How Homeschoolers Can Get Into Elite Colleges

Student on laptop at home
August 11, 2022
Applying to College Is Different for HomeschoolersIs It Hard For Homeschoolers To Get Into College?College Application Considerations for Homeschooled Students

”Mary

Reviewed by:

Mary Banks

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 5/4/22

If you’re a homeschooler, you may be wondering if you can get into elite colleges with all of your credentials. Follow along to learn how homeschoolers can get into elite colleges. 

Getting into an elite college is no easy task: you have to show the admissions committee why you’re an excellent candidate strategically through your application materials. Admissions committees evaluate all application parts, including your grades, test scores, community involvement, essays, and more. 

If you’ve been homeschooled, it may be challenging to understand how your credentials stack up against your public and private school peers. That said, homeschoolers can absolutely get into excellent schools.

Here we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about how applying to college is different for homeschoolers, how hard it is to get into college, and considerations to take into account on your college application.

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Applying to College Is Different for Homeschoolers 

College applications often require similar standard materials: transcripts, letters of recommendation, a school report, essays, and more. However, some of these regular requirements are different for homeschoolers applying to college. Below we’ll explore each part in detail: 

Transcripts

Students often have school counselors send their official transcripts and mid-year reports to colleges in a public school setting. As a homeschooled student, your parent or primary teacher is responsible for crafting your official transcripts. There are a few ways they can go about this: 

Your primary teacher may have difficulty repackaging what you’ve learned into courses and credits because daily instruction at home and school can vary greatly. Reassure your teacher that trying to adhere to a “standard” transcript is not the main priority since transcripts already differ from district to district, never mind state to state. 

Ensure all essential information is present before your primary teacher submits your transcripts. This will include your: 

If you’ve taken classes online or at a community college, contact the institutions so they can send you official transcripts as well, even though the transcript your parent or teacher will make should encompass all the work you’ve done to date. 

Diplomas and General Education Diplomas (GEDs) 

If you’re a traditionally homeschooled student, you can have your parent or primary teacher create a diploma which is often enough for most colleges. If you attended an online homeschool or took courses under an umbrella school, you may get a diploma from those institutions. 

Thankfully, you don’t need a GED or diploma to apply to college or qualify for financial aid. You only need to ensure your homeschooled education has met all of your state’s requirements.

School Reports

School counselors typically fill out school reports in a more traditional setting, but your report will be completed by either your parent, primary teacher or homeschool program administrator. 

Your school report will detail your GPA scale, AP, or honors courses offered. Many spaces where you would usually be compared to other students will be marked N/A when your school report is completed. 

Your parent, teacher, or administrator must also provide the following information in the school report, including: 

Letters of Recommendation 

The last glaring difference in a homeschooler’s application versus a private or public school student’s application is who you should ask for your letters of recommendation. In general, colleges would find recommendations from other teachers besides your parents more beneficial to better understand who you are. 

If you took classes online or at a community college, consider asking those teachers for recommendation letters. 

Additionally, you can ask other people to write recommendation letters for you like coaches, mentors, volunteer coordinators, or anyone who has worked with you closely and can speak upon your academic aptitude, personality, and character.

While you may have to work harder to get all the materials you need, the college application process for homeschoolers and public or private school students is not all that different.

Is It Hard For Homeschoolers To Get Into College?

Getting into elite colleges can be challenging, even for students with excellent applications with high grades and test scores. Overall, you can expect to see at least that same difficulty level as a homeschooled student, if not more. 

Homeschoolers need to understand how their non-traditional education background can add value and differentiation to these elite colleges. Most colleges don’t have a separate application for homeschooled students, meaning you will fill out almost the same application as any other student. 

Meagan McGovern, a mother of three homeschooled children who runs a Facebook group for parents of homeschoolers in her county, says:

“It's not hard, but it's tedious and time-consuming and very detailed, and if you miss a step – your kid might not get in that year. If a homeschooler wants to go to a selective college, then they need to make sure that the college is looking for someone like them.” 

Some of the nation’s best schools accept homeschooler applications with open arms, understanding how students’ unique experiences and perspectives can add to their cohort and campus culture. 

At Princeton University, recent class profile data showed less than 1% of the incoming class comprised homeschoolers. Although that percentage seems astronomically low and somewhat discouraging to homeschooled students, it’s important to note that homeschooled students make up a tiny portion of the school’s typical applicant pool. 

However, the number is increasing. 

Princeton states, “We recognize that your experience as a homeschooled student will be somewhat different from students in traditional schools. We'll look at your academic record and nonacademic interests and commitments within the context of your particular homeschool curriculum and experience.” 

You will not be penalized for limited access to resources or advanced classes in your application. MIT is another elite school where homeschoolers make up less than 1% of the applicant pool and less than 1% of the student body. Still, the admissions committee has seen a surge in homeschooled applicants over the last decade. 

MIT states, “Homeschooled applicants, like all of our applicants, are considered within their context, which includes schooling choice, family situation, geographic location, resources, opportunities, and challenges.” You won’t be penalized for any have-not, whether it’s access to higher-level courses, opportunities, or anything else. 

Generally, you’ll see this same sentiment laid out with different wording at all top universities, like Yale University, Brown University, and others. You won’t be put at a disadvantage compared to other applicants. 

The bottom line is that getting into college shouldn’t be any more difficult for you than your public or private school peers. Admissions committees often impart a holistic review process for all applicants, meaning they oversee every part of your application and consider your background and opportunities before deciding your candidacy.

College Application Considerations for Homeschooled Students 

You know you'll need to do some parts of your application a little differently and that colleges generally don’t discriminate against homeschooled students with the right experiences and credentials. 

However, there are some things you should consider adding to your application to show the admissions committee why you're the perfect candidate. 

Consider Taking Community Colleges Courses 

If you have community college courses available to you, it’s in your best interest to take advantage of the higher-level instruction they offer. Taking dual enrolment courses can show you sought out the most challenging curriculum you could, displaying your college readiness and love of learning. It can also help you acquire excellent LoRs later on. 

Explain the Context of Your Homeschool Education 

Admissions committees use applications as an opportunity to get to know you better without ever having met you. Explaining the context surrounding the decision to pursue a homeschool education gives them a better understanding of your life, background, and experiences. 

Brittney Dorow, assistant dean of admission at Colgate University, said, "It's really important that a homeschooled student shares with us a really detailed account as to how they came to be a home-schooled student and what they've done with their time as one.” 

Using the Common Application or the Coalition Application, you can take advantage of the optional essay to provide that needed context. 

Parents and students may choose the homeschooling route for numerous options: living too far away from school, bullying, not fitting in with peers, the pursuit of a better education than a public school can provide, medical conditions that make attending a traditional school difficult or uncomfortable, among many other reasons. 

Ensure You Provide Enough Information About Your Curriculum 

You know you must have a transcript created to apply to college, but take care that it shows a complete picture of how you’ve spent your time. 

Dorow said, “I would rather a student provide more information than less, because if they've had a great opportunity or covered something really important over their time as a high school student and we don't get to hear about it, then that's one less thing that allows them to stand apart.”

Add rich details, provide extra materials, and shoot for too much information rather than too little. The more you give the admissions committee, the more informed they are to make a decision. 

Pump Up Extracurricular Activities 

While you won’t have the same opportunities to get involved with school activities like your public or private school peers, your community involvement is a crucial piece of your application. Colleges want to accept students they believe will contribute and positively impact campus culture. 

Think about ways you’ve been active in your community. Extracurricular activities can include volunteer work for charity or religious organizations, getting involved in an athletics team or the arts, working a part-time job, or even taking on a great deal of responsibility at home. 

Summer programs or projects can make excellent additions to your college application. Colleges want to see students willing to collaborate, an attribute that may be hard to show from a homeschooled background alone. Demonstrate your ability to work in a team, which will fortify your application. 

Consider Providing Extra Recommendation Letters (If Allowed) 

Undergrad programs typically ask for one to three letters of recommendation, depending on the school. Students in a more traditional education setting may submit two letters from their teachers and one letter from their school counselor. 

While you can certainly ask a parent for a letter of recommendation if they are your primary teacher, admissions committees will need to see more than that. 

Think about anyone who knows you well: professors from community college courses you took, coaches, mentors, art teachers, job supervisors, or anyone else who can speak to your abilities. As a homeschooled student, you may want to send the maximum number of recommendation letters allowed. 

Don’t Neglect Your Essays

Your essays are an opportunity to provide more context about your life and experiences while simultaneously showing your writer’s voice and personality. Your essays may look different than your public or private school peers if you’re writing about your education to date. 

These essays require time and dedication: they may be the most time-consuming element of the college application process. Your narratives should be compelling, easy to follow, and concise. 

Show Your Initiative

There’s no one right way to show how you take the initiative. For example, MIT seeks homeschool applicants who take the initiative, show an entrepreneurial spirit, and make the most of the opportunities available to them. 

“These students truly take advantage of their less constrained educational environment to take on exciting projects, go in depth in topics that excite them, create new opportunities for themselves and others, and more.” - MIT

Think about how your untraditional education has given you the flexibility to do things and gain experiences more traditional applicants haven’t done. 

Your Test Scores Are Crucial 

Although some schools may currently have a test-optional policy in place, admissions committees are very interested in seeing your SAT or ACT scores as a homeschooler. 

Even some test-optional policies don’t apply to homeschooled students; admissions committees want to ensure you have the foundational knowledge you need to handle the rigor of college instruction. 

Do your best to achieve high scores on the SAT or ACT. High standardized test scores can strengthen any application and show the admissions committee you have an excellent handle on foundational knowledge.

Final Thoughts

Some homeschoolers may feel anxious about college applications as they wonder how their experiences and grades stack up against students from more traditional education backgrounds. Don’t worry: homeschoolers can get into college, even if they don’t receive a traditional high school diploma or GED. 

When you start filling out your applications, ensure you have a well-constructed and detailed transcript and contextualize the decision to be homeschooled. The college application process itself won’t be too different compared to other students. 

Remember to highlight your test scores, extracurricular activities, and multiple recommendation letters, essays. Remember, when you work hard and remain dedicated, you have a fair shot at any college you want to attend.

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