Preparing for College

Cyber-Schools and College Admissions

Question: We are considering e-school or cyber-school for our middle school child and high school child. They are both very competent students who get A's and B's. They are involved in gifted and honors programs, school activities, and extracurricular sports. Unfortunately, our middle school is dismal, and we don't want to expose our child to it. Will e-schooling them ruin their chances to be admitted to top colleges and universities? How do admissions departments view cyber-schools or e-schools?

Students enrolled in cyber-schools will be evaluated by admission officials much like home-schoolers are, but with the added advantage that many cyber-students will have actual grades to report, which home-schooled students typically don't (or if they DO have grades, the adjudication is often done by Mom or Dad).


There was a time, not so many years ago, when college admission officials approached such non-traditional applicants with skepticism or at least with surprise. There simply weren't that many families who chose to educate their children in that way. Now, of course, the number has burgeoned and continues to rise. There are many reasons why parents choose to follow this route, but--whatever they are--there is no reason to fear that it will have a negative impact on their children's college-admission opportunities.

With so many families asking the same kinds of questions that you are, it's no wonder that college-related information for home-schoolers now proliferates. In fact, do a Google search, and you'll find pages and pages of sites to check out---reading them is something of an education in itself.

If you haven't done so already, your first stop should be our own College Confidential discussion forum at http://talk.collegeconfidential.com/home-schooling-college/ .This link will take you to our threads on "Home schooling and college." There's a brief thread on cyber-schooling, too ... not much info there yet but a good place to connect with like-minded others ... and don't forget that most issues that pertain to home-schooled students will pertain to e-schooled students as well.

Another site to check out is http://learninfreedom.org/colleges_4_hmsc.html While I can't personally vouch for its accuracy, there seems to be a lot of information there, including a list of home-schooler-friendly colleges and universities along with direct links to their Web sites.

Speaking of Web sites, home-schooled candidates are so common these days that many colleges have separate Web pages just for them. Usually you can link to these from a college's admissions homepage, but sometimes I feel as if just finding the pages requires a college degree! If you don't locate the information you need in a reasonable amount of time, cut your losses and telephone admission offices directly.

These guidelines from Stanford University are typical of what you'll find at many schools. http://www.stanford.edu/dept/uga/applying/extras/1_2a4_homeschooled.html Keep in mind that colleges may have different requirements (or sometimes they're merely "recommendations") for home-schooled students than they do for the rest of the applicant pool. For instance, some institutions may ask for extra standardized admission tests (especially SAT Subject Tests) or will insist on a personal interview.

When I first began evaluating admission folders at Smith College in the mid-1980s, home-schoolers were still a fairly rare breed. Not too long thereafter, however, Smith created an application supplement just for home-schooled students. This, too, is a rather common practice. So be sure your children identify themselves as cyber-schooled students when they first begin to request college information so that they will be informed of all specific materials and requirements that pertain to them. You'll find the Smith supplement at: http://www.smith.edu/admission/pdf/HomeSchooled07.pdf It will give you a good sense of what many colleges expect from home-schoolers.

When admission officials---especially at the more elite and competitive colleges--assess their home-schooled candidates, there are two factors that tend to carry a lot of weight:

The first of these is curriculum. Admission officials will scrutinize evidence that the applicant has followed a program that is roughly comparable to the same recommended classes that other applicants have undertaken. This usually includes four years of English, three or four years of math and social studies, and at least two of foreign language and lab science, preferably more, especially at the most selective institutions.

Elite-college admission officials are eager to identify students who have pursued an academic passion in depth. If this passion is an uncommon one, so much the better. Home-schooled students often have more opportunity to explore unusual areas of interest than typical high school students do. Sometimes home-schooled students pursue their own independent research.

As your children near the end of high school, you also might want to consider enrolling them in a local community college (or any nearby college that will allow this) to take a course or two each semester. When a home-schooled student has taken at least a couple courses in a classroom environment such as a community college and has earned good grades, that tends to help balance out the home-school "transcript" and to work in his or her favor.

In general, when it comes to college admission, the most successful home-schooled applicants are those who stand out in the crowd not only because they didn't go to Rydell High but also because they've taken full advantage of their outside-the-box education and will bring the best of what such an education can offer to their college campus and share it with others.

The second area of importance is test scores. It's almost ironic that home-schooled or cyber-schooled students, who have often be brought up outside the confines of traditional education, typically have to score especially well on SAT or ACT exams in order to stay in the running at top colleges. Since admission folks don't have the more usual measures of a candidate's success available to them (e.g., class rank), they need some way to compare these students to the rest of the pool. Because home-schooled children don't always encounter multiple-choice tests, timed tests, or any formal tests at all as part of their home-school curriculum, it is important that you keep in mind that they will most likely encounter these very important college admission tests and prepare accordingly. Depending on what e-schooling program you pursue, your children may encounter a lot of testing, but--even so--testing at home is a very different experience that staggering into the local high school with cast of thousands at 8 or a Saturday morning to take the SAT's.

Home-schooled students are also eligible to take College Board Advanced Placement exams. A good score on these tests is an excellent way to prove that a non-traditional education is at least on the same footing with a more commonplace one.

Some home-schooled students are permitted (and eager) to take part in extracurricular activities at their local public high school. However, in most cases, admission officials don't expect to see "Student Government," "Pep Club," or "Debate Society" on a home-schooled student's transcript. However, your children should develop outside interests (and holding a job counts, too) to supplement their academic ones. Sometimes home-schoolers, who lack the chance to take part in the usual student clubs, can come up with pretty creative alternatives that wow admission committees more than a Spanish Club membership or spot on the high school cheering squad ever will. If your children are playing community or club sports, they may be able to continue with those activities, too. Admission officials also like to see students who take part in community endeavors that involve participants of many ages. When students aren't bound by a typical school schedule, this may make it easier to participate in local events at any hour of the day.

So, as you can see, there are lots of options for home-schooled and cyber-schooled students with college goals--even lofty ones.