by Karen Spencer, former admissions officer at Georgetown University
We are often asked how homeschooled applicants are evaluated in the admissions process, and the answer is, per usual (if you read our blog regularly), “It depends.” Some colleges have an admissions officer who reads all homeschooled applicants separately, whereas other colleges have each admissions officer read them alongside the rest of their assigned applicant pool (which is often divided by region of the country). I polled my colleagues who worked at an array of colleges across the U.S.—private and public, selective and not-selective—to understand more of the nuances behind this review process and just what it is admission officers hope to learn from homeschooled applicants.
How are their standardized test scores?
Now, this first one isn’t actually a unique question. Pre-Covid, most schools looked at standardized test scores. However, when I worked at Franklin & Marshall College and Georgetown University, we often gave twice the weight to a homeschooler’s SAT or ACT score because we felt we were missing sufficient curriculum and grade information to effectively evaluate a student academically. Yes, homeschoolers usually have a transcript; however, very often the grade has come from the parent leading the teaching which, right or wrong, can be looked at skeptically by an admissions officer. The grades also don’t reflect how this student compares to their peers, which is an element considered for those evaluated in a high school context. For this reason, testing was often more important, as it was the only norming factor we had to use. Even during the pandemic, there were/are schools that have gone test optional except for homeschooled students.
What did the student study, how was it taught, and where?
Admissions officers often look for information on what the student actually studied and may require syllabi for each subject, course descriptions, or lists of reading materials used. Ideally, they like to see corroboration for grades in the form of a course or two taken at a community college or in some other more formal setting not graded by the parent. Taking courses in a more formal setting also allows homeschooled students to receive a letter of recommendation from an objective third party (something often required by colleges). Any kind of vetting the student can produce that comes from outside the home will be helpful, too (contests, teams, competitions, etc.).
What has the student been doing outside of the classroom?
Admissions officers will be looking for involvement in extracurricular activities (soccer, community theater, a job, etc.) just like they will for every other applicant. They are looking for evidence that the student can handle the social setting of college through involvement in outside activities with other people, and ideally in person. They may also, rightly or wrongly, look at the interview report very closely (if an interview is offered at that college) to make sure the applicant seems socially ready for college life.
My colleague who worked at Barnard College said that one question they always asked home-schooled students was, “Why now? What makes you feel you are ready for college at this point in your life?” Ideally, homeschooled applicants are at a point in their academic journeys where they crave variety and want the social benefits of a traditional school environment. Of course, most homeschool students aren’t socially isolated (and in fact have lots of opportunities to connect with other homeschooled peers and their communities in general), but it was always good to hear that they were now actively seeking to be a part of a broader academic community.
In the end, it will be vital for each homeschooled applicant to check out the requirements at each of the colleges they are applying to, as they will differ from school to school. The best overall advice is to aim for thoroughness; the more info a student can provide regarding their course work, their outside activities, and their desire to move into a more traditional educational setting, the more successful their application is likely to be.