Will the swell of pandemic homeschooling result in more families permanently choosing home education? Or will a temporary bump give us years of “messy” transcripts as students bounce between different forms of schooling?

Once a niche option, 5-10 percent of American students now homeschool, according to recent Gallup polls. This is similar to the number of US students enrolled in private or charter schools. Some homeschoolers seek relief from untenable situations like bullying, racism, or unmet academic needs, while others are drawn to integrating education with daily life. In this dynamic environment, independent educational consultants (IECs) would be wise to consider both the needs of individual families and the expectations of college admissions offices.  

Who is a homeschooler? The answer is often complex. Some students learn at home but are considered a public or private school student by the state. Generally speaking, a student will apply to college as a homeschooler if the parent controls the transcript and issues the diploma. The stereotype of socially isolated students doing every class at the kitchen table is rare. More than half of all homeschoolers are “flexi-schoolers,” taking at least one class from a non-family member. In addition to home-based education, homeschooling often includes co-op groups, online classes, dual credit college courses, and tutors. Frequently, students spend just a year or two homeschooling in order to meet specific academic or social needs. 

Access to sports, partial enrollment at local schools, and even PSAT and Advanced Placement testing varies by local jurisdiction. IECs working with homeschooled students need to understand the nuances of laws and opportunities where their students live. The International Center for Home Education Research (icher.org) offers a synopsis of US homeschooling regulations by state as well as a global view by country. State and local homeschool support groups also often offer detailed guidance for homeschooling.

Clear Documents Are Essential for Homeschoolers

Homeschooling families present an opportunity for IECs to work with both students as applicants and parents as counselors. Parents create a counselor account within the Common App to upload the transcript and other documentation that provides context for the student’s education. Home educators often want help presenting their child’s high school years in a compelling way. IECs might partner with a homeschool specialist IEC to draft these documents

For instance, many homeschoolers take classes from a variety of outside providers. These providers may have different grading scales. Some homeschoolers take courses that do not fit neatly into traditional categories. Would a vivid course title like “Roots of Steampunk Lit” be better than “English 3”? Would a chronological, subject-based, or hybrid transcript be the best option? An IEC can help parents concisely, clearly, and accurately communicate a complicated transcript. Coursework, educational providers, and grading scales should be clear at a glance. 

Additionally, home educators typically provide course descriptions separate from the transcript. Not every college requires descriptions, though most ask for details about curricular choices. Course descriptions help establish rigor, regardless of whether the classes are from accredited providers or not. Parents who combine elements like in-home instruction, student-led interest (also known as unschooling), and classes taken outside the home often need help writing succinct descriptions that explain content and evaluation methods. 

Not surprisingly, the school profile also differs for homeschoolers. In this document, the parent narrates their philosophy of education, why they chose to homeschool, grading scales and weighting practices, and a synopsis of each outside provider. IECs should not assume that an admissions reader will be familiar with homeschool providers or what is locally available to homeschoolers. 

Many IECs are surprised to learn home educators usually write the counselor letter. This offers another opportunity to provide context and nuance. For example, some homeschoolers live in states where getting an AP exam seat is nearly impossible. They may choose dual-enrollment classes instead. The parent can clarify those challenges, choices, and limitations in the counselor letter or in the school profile. 

Even if a home educator submits a clear transcript with supporting documents, colleges may require more. Test-optional schools may not be test optional for homeschoolers. Some schools want a formal lab write-up; others may require homeschoolers to submit an academic paper, even if it is not a requirement for other students. Certain institutions may ask for state-specific items like an Individualized Home Instruction Plan or a letter from a local school district superintendent. Out-of-state homeschoolers may not have these items. A college might mention a GED, though this is rarely required and often not appropriate.

Some parts of the college application package take on greater weight for homeschoolers, notably letters of recommendation from non-family members. In situations where parents taught core courses, colleges frequently accept recommendations from elective teachers, coaches, mentors, or supervisors of volunteer activities. Admissions officers may accept recommendations sent directly if the online application doesn’t accommodate letters from that category of recommender. 

Homeschoolers often benefit from doing interviews, and some colleges require them for homeschoolers. Face-to-face meetings give students a chance to explain details of their homeschool experience and discuss areas of deep interest. A lively interview can erase stereotyped concerns that a homeschooler would struggle to adjust to campus life. Since these interviews are part of the admissions evaluation for homeschoolers, they are worth practicing.

It can be challenging to identify additional admissions expectations for homeschoolers. Students and IECs should scour websites to find all the requirements. Parents in their role as homeschool counselor may contact admissions offices to ask for clarification about documentation. 

Help Is Out There

There is support within IECA. IECA members can download Information and Best Practices for Homeschooling and Homeschooled College Applicants from the Peer-to-Peer Resources section of the IECA website (under College Specialty). Any interested IECA member is welcome to join IECA’s Homeschooling Affinity Group. The HAG offers a discussion list for questions, roundtables for IECs, and webinars with admission officers focusing on homeschooled applicants. The HAG also maintains a list of homeschool experienced IECs sorted by state, available in the HAG’s Community on the Member Network. Please reach out with questions about homeschooling or to partner with a homeschool-specialist IECA member to support a client.

By Holly Ramsey, MAT, IECA (TX), Thoughtful Homeschooling, and Lisa Rielage, MEd, IECA Associate (VA), Admissions Decrypted