Homeschool & College Admissions | Emergency Homeschool Podcast
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EPISODE 8

Will Homeschooling Affect My Child’s College Admission Chances?

LISTEN ON: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Google Play | Stitcher


FEATURING:
Chris Peterson, Assistant Director of Admissions at MIT
Dr. Brian Ray, President of the National Home Education Research Institute
Will a homeschool year make it more difficult for your student to get into college? How will the nation’s finest STEM universities evaluate students with a non-traditional academic background? In this episode, we talk about how this pandemic will affect future college admission decisions.
I think we are looking at the biggest disruption in admissions and enrollment in more than 100 years.
- Chris Peterson
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Evaluating Homeschool Applicants for College Admissions

The pandemic is changing everything we know about how college admissions work. MIT and other schools have announced that test scores will be optional for next year's admission prospects due to concerns around COVID.

While this change is across all applicants, homeschoolers are particularly impacted as it limits one of the pathways that others use to help assess their accomplishments and preparation for university.

My first thought when I see a homeschool student application is that this is a student who has taken some intellectual initiative and tried to pursue their own intellectual autonomy and creativity wherever it leads them.
— Chris Peterson

Every university applicant is different, but homeschoolers are often evaluated on an even more case-by-case basis, as homeschooling encompasses so many distinct, heterodox pathways.

To help evaluate their applicant pool, admissions committees look at an applicant's opportunity spend, what they've done with those opportunities, underlying intellectual motivations along with their academic preparation, and potential for institutional fit. It’s the same basic analysis as with any applicant, but with a bit more complexity thrown in.

Advice for a homeschooler applying to college? Be as straightforward and clear as possible when describing what you’ve learned, what motivates you, and why have you chosen this path, Chris Peterson says. Be clear, concise, and fact-driven, so committees can understand complexities quickly.

Are Homeschoolers Uniquely Prepared for Success in College?

Homeschoolers are already ready for an environment like a college or university where they don't have every moment of the day structured. That is part of why they do so well.
— Dr. Brian Ray

By the time they reach high school or even middle school, many homeschoolers are doing a lot of independent study and learning. They’ve learned to adapt to a more unstructured environment, and to self-motivate themselves to get work done.

This is part of why homeschoolers do so well in the university environment. They are already prepared for an environment where every moment of the day isn't already structured, and they are ready to commit to learn.

One of the admissions officers at Stanford University said that one of the key things they see in the homeschooled applicants is self motivation, Dr. Brian Ray says.

So if you’re considering homeschooling either temporarily or more permanently, your student could actually gain some additional skills that prove valuable in the university environment.

Emergency Homeschool - Episode 8 Transcript

Narrator (00:00):
We've had so many parents reach out to us and say, "We're trying to be prepared for whatever happens this fall. Can you recommend curriculum for other subjects, like what you offer for Math and Language Arts with Beast Academy, AOPS Academy and AOPS online?" To help them out, we surveyed our Art of Problem Solving families to find out exactly what curriculum they use for their curious and motivated students. See their homeschool recommendations for yourself at aops.com/homeschool. That's aops.com/homeschool.

Eric Olsen (00:35):
What do you think you'll want to study in college?

Child (00:38):
I'm not sure yet, because I like a lot of different things, but maybe I want to say design.

Eric Olsen (00:47):
Let's say one day you're applying for college, you're in your admissions interview and you have to explain why you homeschooled for one or more years. Do you think that'll make it harder for you to get into college?

Child (01:02):
If I study hard, I don't think so, because I'd still be learning at home like at school, and it's sort of the unique experience I can share about.

Eric Olsen (01:14):
I'm Eric Olsen with Art of Problem Solving, and this is the very first time we've ever considered homeschool options for our nine-year-old daughter. She loves her public school, she loves her teachers, she loves her friends, but we just don't know what traditional school is going to look like come fall and want to be prepared either way. So in this series, I interviewed some of the best minds in the education and at-home learning spaces to figure out our options and learn how to craft an at-home learning plan that's right for our family. This is Emergency Homeschool.

Chris Peterson (01:46):
Look, I think we are looking at the biggest disruption in admissions and enrollment in more than 100 years and everybody, students, admissions officers, counselors, parents, teachers are just going to have to be creative and supportive and empathetic throughout this process.

Eric Olsen (02:04):
This is Chris Peterson, Assistant Director of Admissions at MIT. When you see an application come in from a homeschool student, what's your first thought?

Chris Peterson (02:14):
My first thought is that this is a student who has taken some intellectual initiative and tried to pursue their own intellectual autonomy and creativity, wherever it leads them. And I get excited about the opportunity to go outside the norm and understand, interpret, and assess what it is they've done and what their potential fit with MIT is.

Eric Olsen (02:42):
How do you evaluate a homeschool student for admission since their academic transcript likely looks different from that of a traditional student? What exactly are you looking for?

Chris Peterson (02:53):
Every application in a holistic admissions process is case by case, but with a homeschool student, it's case’ier by case’ier. Everybody is so different. Every homeschooling encompasses so many distinct and heterodox traditions and pathways that we put a lot of attention on just trying to understand a few basic underlying questions. What is this person's opportunity spend? What have they done with those opportunities? What are the underlying intellectual motivations that drive them? And is both their academic preparation, in however we can assess that, and in some respects, even more importantly, their academic and cultural fit for our institution, how well matched are those? It's in many respects more complicated than somebody coming from a more conventional environment, but it's the same basic analysis, just with a little bit more complexity thrown in.

Eric Olsen (03:53):
Any advice for homeschooling parents in preparing a transcript and a college application that helps them effectively stand out.

Chris Peterson (04:02):
My basic advice is that people shouldn't try to stand out in the college admissions process because everybody has the same idea of what seems differentiating and it's ironic, but it's true. And so, when people try to stand out, they usually end up sounding the same. What I tell all applicants and parents, and I think this is especially true for homeschooling and non-traditionally educated students and parents is, just tell us stuff, just be as straightforward and earnest and clear as you can in talking about, in this case, what has the student learned? Why have they chosen this path? What are the underlying things that drive and motivate them and how have they made the most of those opportunities, whatever they may be.

Chris Peterson (04:56):
And I always say, this may be my bias coming from MIT, but this is a place for technical communication, not creative writing. It's not that we don't value that kind of creativity. I have a liberal arts degree from MIT. I teach in our program in comparative media studies and writing. But when you have all of this complexity, it's really important that you make something as clear and concise and fact driven as possible so that people with a lot of different applications to read can understand and apprehend all that complexity as easily as they can.

Eric Olsen (05:32):
In higher education, we're starting to see a trend toward test optional admission decisions, but for homeschoolers, standardized tests like ACT and SAT have historically been more important as evaluation criteria since they might not have a traditional academic record. Do you envision a future problem here?

Chris Peterson (05:52):
Well, I think it would certainly be an extra challenge. I mean, we're talking on Wednesday, July 15th and yesterday our office announced that we will not be requiring the SAT or the ACT if students are unable to take it due to the COVID. And this is as far as my research shows the first time in MIT's over 150-year history that we won't have a standard entrance exam. We know that homeschooling and non-traditionally educated students in particular have often relied on the standardized exams to help demonstrate their preparation. And I do think that it is going to be challenging for everybody to understand what students have done and to be able to assess preparation.

Chris Peterson (06:36):
I think this is one reason why the kind of clear, specific fact-driven communication that I talked about earlier is so important for homeschool students because giving us as much information as possible about what a student has done, however standardized or however individualized, is going to be the materials that we're going to just be spending a lot of time with as we try to assess a student preparation in the absence, likely in many cases, of standardized tests.

Eric Olsen (07:08):
But what about a student's transition from homeschool to college? Is that a difficult one without a traditional high school experience? This is Dr. Brian Ray, President of the National Home Education Research Institute.

Dr. Brian Ray (07:23):
One of the things that we see in homeschooling is that many large portions of the students by the time they're 13, 14, 15, they are doing a lot of independent study and a lot of independent learning. That is the nature of home-based education. So for these people, they're already ready for an environment like college or university, where they don't have every moment of the day structured. So that is part of why they do so well. In fact, one of the admissions officers at Stanford University said that one of the key things they see in the homeschooled is self-motivation. And that is partly related to learning on their own. It's very common for a child who is say 12 or 13 in a homeschool family, while mom, usually mom, is teaching the younger one how to read, he or she's studying on their own. Science, math language, doing things on their own. So they're used to that independent lifestyle.

Eric Olsen (08:11):
Brian, thanks so much for your time today.

Dr. Brian Ray (08:13):
Alrighty.

Eric Olsen (08:15):
In the next episode of Emergency Homeschool, we'll talk about planning your daily and weekly at-home learning schedule and the variety of options you have there. We hope you'll stay with us as we interview the experts and navigate our at-home learning options together.

Narrator (8:32):
You've been listening to Emergency Homeschool, an Art of Problem Solving podcast. Since 1993, Art of Problem Solving has prepared hundreds of thousands of motivated students for success in prestigious universities and STEM careers through engaging curriculum, expert online instruction, and local academies. To learn more, visit ArtofProblemSolving.com. That's ArtofProblemSolving.com.

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