How can homeschooled children get a higher education?
Colleges and universities in Canada and the United States accept homeschooled students. As they go through their process of selection, they look for any students who stand out academically and are worthy of being admitted to their programmes. Students who have been educated in non-traditional ways are not disadvantaged in the admissions process. At the heart of all admission requirements is that the student have a profile which demonstrates his/her abilities accurately and which interests the college or university.
Homeschooled students are often able to display their aptitudes favourably in person, and should consider requesting an interview if the school offers the possibility of one as part of the admission process.
The entire evaluation, however, may be based on the written application and supporting materials. This is the case for Stanford University whose admission policy incorporates homeschooled students. For Stanford, the students' writing about themselves and their education can play an even more central role in their application than it would for a conventional high school student.
Submission of written reflection about personal abilities and aptitudes in relationship to intellectual pursuits and independent learning is highly encouraged by Stanford.
They seek to sense from the student a "a clear sense of their intellectual growth and quest for knowledge. " Students who have studied through family and community-based education may have an advantage in displaying desire and ability to pursue independent academic work. Stanford's Information Letter for Homeschoolers states that, "Homeschooled students may have a potential advantage over others in this aspect of the application since they have consciously chosen and pursued an independent course of study."
In general, homeschooled students applying to post-secondary institutions should consider having a portfolio that is rich with varied samples showing the quality of their work. They can include examples of their writing, descriptive lists of reading done, and include travel and work experiences. They should put the emphasis on the diverse learning experiences they have had and their own achievements. Having chosen a balanced curriculum at the high school level will satisfy the college or university that the student will be able to meet their graduation requirements, which often include math and a foreign language.
The student should also be prepared to display a high level of social involvement. Homeschooled students often easily demonstrate dedicated and enthusiastic commitments to community service or work. This type of profile of accomplishments gains attention from the college or university.
A student who does not have a formal highschool transcript is not disqualified. Test scores scores from equivalency exams and achievement tests, such as SAT I, ACT, and SAT II, become more significant.
The college or university looks for references and recommendations for some sense of how the student will function in a conventional classroom. They seek an objective view providing some non-parental evaluation that can offer a comparision of the student's ability in relation to that of other students. Some students who have not attended highschool take a course at a community college at night or in the summer. The teacher of this course can provide a reference. Alternately a tutor's recommendation has been used. As well, community representatives and employers can provide insight into how the student manages themselves with others, and accomplishes tasks in a group setting.
In February 1997, The National Association for College Admission Counseling noted that homeschooled applicants perform above the national average on standardized tests and described homeschooled students as "often better socialized and more mature than students in public schools."
Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition (PLAR) is another process with which students need to be familiar. Many colleges and universities are actively developing criteria for assessing prior educational experiences and recognizing them. They have detailed processes in place related to PLAR, and information about them is available through their admissions and learner services departments.
[links updated since the 2001 mailing to school boards]
Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition (PLAR) resources at the NODE learning technologies network [link removed as no longer valid]
OFTP Higher Education and Career Survey
What do students in high school need to know?
The homeschooled student of highschool age needs to consider some other issues around accreditation. How can learning experiences acquired outside the typical public school stream can be blended with the Ontario highschool accreditation process? Becoming aware of this is necessary if the student wishes to pursue some or all of the courses within a public secondary school. This requires even more careful examination when the student is entering the high school after grade 9.
The use of portfolios demonstrating the student's work and the results of outside achievement testing can assist the student, their parents and the school officials in trying to choose a placement for the student who enters high school after grade 9. The secondary school principal has certain discretionary powers with regard to placement and to granting credits.
Currently the mechanisms available to give credit for achievement outside of the public school are not sufficiently defined to evenly accommodate the work done through homeschooling. High school placement and accreditation is usually negotiated on an individual basis.
To gain a highschool diploma from the Ontario Ministry of Education, students obtain credits in a wide array of subject areas. Many of the credits are compulsory and must be included by the student in the course of their studies. Other credits must also be taken, selected from courses offered by the school as options. These optional credits allow the student to tailor their studies to their own interests and goals. In addition, the diploma requirements include a literacy test given during Grade 10, and 40 hours of community involvement.
The Ministry includes recognition for other means of receiving credit through the PLAR process.
Students may receive a credit without taking a course if they can demonstrate that they have the skills and knowledge from prior learning to meet the expectations for the course set out in the provincial curriculum. To receive a credit through the PLAR process, students are assessed through a formal test, along with other methods of evaluation appropriate to the subject.
Students may obtain a maximum of four credits through the PLAR process, but no more than two in one subject area. The PLAR process applies only to courses in Grades 10-12.
As cited before, the Independent Learning Centre and the Eden Project are also examples of alternative places to obtain credits that are acceptable toward the Ministry of Education diploma through independent study.
Many creative possibilities are available for the Boards and the Ministry to implement in terms of crediting. Some of these have been used for Ontario students within individual schools. Professional educators have been shown to have the students' interests at heart. Boards are entitled to want processes that are administratively efficient and fair. Further exploration of how the Ministry and the Boards can streamline accreditation mechanisms for part time secondary enrollment or mid high school entry is worthwhile.
Ministry of Education and Training document, "Stepping Up!", a guide to Ontario's new standards for high school [link removed as no longer valid]