Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Response to "Karen" from No Greater Joy Magazine

No Greater Joy published a piece on common misperceptions by homeschool parents about college entry.  The information presented in the article is true, but misleading.  For the blog post to be accurate, the author needs to present what the prospective college student is missing by not having certain qualifications that the average public, private, or parochial school graduate would have.

See, the real trick about college isn't getting accepted into a college.  The real competition between students occurs over who gets the cheapest tuition rates from the college.

  •  Colleges have a certain number of spots for students to receive full-ride scholarships.  The most ambitious and skilled students vie for these slots so that they have little or no tuition due.
  •  At the other end of the spectrum, colleges admit students who are barely qualified - or not qualified - to attend.  These students receive little or no additional tuition breaks in the form of scholarships or grants from the college and will end up paying the highest prices for the same education received by the full-ride students.  
  • In this article, I'm ignoring need-based grants like the Pell Grant since these look to level the economic playing field between low SES and high SES students.  

First, let's look at some of the misperceptions discussed in the article:

"College applicants need a diploma and a graduation ceremony."

Truth: No one needs to see the actual diploma.   Diplomas are a pretty piece of paper than can be displayed as a decoration.  Similarly, a graduation ceremony is a nice occasion for the graduate, their family, and their friends, but it has no bearing on college admission.

Missed opportunity: The scrapbook will be less pretty; the family may have fewer happy memories.  There is no effect on college acceptance.

"College applicants must take certain core requirements.  Students must be working at college level in math and English."
Truth: Most colleges expect prospective students to have taken certain high school courses.  In addition, most majors have expectations that prospective students will have taken more specific high school courses.  Colleges certainly accept some students who below English and math requirements.
Partial Truth: Sometimes, a department will waive a course requirement if the student can demonstrate proficiency in some other way.

  •  Ms. Sargent's description of her daughter's acceptance into the orchestra is weak on details, but I will hazard a guess that the orchestra had a requirement that a student had participated in an orchestra or band previously.  If the faculty wanted her daughter after hearing her audition, they could waive the requirement.
  • This happens fairly frequently with advanced students in an area.  My high school transcript didn't include Algebra I or Algebra II since I completed those in junior high.  Since I had plenty of documentation of more advanced classes in math including a 4 on the AP Calculus A/B test, the colleges I applied to waived the Algebra requirements for me and many of my classmates.
Missed opportunity: Colleges will NOT waive requirements that are not met.  Students will have opportunities to get the requirements filled - but you will be taking a course that generally does not count towards the general education requirements or your major while paying full price for the course. In addition, these remedial courses slow the student's progression through college leading to a longer time before graduation.   Examples:

  • Ms. Sargent's two children who tested below readiness in English and/or Math at the local community college and had to take remedial courses.  If they each needed one course, this probably slowed their progression through those subjects by one semester.   If they needed two courses, this could slow them down by a year if the courses have to be taken in a certain order.
  •  I had a friend who graduated from the same parochial HS I did after taking a general science and Biology classes.  He decided to major in Chemistry.  Because he had not taken high school chemistry, he had to take an introductory chemistry class that did not count towards his chemistry major before he could take Inorganic Chemistry (the first class taken towards a chemistry major).  
"Transcripts must be official"
Truth: This only applies to public, private and parochial schools.  What this requirement actually means is that students at institutional schools must have the institution send a transcript rather than having the student "remember" what classes they took and what grades they got.

Missed opportunity: 
  • For traditionally schooled students, a transcript is chocked full of information about the rigor of classes taken by the student, how well the student performed in those classes, and how well the student performed compared to their classmates.  
  • Admission officers and financial aid committees know the academic reputations of the secondary schools within their geographic area and can determine the reputations of the schools outside their area.  A transcript that shows academic rigor and achievement leads to more scholarships and lower overall college cost.  
  • A homeschool transcript can be used to estimate rigor of classes taken by the student, but has limited information on how well the student performed and no information on how the student did compared to other students. Since the transcript for the homeschool student contains less usable information than the transcript for traditionally school students, talented homeschool students are at a disadvantage when scholarships are disbursed.
"Students must take the PSAT, SAT and ACT."
Truth: Some colleges accept students without ACT or SAT scores.  They are not required.

Missed opportunity: You'd be a fool not to send them in if you are a talented homeschool student.  This is the easiest way I can think of to demonstrate that a homeschool graduate had a comparable and competitive education to traditionally schooled applicants.   A strong SAT or ACT score can eliminate most (or all) of the disadvantages of a homeschool transcript.    Many colleges have scholarships that require an ACT or SAT score of a certain level.  My ACT/SAT scores + a high GPA on my transcript earned me substantial scholarships that covered ~50% of my tuition for four years.   

  • Homeschool students can get into college without official transcripts, without standardized tests and with gaps in their educational credentials.
  • The cost of those omissions is a higher tuition cost for the students.
  • Talented homeschool students can remedy many of these issues through judicious use of standardized tests like the ACT, SAT, AP tests, or dual enrollment during high school.
My two-cents:
  • If you are a homeschool student with known gaps in education who is considering college, consider studying for and taking the GED.  There are four modules covering math, English, science and social studies that cost $37.50 per module.  The score you receive on the GED can be used by colleges to determine what your GPA would have been at a traditional high school.  Some colleges will even waive certain required classes if you score high enough on the GED.

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