College and the Homeschooler

Last week I set the stage for this post by asserting that parents need to be actively involved in the decision-making process with their teens as they plan for their future.  If you haven’t read that post yet – titled “My Definition of an Adult” – I recommend you do as it definitely has a bearing on some of what I am about to say.  Today’s post consists of two parts:

  1. An explanation of why I believe your child should, without question, get a college degree, and
  2. A guide to how to prepare your child for college, what options are available, and how your child can get a degree even if you haven’t saved a dime for their college education.

Some parents might think that the reason I believe their child should get a college education is because it will enhance their financial future and while it is still true that college graduates, on average, make more money than non-grads, that is not what I consider to be the most important consideration.

I believe the most important reason for your child to get a college education is, hands down, because it gives them options they would not otherwise have.  I have absolutely no doubt where I stand on this issue.  There is simply no question that getting a college degree opens doors that would otherwise be closed to your child. 

I’d like to address a couple of important issues here.  The first is that I firmly believe you should require (not request) that your child get a college degree and that you insist that they pursue their degree directly after completing high school.  I say this because, for various reasons, it is very difficult to go back to school after taking a break.  Once out of that student mindset it’s a challenge to get back into it.  In addition, life has a way of getting in the way of college if it’s put off.   Once your child is married and starting a family they may realize they need a college degree to achieve their goals but may find it not just difficult, but impossible, to do so.

On the other hand, pursuing a college degree immediately out of high school has a number of advantages including the ability to get scholarships.  Most adults (like myself) who go back to school later in life can only attend part-time and there are few, if any, scholarships available to part-time students.  Additionally, as I said before, if you’re already in the mindset of studying, taking tests, writing essays, it’s much easier to stay in that flow. 

As I said before, getting a college degree gives your child options they otherwise would not have.  One of those options is getting a graduate degree.  Obviously it’s impossible to get a graduate degree, whether that be a law degree, a medical degree, or an advanced degree in their career field, if they don’t already have a four-year degree.  By getting their initial degree out of the way right after high school, they are that much further ahead in pursuit of their goals.  This is what happened with my daughter.  She initially earned a Bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science and looked at a variety of graduate degree programs (including Physical Therapy and Physician’s Asst.) before deciding on a Master’s degree in Forensic Drug Chemistry which led her to a job running the science labs at a small college.  She recently was hired at that college for a brand new management position that is a huge step up for her – a step that would never have been available had she not gotten that initial degree.

Finally, before I go on to giving my recommendations in regards to preparing your child for college I have to approach a subject that has gotten under my skin more times than I can count.  It involves:

  • A parent telling me that their child won’t “need” a college degree, or
  • A parent telling me that their child has told them that they don’t need a college degree for the career path they have chosen, so they have gone along with the decision their child has made not to attend college.

Let me fill you in on a little secret: neither you nor your child has any idea what tomorrow holds for you or anyone else.  Perhaps your child has a particular interest and it seems that it will not require a college degree to “follow their dream.”  What if they change their mind?  What if they get involved in that interest and find out ten years down the road that the only way to advance in that career field is to have to have a four-year college degree?  What if they pursue that interest and find out that actually, that career isn’t what they want to do for the rest of their lives?

You might say the same thing can happen with a child pursuing a college major only to find that their interests have changed.  Certainly that happens all the time.  My daughter was initially intending to major in dance when she started college.  But the real point is, it is far easier to change majors midstream, and pick up a couple of additional courses if necessary, than it is to start at square one after you’ve realized that you should have gotten that college degree after all.

Moreover, if your child gets some of their college credits out of the way while they are in high school, they can easily get their Bachelor’s degree by the age of 20 or 21.  My oldest son had 40 credit hours when he matriculated to a four-year college and was able to get his B.S. degree in Business Management at the age of 20!

The bottom line for me is that no matter what your child plans to do with their life, a college education will never detract from it.  On the other hand, if they defer going to college, or abandon the idea altogether, they may very well find somewhere down the road that the thing they really want to do is out of their reach because they did not get that college education.  Why limit your child’s options and, for that matter, why allow your child to make that decision when they clearly do not know what the future holds for them? 

Moving on…I want to offer my ideas and recommendations for helping you to prepare your child for college…

COLLEGE CREDIT FOR HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS

My first recommendation, as I mentioned a moment ago and in my post “Homeschooling Your High-Schooler,” is to have your child get some of their college credits out of the way while they are still in high school.  There are many ways to do this:

CLEP Tests: CLEP stands for College Level Examination Program.  It consists of a number of exams that your child can take to get college credit simply by scoring at a certain level on the applicable test.  My 17-year old son will be taking the College Composition exam this summer which, if he passes (as I expect him to), will give him 6 college credits and exempt him from all freshman level composition classes.  I had originally intended for him to take the composition classes through dual-enrollment at the community college, as my two older children did, but when I was checking what book I would need to purchase for the class I found that the text was a pathetic excuse for a freshman composition text.  I just could not justify subjecting my son to such tripe so I decided to have him take the College Composition CLEP.  You may wonder how to prepare your child for such an exam.  It really depends.  If your child has gone through a rigorous math program in high school they could possibly pass a math CLEP (such as College Algebra) without any special preparation at all.  On the other hand, while my son has written numerous essays as part of our homeschooling program, he’s never written timed essays before.  So I purchased the online SAT exam prep course which has as one of its components timed essays.  And as a plus, it is serving a double purpose by preparing him for the CLEP test and the SAT test which he will take later this year.  For a list of CLEP tests and test centers visit the College Board online.

Dual-Enrollment Classes: The primary way my children accrue college credit during high school is by attending the local community college which gives them high school and college credit simultaneously.  In the state of Florida, 11th and 12th grade students can take classes at the community college for free.  Parents do have to pay for textbooks but the trade-off in my mind is more than worth it.  Besides the advantage of getting both high school and college credit for the same class, it also demonstrates to the college they transfer to that they are able to handle college level classes.  For information on dual-enrollment opportunities check with your state or local support group or contact your local community college.

Advanced Placement Classes: Your child can get college credit through AP courses which can be found at the College Board website.  If your child has a strong background in a particular course this could certainly be a way for them to get a college course out of the way rather than having to spend time in a college classroom on material they already know.

Online College Courses: There are a number of opportunities to get college credit through online classes.  In some cases, such as with Patrick Henry College, it’s merely necessary to register and pay for the class.  Other colleges may require you to go through a more extensive process but it’s certainly worth checking into.  One website I have found that seems to give reliable information on online college programs is OnlineDegrees.org.

A FOUR-YEAR PLAN

When preparing your child for a college education you need to view their high school experience in terms of a four-year plan.  In my post on “Homeschooling Your High-Schooler” I give many specific recommendations concerning high school curriculum so I am not going to repeat all that here.  What I do want to discuss, however, is the need for you as the homeschooling parent to ensure that your child is covering the curriculum they will need in order to be accepted into the college of choice, and that you are documenting their work properly.

The best way to ensure that your child is meeting the requirements for the college they will attend is to go online to the “Admissions” page for the colleges you are considering.  There you will find details on what courses your child needs to have completed and how many credits of each class they will have been expected to fulfill. 

In addition to ensuring that your child meets those college requirements you need to ensure that you are providing proper documentation.  Some homeschoolers are enrolled in correspondence programs or private school programs that document their child’s work, but most homeschoolers are not.  The program I recommend, and use myself, to create a professional-looking transcript is “Transcript Pro.”

Regardless of whether you have homeschooled your child since kindergarten or are pulling them out in the middle of high school, you need to think of your child’s high school program as a four-year block of coursework.  One of the advantages of this is that if you need to get your child caught up in their coursework or you want them to work on advanced work you can adapt the coursework as you see fit.

One component of that “four-year plan” should include your child taking one or more college entrance exams.  I encourage you to have your child take their entrance exam by the fall of their senior year at the latest.  Many high school students take the entrance exam in the spring of their junior year, which allows time to re-take the test later should they want to try to improve their score.  The two most common college entrance exams are the SAT and the ACT.  Another test you could consider having your child take is the PSAT (taken in the fall of the junior year) which could make them eligible for a National Merit Scholarship.  Some high school students also take it as a practice test for the SAT which they take later in the year.  PSAT tests are only available at your local high school on a specific date in October so if you want your child to take it, plan ahead.

Whatever college entrance exam your child takes, it is wise to have them prepare for it by studying either through an online course, a practice book, a class, or a private tutor.  Choose the method that you think is best for your child.  When my two older children were preparing for the SAT online courses were not available so they used the practice books.  My 17-year old is enrolled in the online course.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I have two final thoughts to offer in regards to “College and the Homeschooler” and they are:

Just because I believe your child should get a college education in no way means that I believe your child should “go away” to college.  In fact, there are a variety of reasons to have your child live at home while they attend college.  One of those, certainly, is that very few, if any, 18-year olds (or even 19- or 20-year olds) are mature enough to handle the responsibility of living on their own – and yes, I mean homeschooled students too!  Moreover, as I discussed in my previous post, as long as our children are depending on us financially, I believe our children should be contributing to family life which they cannot do if they go away to college.  And finally (and this may be good news to many of you) if your child lives at home while attending college, it cuts the cost of college in half (or less).

I contend that there are very few reading this post who do not live within driving distance of a four-year college.  It is at least a 45-minute drive, one way, to the campus of Florida State University where my children attend.  But even with today’s high gas prices the savings from having my children live at home while they attend college far outweighs the cost of transportation.  In fact, I suspect most parents who do not have children in college do not realize that at least half the cost of a college education consists of room and board.  When you hear or read reports of the astronomical costs of a college education today you need to remember that a significant portion of that cost assumes that your child will go away to college. 

Which brings me to my second point in this section which is that your child can get a college education at far less cost than you may imagine.  Given that many homeschooling families rely on a single income, that should come as welcome news.  In fact, in regards to my two older children who have graduated college, the cost of their college education to me and my husband was only a few thousand dollars spread out over several years.  They both lived at home which, as I pointed out, greatly reduced the cost of their education, and they both received academic scholarships which covered most of the cost.  In fact, my son’s academics were so high that he was essentially “paid” to go to college because of the amount awarded to him by two academic scholarships. 

You may not think that you live within driving distance of a four-year college but what if your child only attends college two or three days a week?  It is certainly possible to arrange a schedule where your child would only need to drive to school two or three days a week so even if the closest college is an hour or two away, the savings would still be considerable.

In addition, as I mentioned already there are distance learning programs your child could enroll in to complete a degree or to get credit for specific coursework.  I would encourage you to “think outside the box” when it comes to your child getting a college education.  Consider having them get some of their credits out of the way during high school, utilize distance learning and testing programs, and keep them at home while they attend college to save thousands, or even tens of thousands, of dollars.  It certainly worked for my family!  There’s no reason it can’t work for yours too.

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  • Excellent article! I have been researching the different ways for my children to get a college degree from home, and I love it that all this information is compiled in one place.

    • Anonymous

      Glad to be of help!  I really worked on this to try to make sure I covered every angle I could think of.  Along with my post on “Homeschooling Your High-Schooler” I feel it gives a good starting point for any homeschooler to make a plan for their child’s high school program in order to prepare them for college.  Thanks for the encouragement!

  • Vicki Tillman

    Lots of good info, thanks.

    Two of my kids did dual enrollment at the local community college in their specialty areas (photography and video production). They graduated high school concurrent with earning certificates in those areas. When they headed off to freshman year, they were well on the way to their degrees.

    • Anonymous

      Very cool!  I love the dual-enrollment program and I appreciate you sharing your experience with it.  Congratulations to you and your kids!