Click on the photo above for more on our upcoming Free Workshops

Friday, February 26, 2010

Six College Admission Tips for Homeschoolers

 6 Ways Homeschoolers Can Help Their Admissions Odds
Whether it’s for religious reasons, practical concerns, or simply because it’s tough to find a school that seems like a good fit, a growing percentage of teenagers are being homeschooled by a parent or tutor. There are a lot of advantages to this approach: parents can directly oversee their children’s education, there’s no need to worry about crime or bad influences at school, and you have the flexibility of taking vacation time whenever you like. But there’s one concern that most families have a hard time escaping: once you finish your high school education at home, will any competitive college be willing to take a chance on you?

Because you have no formal GPA, you may feel like you’re putting yourself at risk of being rejected from top schools. But in fact, just the opposite could be true: Stanford University, in particular, is very enthusiastic about homeschooled students, and has accepted a far higher percentage of them than they have of the general student body. The admissions officers believe that homeschooled students who pursue unique independent learning paths have something that many other students lack: intellectual vitality.

Still, if you feel like homeschooling may be holding you back from a great college, here are some tips to help you get ahead.

Prepare well for the SATs, and take as many subject tests as possible. If colleges can’t evaluate your course performance by their usual criteria, test performance becomes even more important. Make sure to prepare well for the SATs, and take the exams several times if necessary to achieve impressive scores. Though SAT subject tests are generally considered to be optional, you’ll want to take as many as possible, since they can serve as stand-ins for formal grades.

Get recommendations from people besides your parents. Let’s face it: Mom isn’t exactly the most unbiased judge of character. Even if she teaches all your classes, schools will want to hear from others, too. If you’re involved in community service activities or are taking community college courses, get recommendations from the people guiding those activities.

Check out colleges’ homeschoolers’ admissions policies. As applications from homeschooled students become more common, more colleges and universities are publishing standardized policies about how they evaluate the applicants. This page has a listing of many homeschool admissions policies, but if a college you’re interested in isn’t listed, contact the school directly and ask if they have any guidelines.

Use the personal essay to talk about your homeschool experience. Unlike most students, you’re likely to have an education that’s heavily based on taking part in new experiences, rather than simply learning from books. Impress the admissions officers by showing them how your unique education has shaped your life and helped you to grow as a person—one who would surely be in demand at any top university.

Take part in campus interviews and college fairs. Because many people have the (often false) impression that homeschooled students aren’t well socialized, take every chance you can to prove them wrong. If you’re interested in a particular college, try to arrange a one-on-one interview with an admissions officer, so that you can impress him with your intelligence and unique outlook on education. Attending college fairs offers another opportunity to network with college officials, and can give you an opportunity to find out more about how you will be considered as a homeschooled student.

Make sure your transcript passes muster. In many states, you have a lot of leeway as to the focus of your home education. You’re free to spend time beekeeping as a science project, or take trips to the ocean to study marine biology. However, whatever you’re doing, colleges want to make sure you’re actually learning—so, along with standardized tests, you’ll want to make sure your academic transcript presents an impressive overview of what you’ve accomplished in your studies. Your family may consider hiring an admissions consultant (typically a former admissions officer) to look over your transcript and offer an honest appraisal.

Steve Wagasky, College Funding Consultant
College Planning Professionals

Majority Of College Students Who Fail Had Little Planning Or Guidance

In a 2009 study funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the group Public Agenda surveyed college students who did and did not graduate. Part of this study looked at the level of prior guidance and planning that students had before attending college.

They study found that the majority of students, especially those who did not graduate, had little planning and guidance for college. 2/3 of students who did not graduate based their college decisions not on academics, but on convenience (e.g., what was close, cheap, or “easy”).

Both graduates and non-graduates were asked to rate their high school guidance counselors on how well they helped them explore careers, decide upon a school, and in helping them with the application process. 2/3 of both graduates and non-graduates rated their guidance counselors “fair to poor,” with only 13% rating them “excellent” on these criteria.

Of these same students who gave their pre-college guidance low marks, 71% of graduates and 68% of non-graduates said that having good guidance about different college majors and programs is a key issue for college decision-making.

Article Link

Steve Wagasky, College Funding Consultant
College Planning Professionals

Are you ready to make college decisions?

Does College Require “Financial Risk Management?” Yes, It Does. 
The word “risk” in financial terms generally refers to the odds of incurring monetary losses from a given endeavor.  Businesses think of risk in terms of losses due to theft or liability, and investors research their decisions to ensure that their assets appreciate, rather than reduce in value.  Research, planning, and using preventive measures are all part of an effective “risk management” strategy in both business and investing.

But, does risk and financial “risk management” pertain to college?  At many levels, yes, it does, and the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia seems to agree.  First, consider the state of college in the United States:  Out of 29 developed nations, the U.S. currently ranks 15th in college graduation rates. On average, only 36% of U.S. students finish a bachelor’s degree in four years, with 58% of students taking six years to complete a four-year degree.  That is, if they aren’t among the estimated 42% or more that drop out nationwide.  College planning in the U.S. traditionally has focused on getting in to college, when in light of the realities, families and students should be focused on graduating from college.

The concept of “college failure risk” was underscored in late 2009 by a working paper from the research department of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, who recognized that U.S. college failure rates are significant, perhaps even enough to require students to take out “failure insurance” to help offset losses.  In their report, they pointed out that 47% of former students who have student loan debt have little to show for it, since they did not earn a two- or four-year credential.  The insurance scheme examined by the Reserve Banks, however, may be cold comfort to those students, since the premiums would represent approximately 3% to 12% or more of the total college cost, and pay off only 10% to 40% of the debt.

In light of the apparent financial risks, how might families increase the odds of college success

Effective risk management strategies against college failure would include:

1.  Data-Driven Planning
A 2009 study sponsored by the Gates Foundation found that the majority of college students spend little time planning for college, especially those that don’t graduate.  Parents and students need to “qualify” themselves to make good college decisions by both understanding the breadth of college in the U.S., and then individual schools in that context.  Key questions to answer are:  What are the most common degrees chosen by students, and their respective job outlooks?  What types of schools have the highest and lowest graduation rates?  What are the most common reasons for student success and failure?  If parents and students can’t answer these key questions, they’re not ready to make college decisions.

2.  Student Factors
The Reserve Bank aptly pointed out the importance of “student characteristics,” although in their quantitative-theoretical model, the issue was oversimplified.  Student factors aren’t limited to just GPA and SAT scores, and using these solely to gauge future performance has limitations.  Levels of independence, engagement in their own learning, social abilities, and many more factors will play in to a student’s ability to succeed.

We also live in an age where many students have special needs, which are often overlooked.  Transitional planning for a student with Attention Deficit Disorder, anxiety problems, or other issues is a highly specialized area, and will take more skill than traditional college planning can offer.  Working with a professional who understands in-school student failure is the best way to identify and control risk factors prior to college, and to develop preventative measures far before the student begins classes.

3.  In-College Support
In addition to the strategies of data- and student-driven planning is ongoing support while in college.  Problems that can affect student performance typically occur while the student is enrolled and actively taking classes.  There is an assumption by colleges that if the student is having problems, they will seek help, but multiple studies from 2007-09 show that this is not the case.  On average, only 1 in 5 students say that they would seek help.  Having regular, ongoing support during college is often a way for problems to be caught early and for parents to be informed of them.  But the most effective types of support typically aren’t through the college, but private services, since schools don’t typically seek out students that aren’t doing well.  Even if a student does get help at school, federal privacy standards may preclude the college from contacting parents without the student’s consent.

With the trends toward increasing college costs, longer graduation times, and high levels of students who don’t finish, college attendance carries with it financial “risk,” and the need to manage that risk. 

In order to reduce the risk and maximize the benefits of college attendance, data-driven, comprehensive planning and ongoing support is needed to increase the likelihood of success and to help to mitigate the risk of college failure.

Steven Wagasky is a College Funding Consultant at College Planning Professionals, a college planning and support program based in Grand Haven, Mi.  For more information, please visit him at or at his College Strategy Blog.

Steve Wagasky, College Funding Consultant
College Planning Professionals