Home school university admission policies – freeing or constraining?

My husband Joe and I look at planning differently. I want an all-up-front plan to my day. Before he’s barely opened his eyes in the morning, I want to know what the plan for the day is. Don’t get me wrong, I may not even stick to the plan, but for me, there’s security in having one. For me, a plan means that I have the option of going on autopilot and I can do what I need to do without stopping to think about what’s coming up next. In that way, a plan is extremely freeing. It frees me from making decisions later, although I’m flexible enough that it doesn’t prevent me from doing so.

I won’t go into too much detail describing Joe’s ideas on planning; he does planning for a living, so suffice it to say that he’s very good at it, and his methods probably deserve coverage that is beyond the scope of this little introduction. But in short, Joe’s planning is intertwined throughout his daily activities. Joe doesn’t try to make an ideal plan for the day, or even a full plan for the day. Instead, whatever comes next is dependent upon what’s already happened, relying on past feedback to predict future outcomes. Joe would feel constrained by a plan that’s already proven to be ineffective, off course or impossible by 10:00 a.m., given what has happened since 9:00 a.m.

What does all this have to do with university admissions? Well, no matter what kind of home schooling family you are, if you think your children might be bound for university, you need a plan. No one can wake up one morning and decide that today’s the day you try to get into university. You can be unstructured about schooling but you cannot face the bureaucratic beast that is Ontario’s post-secondary education system unprepared. Certainly our planning is made easier with the freely-available home school admission policies available on the web. But, have these plans freed home schoolers to go about their home-school-through-high-school without fear of the unknown, or have they now constrained our home-school-through-high school options because we will now have them in the back (or front!) of our minds throughout a home-based high school experience?

Home-Schooled Students Rise in Supply and Demand by PAULA WASLEY describes this trend in university admissions in the US, where from 2000 to 2004, the percentage of colleges and universities with an official homeschooling policy rose from about 50% to about 85%. (emphasis added by me to illustrate the key points)

Without traditional points of comparison, like class ranking and grade-point averages, colleges tend to fall back on standardized-test scores. Many require that home-schoolers take two or more SAT 2 subject tests in addition to an SAT or ACT.

As the number of home-schoolers applying to college continues to grow, admissions offices have attempted to streamline the process. The University of Richmond, for example, has one admissions officer assigned to read all applications from home-schoolers. This year the Common Application, a format used by more than 300 colleges, added a supplement for home-schoolers, which both pleases and unsettles some homeschool advocates.

“We’re not fighting to even be considered anymore,” says Howard Richman, executive director of the Pennsylvania Homeschoolers Accreditation Agency, one of seven organizations in the state that provides accredited diplomas to home-schooled graduates. On the other hand, he says, such standardization may cost home-schoolers some of the individuality that has set them apart.

Bringing home schoolers out into the open and requesting policies from universities has had its pros and cons. From the standpoint of a worried, nervous family, nothing is more assuring than seeing in black and white exactly which steps are needed to fulfill admission requirements. A clear, well-defined home schooling policy is sometimes the most guidance a home-school-through-high-school family has ever seen before!

On the other hand, are home schoolers now finding themselves “boxed in” by the increase in official policies, especially those that are increasingly relying on standardized tests? When there was no policy, there was no black and white. Now that these policies exist, it really means we have to conform to them.

Personally, I think the policies have done more good than harm. Trying to enter university without pre-defined conditions and expectations is a little like avoiding a question that you don’t really want answered. Sure, you can say, “You never told me what you wanted,” but they have every right to respond, “You never asked.”

I recognize that some may view the convergence of admission policies as contributing to the homogenization of an otherwise very diverse group of individuals. Some may see it as unfair that home schooled applicants may be increasingly encouraged to take standardized tests whereas their traditionally-schooled counterparts (here in Ontario) are generally exempt from high-stakes testing, and certainly are at the university entrance level. Of course, we can’t forget that home-school-through-high-school kids have been allowed to ignore provincial curriculum, mandated teaching methods and other such undesirable attributes of a traditionally-schooled education. I’d say it at worst evens out, but more often than not favours the home schooled.

If it wouldn’t normally be your inclination to do so, I’m going to suggest that you try thinking of these policies as I do – as freeing. Free from the worry about what the universities expect from you. Free from the hours spent figuring out how to document your child’s education. Free from the worry that your family’s choice has limited your children’s options. You know what’s expected of you – just plan for it as part of your long-term homeschooling strategy.

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