A lot goes into preparing for college. College requires a lot of you. And for you (the homeschooler) and your parents, it may be especially challenging to know how to prepare because you don’t have access to college counseling resources like students enrolled in public and private institutions.
But now you have this blog post. A guide. A guide to the transition from homeschool to college. A guide created to help you along the way. A guide to help you prepare yourself with the necessary tools to succeed in college.
This is the Homeschooler’s Guide to the University.
Data, Numbers, and Grades
First thing’s first. Obviously, to get into college, you’ll need to do your part to prove to them that yes, you are indeed educated. This means having an academic record.
GPA and Transcripts
For starters, having a good grade point average, or GPA, is very important. It’s not always required to have a perfect GPA in order to be admitted to a school, but some colleges offer immediate admission to students with an impressive one. Plus, you may even be offered scholarships and other financial aid based on this score and how you rank among your peers.
So go ahead and grab your parents (aka your teachers), and walk through this portion alongside them.
How to Create a Homeschool Transcript
The most basic thing you can have ready for a college admissions counselor is a high school transcript. Colleges like data, numbers, and grades and such. So, it’s important that you have one readily available.
Among other items, basic things you’ll want to include are:
The courses you’ve taken, of course. Give it as specific of a title as you can. Rather than just “Math,” specify if the course you took was “Algebra 1” or “Statistics.” (Although, skip the actual curriculum’s name. The college doesn’t care whether you used A Beka for Chemistry or Bob Jones—just that you took Chemistry.) The amount of credit assigned to each course. Typically, for high school courses, one credit is awarded for each yearly course and one-half credit is awarded for a semester-long course. Grades. Without getting into much detail, the grades assigned to each course is dependent on how you weigh the content of the course. We’ll discuss this more in the next section. The GPA of each year along with the cumulative GPA (the GPA for your entire high school career). We’ll go over this in the next section as well.
How to Calculate a GPA
A GPA is calculated by using the final grade for each course to determine “quality points,” then dividing the sum of all of the quality points by the total number of credits earned by your courses.
Your parents or teachers may have to do some of the calculating here themselves. So, dust off those calculators and follow these instructions to become a mathematician magician.
First, determine the final grades and the appropriate credit amounts for each course. Determining what grade to assign to a course primarily depends on how one weighs the content of the course. For example, a teacher may make course exams worth 80% of the total grade and daily assignments fulfill 20% of the total grade. For more information on how to assign grades, review this handy guideline from the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA).
Once you have this information, you can assign letter points to each graded course. Here’s a handy chart to help you determine the letter points for each grade:
- A+ = 4.3
- A = 4.0
- A- = 3.7
- B+ = 3.3
- B = 3.0
- B- = 2.7
- C+ = 2.3
- C = 2.0
- C- = 1.7
- D+ = 1.3
- D = 1.0
- D- = 0.7
- F = 0
Next, multiply the number of letter points for each course by the number of credits assigned to each course to determine the quality points. So, let’s say the student—we’ll call him Jimmy—gets an A in his English Literature class, to which 1 credit has been assigned. Multiply 4 letter points by the 1 credit, giving you 4 quality points. Easy peasy, no?
Finally, after all that math, there is yet another math problem or two to solve. To determine the GPA for the year, add up all of the quality points, then divide that number by the total number of credits, and a GPA will magically appear!
Now, to determine the cumulative GPA (the total GPA for your entire high school career), you’ll essentially follow the same steps as the yearly GPA, but you’ll simply add up all of the quality points from each year, divide them by the total credits from each year, and yet again, you’ve performed the classic magic of mathematics.
One thing to keep in mind is that more weight is added to grades in Honors and AP courses. Honors courses add an additional one-half point to the letter points, and AP courses add one additional point to the letter points.
The HSLDA advises parents of students enrolled in co-ops or online courses to check whether the teacher intends to give final letter grades. This eliminates the shock you may experience when you finish all of your coursework only to find out that the teacher did not give a final letter grade, and now you must re-read this entire section to figure it out on your own.
Furthermore, if you are uncertain of your calculations, there are dozens of online resources to help you calculate the GPA, and you can have someone else verify your calculations. My preferred sources for calculating a GPA are HSLDA and PrepScholar. For members of HSLDA, you can ask the association to calculate the GPA for you or to verify your own calculations.
The SAT and the ACT
SAT and ACT scores are perhaps two of the most important requirements for admission to a majority of schools. In combination with your GPA, scoring well on one or both of these exams can oftentimes grant immediate, guaranteed admission on top of scholarships and other forms of financial aid.
Both of these exams are nationally recognized, and seem similar at first glance; however, according to PrepScholar, there are 11 key differences between the two:
The SAT allows more time per question. While the ACT contains a science section, the SAT does not (although they still have content on scientific concepts). If you’re taking the ACT, bring your calculator. If you’re taking the SAT, you still need a calculator, but there is also a No Calculator math subsection. Both have sections involving Algebra, but make sure you know your shapes for the ACT. Questions on geometry make up 35-45% of the ACT Math section. The SAT provides a reference for math formulas; the ACT does not. Math counts for a quarter of the ACT total score, but it counts for half of the total SAT score. ACT gives you five choices for Math questions. SAT gives you four. (So, educated guessing has a better chance on the SAT.) ACT only has multiple-choice Math questions, whereas the SAT contains grid-in Math questions, which requires the student to fill in their own answers. Evidence-supported reading questions are a big deal on the SAT. These questions require the student to cite specific lines or paragraphs as evidence for answers. SAT reading questions also follow a chronological order, whereas the ACT uses a random order to keep you on your toes. Both the SAT and ACT contain optional essay portions, but only the ACT will allow the student to express their own opinions. The SAT does not allow student opinions and instead asks for evidence-based reasoning and response.
Whether or not your student is required to take either of these tests before graduating high school depends on what state you reside in, and some states may even offer to pay for one or both tests. For example, Jimmy, from our transcript example, lives in Colorado. He is required to take the SAT prior to graduating high school, but the ACT is optional. On top of that, Colorado offers to pay for both tests. To find out if your state requires either test, check out this chart from the Princeton Review.
While colleges don’t require that you take both tests, it can be beneficial to do so. You might score better on one over the other, which could mean the difference between getting in or not at your desired school. Again, it is always important that you keep up to date on the college(s) of interest and their admission requirements.
It is recommended that a student take their test for the FIRST time during their junior year. Yes, you can take the tests multiple times. But be warned that if a college sees that you’ve taken a test at least more than three times, it doesn’t look favorable. (Of course, that’s only if the school requires you to report all the times you’ve taken the tests. Check those admissions requirements!)
There are plenty of resources out there to help you get ready for these exams, including practice exams and classes. Going the extra mile can prove useful in the end. PrepScholar.com is a great place to find practice exams and helpful information about the SAT and ACT exams.
Some other things that aren’t necessarily required but can really give you a boost in college are dual enrollment courses, Advanced Placement (AP) exams, and/or the College Level Examination Program (CLEP). All of these allow you the opportunity to get a head start in college before you’ve even been admitted.
Dual enrollment courses knock out a few birds with one stone. These are courses you can take with a college that grant credit toward your high school diploma and your future bachelor’s degree, and they may even save you money on a college education. Complete the courses with flying colors, and you’re well on your way to cutting in line at graduation. (Just remember what we’ve discussed regarding GPA. You’ll want to keep those grades up!)
Now, when I say “knock out a few birds,” I’m not exaggerating. Taking a single semester of a college course worth 3-5 credits will fulfill a single year in high school credit. For example, if you take college-level English Composition I one semester, then complete English Composition II the following semester, you’ll fulfill two years worth of high school English Composition.
While students may enroll in college courses as soon as they start high school, I would recommend using the freshman and sophomore years to work on study skills then pursue dual enrollment in the junior and senior years as your student nears college admission.
Most four-year colleges and community colleges offer dual enrollment programs, both on-campus and online. Everyone is different though, and you’ll want to check with your college of interest on what courses are offered for dual enrollment and how they may affect both high school and college credits. In addition, you’ll want to check that the credit will transfer to whatever college your student plans to attend after high school.
PSA: Unbound offers a Foundations program in which you may take two highly transferable courses through which you’ll earn dual credit. In addition, you’ll be enrolled in Navigate, a 9-week life-purpose planning course, to help you plan for your college career and beyond.
AP courses are similar to dual enrollment courses in that you still knock out those proverbial birds with a single stone, but the course itself doesn’t count for both. In order to obtain college credit, you’re required to take an exam at the end. Passing scores vary from one college to the next. So, study well and check the requirements of your college of interest.
Lastly, CLEP exams allow students to, in a way, skip college courses to get ahead. No courses are required, but you want to make sure you are confident in your knowledge of the subject matter before attempting a test. Passing scores are standard no matter where you may transfer the credit, but not all colleges accept credit from the same exams. So, again, be sure to check the requirements of your potential college(s) of interest.
Prepare Your Mind and Your Hands
As important as your homeschool transcript is, habits and skills (and how you develop them) can directly affect how your grades, GPA, and exam scores look. There are a lot of nuances in how students improve academically, and it’s important that we address them because we want you to do well and succeed in your college career.
Having a plan for college helps ensure a smoother transition from high school to college. You don’t often take a road trip to another city or state without a plan, knowing where you’re going to stop, how much gas is going to cost, what route is the best, and bringing some beef jerky for snacking. It’s no different here.
Not only do you need to know where you want to go, you need to figure out a few important things first: * What do you want to major in? * What are you willing to pay for your degree? * Is college even right for you?
These can be tough questions to answer, but you don’t have to be alone in answering them. Not only do we have the written help already linked, but Unbound’s academic counselors are available to help you walk through these tough questions on top of providing you with options for college, degree plans, and ways to save money.
First and foremost, develop good study skills and habits. Everyone learns differently. Some learn through reading, others through hands-on application, and some have the enviable gift of photographic memory, but we won’t exclude them.
Knowing how you learn best will apply to how you study. If you learn best by reading, for example, set some goals for your study time. Read so many pages or spend a set amount of time reading each day. Plus, keep a pen and highlighter handy to keep track of important information.
In college, having good study habits will go a long way. I know, I know. Mom and dad aren’t there, and you have the freedom to eat, sleep, and binge Netflix however long you want regardless of the consequences, but that’s obviously not a habit that proves formidable at the university.
On average, it is recommended that a college student spends approximately two or three hours studying per week for each credit hour they’re taking. If a student is taking six credit hours, it is recommended that he or she spends 12-18 hours studying each week. On average, a full-time student takes 15 hours per semester. That’s 30-45 hours of studying per week, approximately as much as working a full-time job (hence the term “full-time student”).
You’re still in high school. So, start small and spend an hour each night studying. Figure out how you study best and tell your parents. It helps your parents know how they can help you study well. Doing this now will help you learn to set boundaries and priorities that will be important in college and the rest of your life.
In addition to study skills, learn some other skills that are practical in the real world. When you’re in college, you are ultimately pursuing a job or a career, and skills are often required for such things. Plus, you’ll learn how to take care of yourself (#adulting, as the youths say).
Learn a thing or two. Here are a few areas you can look to develop skills in:
- Car maintenance/repair
- Second languages
- Web design
- Computer skills
You might also consider seeking certification while finishing high school. Certifications offer training for specific jobs of interest to students. These certifications can range from automotive technology to dental hygiene to paralegal. In some job fields, certification may be required or can improve your chances of employment, especially if you subsequently receive a degree. And a majority of these programs provide college credit that may even be applied as dual credit. (Be careful of certification programs that grant Continuing Education Units (CEUs), which do not apply as standard college credit.)
Consider checking with your local college to see what certifications are offered and if you can get dual credit from them!
If you take everything you’ve read here with some seriousness, I’m sure you’ll do well in college. Along the way, Unbound is here to help you make these decisions and answer those hard questions. So, please, don’t hesitate to consistently refer to this guide.
P.S. Always have a #2 pencil.
Levi is a Registrar Support Specialist here at Unbound by day, short-story author by night. When he’s not working (or writing), you can find him playing board games with friends, playing guitar, watching tv with his wife, or eating a delicious home-cooked meal.Read more by Levi