Preparing for College

Help for College-Bound Home-Schooled Actor

Question: I am a high school junior that could be graduating this year and I was inquiring about the types of activities and academics that I could take to increase my chances of getting accepted into the universities of my desire. I have been home schooled since the seventh grade because of my acting career. I have been on many auditions and commercials and was wondering if that gives me an advantage? In all my years of being home schooled, I have noticed the advantages and the disadvantages. For one, I am unable to take part in any team sports for my school. I have however been in sports that are outside of the school such as martial arts and basketball. Another disadvantage is that my home school program does not offer any AP or Honor classes which many universities would like their students to see. I am also unable to join any school clubs or activities because my school does not offer them. As a result, I have been volunteering and do community service and have about 200 hours! What type of extracurricular activities should I take other than that?

I was also wondering if going to a community college first rather than heading straight into a four year university will increase my chances of going to a prestigious university. If it helps, I have a 3.9 GPA and would like to get accepted into the Leland Stanford Junior University, University of California, San Diego, University of California, Los Angeles, and the University of Southern California. If their are any other advice that you would like to give me that I have not included in this message let me know. I thank you for your time and look forward to your response.

You say in your question that you "could be graduating" this year. So it sounds to me as if you're perhaps a year or so younger than the typical college-bound student. Thus, for starters, keep in mind that college admission officials tend to set the bar a bit higher for "Early Admission" applicants (i.e., those who hope to matriculate at the end of their junior year). Admission committees scrutinize such applications extra carefully for evidence that the student is sufficiently mature and has also completed an adequately rigorous curriculum. They will also want to see that you have academic as well as personal reasons for rushing to college a year ahead of schedule.

Your current "extracurricular activities" look fine already. Colleges will be interested in your acting background because it sets you apart from the crowd. However, my own son (age 14) had done some commercials and independent films himself, and I always caution him that, although these endeavors are worthwhile application fodder, it will be his grades and test scores that are most critical when admission decisions are made.

But you certainly don't have to worry that your résumé is lacking in sports teams and school clubs. The admission folks see that stuff up the wazoo and don't care about seeing even more.

You don't mention any standardized test scores, yet these are a key application component at most colleges, especially for home-schooled students. Admission officials can use test results to help them compare a home-schooler's curriculum and achievement to those of applicants from more traditional high school backgrounds. I always urge home-schoolers to submit SAT II Subject Test results, whether they are required or not, because these scores can show proficiency in areas that the SAT and ACT do not cover such as foreign language, history, and specific sciences.

Many home-schoolers who are aiming for the more selective colleges and universities also take AP exams. Even if their home-school experience doesn't include official AP classes, some will pursue one or more of the AP subjects in depth and then self-study for the exam.

So, as you make your college plans, my advice would be to:

1. Ask yourself if you have solid academic reasons for entering college a year early.

2. Ask yourself if you have enough time to prepare effective applications if you are just getting started now, in December.

3. Make sure that your SAT scores are competitive for the institutions on your list and recognize that, as a home-schooled student, you may be at a disadvantage if you are not submitting strong Subject Test scores in several areas, even when not required, and possibly AP scores as well.

4. Don't worry about your extracurriculars. They are good already.

5. Read instructions for home-schooled students that many (although not all) colleges have posted on their Web sites, such as these from Stanford: (Look for application supplements for home-schoolers, too.)

Regarding your question about starting at a two-year school: Yes, success at a two-year college can definitely pave your way into top colleges and universities ... both public and private. And, if you have little or no formal classroom background, this can be a wise route to take.

I hope that helps. Good luck with your college plans as well as with your acting career. Having watched my son go through the audition process, I know how frustrating, disappointing, and even demeaning it can be, but I do think that this can help to develop resiliency, flexibility, and humor, which are traits that serve us well in all endeavors in life.

(posted 12/5/2011)