an account so you can see exactly all the different pieces of information you will need next fall. The Coalition Application allows students to create a profile as early as 9th grade. The application process for military academies begins in winter of junior year.
- Reach out to the colleges at any time.
If your student has any questions about the admissions process that aren’t answered on the website, he should contact Admissions directly. Many colleges now have a dedicated admissions officer for homeschoolers. It’s important that the student make the contact, not the parent. It shows maturity and initiative in the student to make the call, and the opposite if Mom calls instead.
- Do not compare GPAs, test scores, and college lists with other parents
Some people approach college admissions as though it were fantasy football. Admissions, especially at highly-selective name-brand schools, is capricious at best. Believing that a student with x SAT score and y volunteer hours deserves to be admitted to Harvard or Stanford is setting everyone up for disappointment. Stay off College Confidential.
- Do not pretend that you are an actual school.
Apparently, some people make up names of counselors and principals in their effort to convince colleges that their student attended some tiny, super-selective “academy.” Yes, most of us have names for our homeschools, but colleges hate when you try to fool them. Be objective, but write that counselor recommendation as their parent. There is much less stigma against homeschoolers now than there was ten10 years ago.
- Do not write or “fix” the essays for your student
Colleges want to hear the authentic voice of a 17-year-old, not the perfect writing of the 50-year-old published author who lives next door. It’s screamingly obvious when an adult has written an essay, and colleges see it as proof that your student is not ready for college.
Of course, these suggestions are just the tip of the iceberg. As senior year looms, there are many more tasks to complete. If you’re like me, you will earnestly commit these tips to memory, but then the dogs will need to go out or dinner will need to be made and the info and the website just disappears.
What I needed, and couldn’t find, was a wall calendar that had all this college information already on it. Since I couldn’t find one, I created one myself. The College Planning Calendar for Juniors is an 18-month 2018-2019 calendar marked with important dates, deadlines and week-by-week guidance on what you and your student are supposed to do immediately and what is coming up. There’s even a one-page simplified to-do list that covers the whole process. Hooray for the Big Picture! This one product can guide you and your teen from winter of junior year until graduation day, just like having a college counselor in your kitchen. Learn more about college planning at Your College Your Way.
For more information and guidance, join the Free College Planning Seminar for Juniors, present by Lessa Scherrer of Your College Your Way on behalf of The Uncommon Applicant. This free webinar starts Wednesday, January 24. Detailed information at The Uncommon Applicant.
You can also find sample transcripts in Wes Beach’s GHF Press book, Self-Directed learning: Documentation and Life Stories.
To learn more about what admissions professionals look for in applicants, check our Lori Dunlap’s GHF Press book, From Home Education to Higher Education: A Guide to Recruiting, Assessing, and Supporting Homeschooled Applicants.