7 ways to get into university without a high school diploma

(Not an Ontario homeschooler? You can still find out how to get into university without a high school diploma in Canada)

Without a high school diploma, homeschoolers can apply and gain admission to university in Ontario: (see all the official policies here)

1. as a mature student (generally requires waiting until age 21). See sample definition of mature student from York University.

2. with the presentation of standardized test scores (general achievement tests such as the SAT or ACT; subject-specific tests such as SAT Subject Tests, Advanced Placement exams) but not the GED. The GED is designed to provide evidence of an education generally equivalent to that of a high school education, and is commonly accepted in the work force in lieu of a high school diploma. But, it is not accepted by Ontario universities as a suitable academic assessment for the nature of university-level studies and unfortunately carries with it the stigma of being a “high school drop out.”

3. with a year of university courses received from an open university (with an open entrance policy) such as Athabasca UniversityThompson Rivers University Open Learning (formerly BC Open University) or the University of Guelph.  These universities do not require a high school diploma as a prerequisite for enrolling in courses. After the equivalent of a year’s worth of courses from one of these institutions, a student is considered to be a “university transfer” student (see sample definition of transfer student from York University), and may transfer to a conventional university on the basis of the university marks as opposed to high school marks.

4. as a transfer applicant from a junior college. (Note: Ontario does not have junior colleges, but some provinces do.) These colleges may be easier to get into as a home schooler, and then prior high school completion (or lack thereof) is often unimportant to the university. Another note: although there are some programs in Ontario that allow transfer from a community college into a university, initial admission to the community college may be just as difficult if not more difficult as direct admission to the university. Our community college system is further behind our university system in terms of home schooling policies, so some home schoolers have much more difficulty getting into community colleges than they do getting into universities! While this is a viable method in other provinces, or when switching to Ontario from another province, it is not a popular Ontario strategy.

5. with a portfolio including home made transcripts, samples of work etc. This portfolio should, if possible, include standardized tests, letters/evaluated work from tutors or other outside sources as universities don’t always take transcripts from mom and dad! But even if you don’t have any “official” work to show them, there is currently one university in Ontario who administers their own testing/interview for homeschoolers and does not require proof of an academic background.

6. with the “Top Six” (unique to Ontario). Some Ontario universities will allow students to present just their senior year (i.e. six grade 12 credits, chosen according to program-specific prerequisites, through an accredited school, including virtual and correspondence schools) without requiring the entire 30 credits of the full diploma. (Note: students do not receive a high school diploma, but do qualify for university admission.)

7. with a little smooth talking! Who knows what can happen if you just walk in with a good attitude and ask? Making connections in admissions departments or with professors can open doors.

Still worried about getting in to university without a high school diploma? These final thoughts should put the issue in perspective:

  • University admissions are generally governed by policy, not law. Everyone has a story of a friend of a friend of a friend who knew of a 10/11/12-year-old taking classes at a university. Do you think this wunderkind had a high school diploma? Rules can and will be broken if the university sees you as a desirable addition to their school. Instead of stressing to conform to traditional university admission requirements, students may very well be better off spending that time and energy making themselves stand out and showcasing what they have to offer the university.
  • It’s never too late to go to university. Anyone who sat through university classes with “mature students” (i.e. older students who had actually read the lecture material and were interested in discussing said material in class) knew, even if only in the back of their minds, that these adults were really getting something out of the university experience. What’s wrong with waiting to head off to university until you know what you really want to get out of it? Admission requirements are generally much more open for adults than students directly out of high school.
  • Learning is more important than schooling. You don’t need to “(waste) $150,000 on an education you coulda got for a buck fifty in late charges at the public library.” If you’re not concerned about traditional high school as a vehicle of socialization, then why would you suddenly care about the socialization at the university level? Intellectual peers can be easily found through online communities (both social and academic) and can enrich a self-directed program of study. (See The Personal MBA: Master the Art of Business for an example of a self-directed MBA program.)

Note: Not all methods listed above are accepted by every institution, and policies do change. Please consult each individual university for the most recent, official word!

For info on how homeschoolers can get into college or university without a high school diploma in . . .

  • British Columbia (BC, Canada) – Chris Corrigan, an unschooling parent, was at one time compiling a similar list of options specific to BC. One option Chris mentions is writing the BC provincial examination without completing the whole diploma. This is not an option for Ontario since we don’t have provincial exams, but mirrors the sentiments of the “Top Six” option. (Note: page is no longer on Chris’ website.  I’ve linked to a page from “The Way Back Machine” to so you can see what used to be there.)
  • Alberta (AB, Canada) – Education Unlimited hosts this list of Alberta post-secondary institutions
  • . . . other provinces will be added as resources are found!
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Acronyms To Know

[Editor’s note, Feb. 2017: Technically, these are not all acronyms because they’re not all pronounced as words. Some are a kind of abbreviation called initialisms, pronounced one initial at a time. However, we’ve kept the original title in case anyone was linking to this post from elsewhere or using the word “acronym” in a similar way when doing a web search. We’ve added information about what each abbreviation stands for.]

SAT — www.collegeboard.com

Stands for: originally, Scholastic Ability Test, then SAT I (to distinguish from the Scholastic Achievement Test or SAT II), now just SAT, pronounced as separate letters (S.A.T. — not the word “sat”).

What it is: a standardized achievement test covering mathematics, reading comprehension, vocabulary, writing, and grammar skills.

How it works: one single test offered several times per year at local high schools/testing centres. Anyone can register online for this test.

ACT — www.act.org

Stands for: originally from the American College Testing Program, but now just known as ACT.

What it is: a standardized achievement test covering mathematics, science, social science, reading comprehension, vocabulary, writing and grammar.

How it works: one single test offered several times per year at local testing centres. Anyone can register online for this test.

AP — www.collegeboard.com

Stands for: Advanced Placement

What it is: a series of subject-specific examinations (approximately 20 different ones) that measure specific content knowledge at the senior high school or first year university level

How it works: students must sign up for and write this test at a participating high school. Contact local public/private schools for permission to join. Schools are not required to allow you to write.

CLEP — www.collegeboard.com

Stands for: College Level Examination Program

What it is: a series of subject specific examinations intended to provide first year college (US) credits.

How it works: any student can write at any testing centre; however, the only testing centre in Canada is in BC and the closest one to Ontario is in Buffalo.

GED — www.gedcanada.net and www.ilc.org/ged/

Stands for: General Educational Development

What it is: a series of examinations in various subjects intended to provide a high school diploma equivalency.

How it works: exams are held by the Ministry of Education over a weekend (Friday night and Saturday).

NOTE: most universities do not consider this equivalency for admission purposes. It is usually accepted by employers who require proof of high school graduation. [Editor’s note: Be aware that some employers look on a GED unfavourably. See the article High school diplomas vs. GEDs: Do employers care? on CareerBuilder.com.]

AMDEC – www.amdec.ca

Stands for: Avon Maitland District e-Learning Centre

What it is: The Avon-Maitland District Public School Board’s Centre for Distance Education offering accredited Ontario high school courses for credit.

How it works: AMDEC courses are very similar to regular courses, only lessons are available online (on websites) and work is submitted by email or fax. Students are required to complete a minimum number of work units per course per month. Assignments, tests and exams are all usually required. Group projects may be required.

NOTE: These courses count as any regular high school credit courses. They are not “equivalent” to high school courses, they ARE the courses!

ILC — www.ilc.org

Stands for: The Independent Learning Centre.

What it is:  the Ontario Ministry of Education’s official correspondence school. The ILC offers accredited Ontario high school courses for credit.

How it works: ILC courses are independent paper and pencil based correspondence courses where pre-printed lesson books are mailed (no direct teaching) and material is completed at the student’s own pace. Homework is submitted as it is completed (by mail or email) and may be marked by a different teacher each time. A supervised final exam is written at the end.

NOTE: These courses count as any regular high school credit courses. They are not “equivalent” to high school courses, they ARE the courses!

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A Plan for High School for Ontario Homeschoolers

QUESTION: If my admission will be based on only 12U credit courses or standardized tests written in my last year of home schooling, then how do I structure the earlier high school years?

Plan backwards: Determine when you will need final grades and scores and make a reasonable timetable of study working backwards. Generally, 1-2 years is a good length of time to study for a high-stakes standardized test. Subject tests (SAT II or AP) will require at least a full year’s worth of study to prepare for the test, but also may require 1 – 3 years of prerequisite study of earlier topics leading up to the tested material.


Choose a curriculum method:
You may find it easy to pick one series of textbooks and generally follow it up through the high school grades to ensure that you are following a comprehensive curriculum. You may prefer to design your own “skills/knowledge” based curriculum where you research the specific skills and topics required (e.g. Quadratic Functions, Trigonometric Ratios) to achieve your goals and then simply use a variety of texts or internet resources to research and study each particular topic.

Be disciplined: Don’t put off studying simply because the test is so far away. These tests may only be one day events, but they are intended to measure years’ worth of preparation.

Read: Read anything you can get your hands on, and read critically. Read not only to understand the content of the text, but also how the writing style itself conveys meaning. Make every text an opportunity to discuss how an author gets his meaning across to the reader. Don’t just study literature; read newspaper and journal articles, textbooks and other non-fiction works.

Write: Writing may not feel like a natural activity, but strong writing skills are essential to success in most university programs. Encourage any kind of writing such as journals, letters to the editor (or mom and dad!), stories and book or film reviews. At all times, stress clarity of thought and expression. Remember that writing is an attempt to communicate and successful writing is writing that gets its point across well!

QUESTION: How early do I have to start planning?

The answer will depend on whether you choose to include standardized tests, 12U credits and/or a portfolio in your university application.

High School Diploma: start taking credit courses in “Grade 9″
Standardized Tests: follow a challenging English/Math program through “Grades 9 and 10″ and begin test prep in fall Gr. 11
12U credit courses: follow a challenging English/Math program through “Grades 9 and 10″ and begin with one or two (easier) 12U credit courses in fall of Grade 11
Portfolio: document activities starting in “Grade 9″ and start producing samples of admission-level work in “Grade 11″

General Admissions Timelines
“Grades 9 and 10″

  • Decide on your admissions strategy (Standardized Tests, 12U credit courses (“Top Six”), Portfolio/Transcripts, Mature student entry)
  • Research admission policies at your schools of interest (Do they have a homeschool policy already in place? Is there a homeschool contact person in university?)
  • Contact universities to confirm policies and establish relationship
  • Personal thinking/planning about future (Am I a “science” person? A “history” person? Do I have a specific profession in mind? Do I want to attend university right after high school?)
  • Begin formal documentation for portfolios/transcripts
  • Consult Ministry of Education course descriptions for lists of curriculum topics by grade
  • Collect samples of work, externally-evaluated if possible)
  • Keep exhaustive list of activities and use edu-speak to translate into courses
  • Start regular, academic writing (Argumentative/persuasive writing, report writing, grammar and style, research and documentation, organization and structure)
  • Analysis of texts and literature (fiction and non-fiction) including reading for meaning and content; understanding tone, perspective, and bias; use of figurative language; themes and character development in works of fiction
  • Regular diet of algebra including basic arithmetic and order of operations; integers, fractions, decimals; solving equations; rate, ratio, percent and proportion; linear and quadratic functions; linear and quadratic equations and systems of equations; analytic geometry; polynomials and factoring

“Grade 11″ – credit courses or personalized study program for standardized tests

  • Attend university fairs (usually in the fall)
  • Visit university campuses – when students are there!
  • Language Development
    • Continue regular writing and revising – style and sentence variety
    • Work on improving, enriching vocabulary – consider studying some elements of Latin, Greek
    • Read challenging texts, including those which are open to interpretation
    • Studies in current events/world issues
    • Elementary Logic, especially logical reasoning and fallacies for the purposes of evaluating arguments, identifying faulty reasoning
    • Traditional Grammar Study for clear, concise communication
  • Mathematics Development
    • Humanities students: Continue studies from Grades 9 and 10, working towards proficiency in these skills, and/or SAT preparation
    • Business students: this should be a pre-calculus year with an added emphasis on statistics and probability-if possible, write AP Statistics exam this May-(or with the intention of pursuing this next year)
    • Social Science students: studies from Grades 9 and 10, working towards proficiency in these skills, and/or SAT preparation with an emphasis on statistics and probability (or with the intention of pursuing this next year)
    • Science students: this should be a pre-calculus year (physics students should also consider this a pre-linear algebra year)
    • Math/Computer science students: this should be a pre-calculus and pre-linear algebra year. Completion of the equivalent of 11U Mathematics (Ontario) or Algebra 2 (U.S.) should be the goal.
  • Standardized Test Preparation (if applicable)
    • Start prep for SAT (and any AP exams) in the fall
    • Write SAT (May or June)
    • Write AP exams (May)
  • Credit course route
    • Take one or two 12U courses in first semester (easy ones!)
    • Take one or two 12U courses in second semester
  • Research universities – Method A: By School
    • Close to home vs. far away?
    • Finances and Scholarships?
    • Size of campus/classes?
    • Size of city/town?
  • Research universities – Method B: By Program
    • Where is the program available?
    • Co-op or internship possibilities?
    • Specialization or general?

“Grade 12″

  • Visit OUAC website in the fall
  • Contact OUAC in September re: applying as a home schooled student to receive appropriate login information or paper applications
  • download copy of INFO (available late Sept/October) for specific program requirements and application information
  • Language Development
    • Read and respond to challenging, classical texts – explore the universal themes of classic works and the elements of language used by the author to communicate his or her message
    • Use academic journals (instead of newspapers) to explore current issues
  • Choose some subjects to be studied “from the textbook” and develop the skill of learning independently from a textbook (perhaps choose a text you may be using next year in university – e.g. intro to psychology)
  • Look for opportunities to present your learning to others – form a study group or join a community organization and volunteer to present
  • Attend local seminars held by museums or local colleges/universities
  • Join or form a book club with deadlines for reading and discussion dates
  • Mathematics Development
    • Humanities students: No further mathematics is required beyond studies from Grades 9 and 10, and/or SAT preparation.
    • Business students: study calculus (formally or informally) this year with an added emphasis on statistics and probability if not previously studied. Plan to write SAT II Mathematics and/or AP Calculus in the spring, and AP Statistics, if not previously written.
    • Social Science students: Plan to write AP Statistics in May.
    • Science students: study calculus (formally or informally) and possibly linear algebra. Write SAT II Math and/or AP Calculus in the spring
    • Math/Computer science students: study calculus and linear algebra (formally or informally) with the intention of writing SAT II Mathematics and/or AP Calculus in the spring
  • Standardized Test Prep
    • Revisit prep for SAT in the fall
    • Start AP and/or SAT II preparation in the fall
    • Rewrite SAT (before December)
    • Write AP exams (May)
    • Write SAT II subject exams (Spring)
  • Credit courses
    • Take two or three 12U courses in first semester (ideally, have 6 done!)
    • Take one or two 12U courses in second semester, if desired/necessary
  • Other options
    • Volunteer placements
    • Internships, job shadowing
    • Online university/college courses
    • Competitions (e.g. music, academic)
    • Special camps/activities hosted by universities or community groups
    • Offer tutoring and/or mentoring to younger students
    • Outside certification courses (e.g. cooking, technology, athletics, public speaking, technical writing, swiming) in areas of interest and/or teaching classes in these areas
    • Specialized research project
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High School Credit Courses for Ontario Homeschoolers

Many families choose to include accredited Ontario high school courses into their high school home school program. These are courses that are taught in a classroom, online or by correspondence by an accredited Ontario school (or school board) including courses from the ILC (Independent Learning Centre).

Although it is possible to get into university without any high school courses, some universities do offer academic merit scholarships on the basis of 12U grades alone. Some universities have stated that they prefer students to submit 12U marks for university admission because it simplifies the process of comparing home schoolers to the traditional pool of applicants.

With many Ontario universities accepting the “Top Six” for university entrance, you do not have to take all 30 credits required by the provincial high school diploma (OSSD) to gain admission to an Ontario university. In many cases, simply taking six 12U courses is acceptable. However, if you want to enter the credit system and jump right into Grade 12, then it is your responsibility to plan a reasonable program of study a few years in advance so that you’ll be ready for these senior level courses.

Also read Sarah’s article Virtual High Schooling: Is it right for me? to gain added insight into these courses for home schoolers.

Schools offering 12U credits to home schoolers:

Independent Learning Centre – Ontario Credits by Correspondance
TDSB Virtual School (Toronto)
Virtual High School Homepage
Virtual Learning Centre
AMDEC
Canada e-School
Bishop Strachan e-Academy

[links updated 2017-05-10]

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