This fall my wife and I began our first year of home schooling at the high school level. When we sat down to plan the year’s curriculum, we drew on a varied background: I attended a public high school for one year and then a private high school for three years, and my wife was home schooled all the way through high school. But in addition, I served for a number of years on a college admissions committee, and I became familiar with what makes for a persuasive home school college application. I also served as Academic Dean for three years, and in that role I had the chance to monitor how applicants faired as students after they arrived.
In this series of blog posts, I would like to share a few thoughts about applying to college, based on my own experience. As we go along, I’ll cover the usual parts of a college application:
But in this first post, I want to talk about how these various parts relate. As the student assembles his college application, he needs to think about it as a whole: each part serves a particular role within the application, and a weakness in one part can be offset by a strength in another.
To begin with, it is helpful to understand the unique contribution each part makes to the application. The standardized test offers an outside witness to your student’s ability—sometimes the only outside witness in the homeschooled application—and no other part of the application compares the applicant with as big a pool of peers. But an applicant cannot be reduced to a numerical score on an exam: of all the parts of the application, the letter of reference offers the most concrete, living picture. The transcripts give a picture of the student’s academic achievement over a long period of time rather than on a particular test day, and it can help the admissions committee see whether the student has covered the usual high school topics or something more exotic. Finally, the student essay is usually the only part of the application that allows the admission committee to see the student’s work directly, not reported by a teacher or reduced to a score.
But it is also helpful to think about how one part affects another. A college admissions committee will examine all of the parts of an application as so many clues to solving a puzzle. Maybe this applicant has a low math score on the SAT but high math grades in high school: does the letter of reference explain the discrepancy? Maybe this student has low grades in composition: does the student’s own essay demonstrate real ability nonetheless? If you think about how the committee will compare the various parts of the application, you can leverage a strength in one part to offset a weakness in another—or you can create a wonderfully convincing case by creating converging lines of evidence for the committee to discover!
In the remainder of this blog series, I’ll go into detail on each part of the application. Coming up on October 21, I will join my friend Owen Sweeney, a home schooling dad and college admissions director, for a Home School Connections webinar on the home schooler’s college application. We’ll need to keep it short, but there will be a Q&A afterwards. You can find our presentation at this link.