Does it feel like just yesterday you were studying the human body with your kids, exploring with homeschool co-op friends, and reading out loud about the Revolutionary War? Yet before you know it, your kids are about to graduate. This season can be overwhelming with college transcripts, admissions requirements, and scholarship essays looming over your head. Whether you’re preparing to send your first child to college or on your last, here are some tips to prepare your homeschool student for college admissions.

Start preparing early

Don’t wait to start thinking about the college admissions process until your student’s senior year. This will make it more difficult, especially keeping track of grades and other records. Instead, take time at the end of every school year (beginning after their freshman year of high school) to update your record-keeping. Taking the time to do this well each year will save you frustration (and possibly tears!) later on. 

Involve your student in the process, but if you only rely on them and expect them to take complete ownership, you’ll likely miss something at the end that will be important. 

Remember: you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. There are plenty of resources for keeping track of records, writing transcripts, and managing the college process.

Be open to different possibilities

Many students have a dream college in mind. This can give your students a goal and sense of direction. But don’t let them count out other opportunities. If you can, start by visiting their dream school as well as other institutions. Investigate and visit at least 3-4 colleges, with a mix of private and public, if possible. This gives you and your student a broader view of the options. Keep note of the differences in academics, activities, and financial aid, so you can make an informed decision about their future college.

Leverage the flexibility of homeschooling

One of the many amazing things about homeschooling is that you have the chance to be flexible and allow your students to focus on areas that they might not be able to in a public or private school setting. For example, if your child has an idea of something they want to study in college, why not use high school as an opportunity to introduce them to that field, so they can see if it’s truly what they want to study. 

It might mean spending more than one afternoon job shadowing a professional in their desired field. Or taking electives to see what they might want to study. Or take community college classes or public school electives in specific areas. Two of my kids took math classes through  Calculus III at a local college because they knew they wanted to study engineering. My daughter took advanced Spanish and constitutional law courses in high school which helped her determine her major. 

High school is a great time to help your students make decisions about their college major rather than spending their first year or two with an undecided major. And these courses can help your homeschool student stand out in college admissions. 

Take standardized tests multiple times

Don’t leave all the important decisions in the hands of your students. Most students don’t have a strong desire to spend their Saturday morning taking a standardized test like the ACT or SAT. But that doesn’t mean they should take these tests only once or twice. By taking the tests multiple times, your students become familiar with the format and can unlock the true value of these tests—potentially thousands of dollars in scholarships! That’s why there is value in test prep, whether that’s online courses or focused tutoring. 

Keep every door open

It can be easy as a parent to guide your children down the path you want them to take. But you shouldn’t determine their future during their sophomore year of high school (or earlier!). Don’t decide that they can’t go to college and not prepare them, especially if that’s their choice. Additionally, don’t force a specific school or career down their throat. But also don’t leave it all in their hands. 

Focus on the areas that matter

If your student is looking ahead to college, make sure they focus on three key areas:

  1. Their GPA
  2. Their ACT or SAT test scores
  3. One extra-curricular activity. 

Your student can obviously have more than one extra-curricular activity that they participate in, but it’s important to have a specific focus area that they can highlight on their college applications. Colleges like to see students who are well-rounded and have leadership skills in non-academic activities. As a bonus, consider making a 90-second “highlight” video of the activity—from a speech presentation or violin recital to an athletic event. Put the video on a platform like YouTube and add the link on their college application, so colleges can see their skills firsthand. 

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Preparing your homeschool student for college admissions can be exciting but also overwhelming. By planning ahead and following these tips (starting at the beginning of their high school years), you’ll be ready to tackle this new challenge!