How to Prepare Your Homeschooler for College


Preparing your homeschooler for college will take some time, effort and encouragement.

I recently read several articles arguing that public school students are better prepared for college than homeschooled students. While the authors of the articles seemed quite ignorant about how homeschooling really works, they did bring up a few valid points.

In response to the articles I read, here are four tips to help you prepare your homeschooler for college.

1. Be Your Child's Guidance Counselor

One article mentioned that homeschoolers aren't prepared for college because they don't have access to high school guidance counselors who "help students find and enter the college of their choice by suggesting class loads, extracurricular activities and finding…financial help or scholarships to pay for the next four years."

The author suggests that homeschoolers, who don't have guidance counselors, can't plan their high school coursework to meet college admissions requirements and they don't have access to scholarship information.

Of course, that's nonsense.

Homeschoolers may not have an official public school, tax-funded guidance counselor, but there's no reason a parent — or even the student himself — can't serve as one.

So how do you do that?

Talk about college. Starting early on, talk with your child about college. What they might want to study. Where they might want to attend. Don't allow the college years to creep up on you. If your child plans to attend college, don't wait until the senior year to start planning.

Speak with admissions counselors. Contact some of the admissions counselors at prospective colleges and ask them about course requirements, extra curricular activities, and any other things they look for in incoming freshman for a particular major. Those counselors are much more qualified than high school guidance counselors to give suggestions about class loads, admissions requirements, and extra curricular activities.

Research scholarships. Research scholarship information online. Talk to financial aid advisors at colleges. Read books on college scholarships. There is plenty of information available on the internet and your local library.

Research other college options. A brick and mortar college need not be your child's only option for a degree. Consider other college options, such as distance learning, dual credit, and credit by examination.

If you want an all-around guidebook for being your child's high school guidance counselor, I highly recommend Debra Bell's The Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling Teens.

2. Lecture Your Child

Now I don't mean lecture your child because he's done something wrong. I mean make sure your child understands how to learn from a lecture-based format.

Most college courses are taught by lecture, so homeschool students unfamiliar with that format may have a hard time transitioning to college-level work. This was the one point that was brought up in the articles that I agreed with. However, it's not an insurmountable hurdle.

As a homeschooling parent, you just need to make sure your child has experience with learning from a lecture format before sending them off to college.

How do you do that?

Have your child take classes outside the home. This might be at a co-op, in a dual-credit course, or at any other outside class that's taught by lecture.

Work on note taking skills. If you attend church services, have your child take notes during sermons, summarizing major points at first, then moving on to more details. It's important that children get used to looking for the main points instead of just a string of details. What Smart Students Know is a superb book about note taking and study skills, especially as they relate to both textbooks and lectures.

Teach your child how to learn from a textbook. While many homeschoolers (myself included) dislike textbooks, the fact of the matter remains that college courses usually use textbooks, so your child needs to know how to learn from a textbook. How to Read a Book is a classic guide on not only learning from textbooks, but also from other types of literature.

3. Prepare Them for the Diversity of a College Campus.

Children who come from a sheltered environment tend to think that everyone else is just like them, and they're uncomfortable when they encounter someone who is not.

It sounds simplistic, but it's important for our children to realize that other people are different. They believe different things. They have different backgrounds. They have different motivations.

To succeed in college, our children need to be able to work with people outside their normal peer group.

How do you teach diversity?

Study other cultures. This can be done from a very young age. Make your children aware of the incredible variety of humanity.

Step outside your comfort zones often. Volunteer at homeless shelters or other types of charities. Visit new families in your church. Get involved in organizations such as Generation Joshua that require lots of interaction with the public. In general, help your child meet as many different types of people as possible.

Read books and watch movies about the different subcultures of America. After reading or watching, have discussions with your children.

4. Teach Them How to Deal with Moral Differences.

As we all know, college campuses abound with drug and alcohol use, promiscuity, academic dishonesty, and any number of other questionable behaviors. A homeschooled child who has not been exposed to that kind of environment in public school may experience a bit of culture shock. And understandably so.

Even though he may have been trained from birth that he should avoid such behaviors himself, he might have a difficult time figuring out how to relate to other students who see nothing wrong with their own behavior. Before college he may have been able to avoid interacting with them, but he can't any longer. They are now his roommates and classmates. And he lives with them day in and day out.

According to one of the articles I read, public schoolers have an advantage here. They are often "so de-sensitized to the issue" that they aren't "even phased in seeing their roommate partake" in drugs on a regular basis.

But I don't think de-sensitizing our children to drug use and immoral behavior is the right thing to do to prepare them for college life.

So what should we do?

Teach our children to be tolerant. Tolerance is a four-letter word among many Christians, but it shouldn't be. Being tolerant doesn't mean you approve of the actions of others around you, especially when you're not in a position of authority over the other person.

Tolerance means allowing people the freedom to make their own decisions based on their own belief systems, just as we have the freedom to make decisions based on our own belief system.

While every Christian should strive to live according to biblical principles, it's not your child's job to make sure every other student at his college follows his own moral code. This doesn't mean he can't offer his own opinions on matters. But it does mean he doesn't have to feel personally responsible for the actions of others.

Your child can learn to be a witness to others by living his life in a worthy manner. But he shouldn't expect others to live the same way. After all, it's as illogical to expect a tiger to act like a horse as it is to expect a non-Christian to behave like a Christian.

Discuss hypothetical situations. Read books or watch movies that might spark discussions about morality with your child. What would he do in certain situations? How might he feel?

Learn from what Jesus did. Jesus didn't avoid people because they followed a different moral code. In fact, he was criticized for having dinner with sinners. In all these circumstances, Jesus showed love and compassion for others, but He didn't adopt their behavior. This is an important point for our children to learn and understand.

I hope these 4 points will help you in preparing your homeschooler for college. We have a ways to go but it is never to early to begin.

As most of you know, my oldest child is only 13, so If you've already sent your homeschooled child to college, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this subject!

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  1. says

    I have sent 4 of my kids to college. One is currently finishing his PhD. One has his MA and is a teacher in a private school, another has a BA and is also a teacher in a private school. The other is still in college working on his BA. (I still have a high schooler at home.)

    Several things I suggest: write lots of papers- large research papers (MLA and APA styles), essays, poetry, stories, etc. Also, my kids read lots of great books, study critical thinking and their faith, do lots of service projects in lots of settings, work on competitions.

    BTW- lots of homeschool umbrella schools have academic advisors who help guide the college prep and search process.


    Joy Reply:

    @Vicki Tillman, Great suggestions! Do you have any suggestions for critical thinking specifically? A particular curriculum?


  2. says

    What I use is Henry Virkler's Critical Thinking for Christians (actually it is for adults, so I rephrase it and do the questions with the kids). I use my college philosophy textbook and discuss it, too.

    Actually, after using both those books for 4 kids, on kid #5, I asked Dr. Virkler (who was my prof at Liberty U back in the day), if I could use my notes and re-write his book for high schoolers. We hope to have it done in the fall of 2011, Lord willing.

    We also go through Doug Wilson's Introductory Logic.

    Next year I hope to use Focus on the Family's Truth Project (youth version) as a group project with some of our homeschool buddies.

    Of course, the most important thing is study of Scripture- before our kids go out into the world they need to be solid, solid, solid on the Word of God.


  3. Sandra says

    Not being used to the lecture format was a potential issue I identified when thinking about preparing my kids for university. So I based one of my oldest's high school courses around a course from The Teaching Company. While watching the lectures on DVD he took notes. In the beginning he could pause the DVD (hard to pause a real life lecturer !) if needed but after a few weeks he had it down pat. He has just finished his second year of university and has had no problems. I'm now getting my second child ready for university and I've just bought a Teaching Company course for her so she too gets used to getting the most fromt he lecture format.


  4. Becky says

    My daughter is currently in her second year of college, I have a senior in high school and a sophomore in high school. My oldest chose not to go to college at first but will be starting online college next week. I asked my college daughter what she felt most unprpeared for when she went as a freshman. Her number one answer was writing…and we had done MUCH writing! I score high school writing essays from the ACT to state basic skills test as a job so I know how important writing is. Even though we had done so much, she said when she got to college, it was more of the timing and length that she struggled with. For example, her first semester she had a professor who assigned a paper that to her was quite lengthy (it needed to be between 7-10 pages) and the class was given a week to complete it. She had only done one paper that long in her entore high school career and I gave her more than a week to get it done.

    The other thing she said is work loads in high school cannot compare to college. In college, each professor assigns work as if he/she is your only teacher. Time management becomes SO important. My senior son is full time in the public high school and these things are not being taught. (My sophomore is completely homeschooled). The other thing my daughter tells me is that there is no way to be completely ready for college. Every freshman has to learn to adjust to something.


  5. says

    I asked my kids about prep stuff. They said they wished they had had more cumulative tests and more traditional test formats (multiple choice, true/false).

    The main thing to remember is that God has a plan for each child. If He calls a kid to college- help him prepare and teach him to be flexible and work hard.

    I have been watching homeschoolers go off to college for 15 years. They have done excellently- and are often guiding forces in the college communities.


  6. says

    This is good stuff, Joy. I think we are wise to learn how homeschooled students don't measure up and then address those areas.
    I think I would use the word gracious or compassionate instead of tolerant, but I think our hearts are on the same page with this one.


    Joy Reply:

    @Jimmie, Good point on the words "gracious" and "compassionate". I was going for the commonly-used terminology which, while it may not encompass the whole meaning, still illustrates the concept I think.


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