Many homeschoolers come to the end of eighth grade and start to get nervous. Should we keep homeschooling? Doubt sets in and college looms as an ominous black cloud waiting at the end to devour us. We just don’t have the courage to face it. I know. I’ve been there. When Peter, my first child, started eighth grade, I realized I had to answer some serious questions. What would he do with his life beyond age 18? Were we preparing him to be successful at his chosen vocation? What would that vocation be? Believe me, it kept me awake at night.
I knew he loved to learn and would probably want to go to college and follow some “brainy” path, so I wanted to give him every opportunity to get into whatever college he chose. I knew of a high school that held classes only twice a week. The other days were spent at home doing assignments. It seemed like a good bridge from full time homeschooling, so we gave it a try. He absolutely loved it, and he excelled. But at the end of the school year, we had to move, and it was back to homeschooling.
Now the college prep was all in my hands, so I researched schools and learned their requirements. I realized that test scores are important to many of the top schools, so we started working on test preparation. That was as simple as buying the Princeton Review books on the PSAT, SAT, and ACT. It drove me crazy that he would only study the week before the test. I kept telling him how important these tests were, but his most concentrated study time turned out to be the hour drive to the testing center.
I was much more nervous than he was, but tried not to show it. When he came out of the first test and said, “That wasn’t so hard. I think I missed one or two,” I about fainted! But the truth is, Peter had been studying for these exams all his life. I never censored his reading materials. I never told him something was too hard for him. If he was interested, he’d read and wrestle with the content until he understood it. And that’s half of the SAT and ACT--reading and responding. The other half is math, and he was well prepared. In 9th grade he had a great tutor, and after that he read about math and worked through various Cliffs Notes books and the Straight Forward Math series by Garlic Press.
He also was not afraid of tests. He didn’t have years of accumulated test anxiety. And he was used to sitting still for hours grappling with text--because that's what he likes to do for fun! So a three hour marathon exam was no big deal to him.
Other exams he studied for were AP Literature and AP World History. I bought study guides and used them as reference points. We had a lot of fun watching The Teaching Company lectures and writing essays from those study books. We even invited a friend to join us to add some accountability. He loved our discussions and the reading and writing, but in the end, he decided not to take the tests. If he’d gotten a certain grade, they could have counted as college credit and would have looked good on a transcript. You can learn more about those tests here.
In the middle of his junior year he decided to apply to colleges through a program called QuestBridge. They specialize in helping low income, high-achieving kids get into top colleges. Peter had to submit transcripts (I had a transcript form and filled in what he had studied), essays, test scores, financial information, and letters of recommendation. It was a long, hard process, but we knew what was at stake. Once he passed through their filtering system, they sent his application on to the colleges he chose from their list.
The University of Chicago was his number one pick. We waited and prayed. Then one day in December last year he got a phone call. I listened in over his shoulder. The woman said, “Peter, congratulations, you are accepted by the University of Chicago with a full ride scholarship!”
As I look back, here’s my advice:
1. If your child will probably go to college, encourage him to study for and take the PSAT in the fall of his junior year. That could qualify him or her as a National Merit Scholar. Several colleges around the US offer full rides on that alone.
2. Prepare for the SAT and/or the ACT. You can take those tests as often as you want, but you should know that SAT scores follow you wherever you go, but you can pick and choose which ACT scores to send a college.
3. Check out QuestBridge to see if you’d be eligible and if any of their partner colleges look interesting.
4. Check out college websites to see if any SAT subject tests are required for entrance and take those too. Schools often have special requirements for homeschoolers.
5. Build the extra-curricular resume. For example, let your child volunteer anywhere that looks interesting, do community theater, take music lessons and perform with community bands, attend academic camps, do 4H or Scouts, have a part-time job, start a business; the sky’s the limit!
6. Find experts to tutor your child in their areas of need and/or interest. Peter had a wonderful math tutor in 9th grade.
7. See if the local high school lets homeschoolers take classes. Ours does. Peter took choir.
8. Enroll in community college classes. Peter took Composition and Physics the first semester of his senior year to prove to himself and to colleges that he could do college level work. He also earned some transferable credit.
9. Many homeschooling groups offer classes. These can fill the "friendship" need and offer foreign language or upper level subjects that might interest your child.
10. Let your child follow his interests and become an expert. If I were the czarina of education, every high school would look like that.
Jena began homeschooling in 1994. Her three children are now teenagers; one is graduated and attends the University of Chicago on a full ride scholarship, the next one is 16 and pursues life without school in the arts, and the youngest is a freshman, trying out public school for the first time. In 2005 they bought a 7000 square foot church building and converted it into their home. You can read more about their adventures on her blog, yarns of the heart.