Welcome to the month-long series “Homeschool HIGH SCHOOL Made Easy,” a follow-up to the popular “Homeschool Made Easy” series (now published on kindle). I’m sharing tips from my experience as a homeschool graduate and homeschool mother, showing YOU how easy and enjoyable these high school years can be for you and your teen. Be sure to sign up for the entire series so you don’t miss a thing!
We are nearing the end of Homeschool High School Made Easy, bringing our final week to a close with a look at life after homeschool and how to get your student ready: college, career, transcripts, the whole nine yards.
If your high school student is considering college, he will need to decide which colleges to apply to. And if your high school doesn’t want to go to college, he still should work through this process along with you to decide which is his least-hated school. Picking favorite schools, applying for admissions, finding scholarships, and determining a financial plan take time and effort. Most teens are not highly motivated to even think about these issues, let alone do the paperwork.
But that’s why we are the parents, to make them do things they don’t want to do.
How to Help your Homeschool High School Student Choose a College
There are three questions that will help guide you and your student toward the right college for him:
- What career, interest, or ministry is God likely leading him toward?
- What educational or philosophical priorities are most important to your family?
- What campus culture fits the student best?
The intersection of these three areas contains a smaller group of schools that fit your student best. It’s the sweet spot of colleges that he will seriously consider and compare. But just like homeschooling philosophy or curriculum, it’s not the same for every student. That’s why you’ll want to help your student think through these issues.
For example, I’ll show you how our first son walked through the process of choosing his college.
1. Identify a major or school of learning
Gian always knew he wanted to study the sciences, though his specific interests changed over the years. In middle school, he was into astronomy and considered studying astrophysics in college. In much of high school, his interest was in geology; he wanted to be the next John Morris. But when he learned that actually geologists don’t spend all day every day standing a little too close to volcanos or showing people pictures of themselves next to volcanoes, but rather worked long hours in labs organizing rocks, he lost interest. By his senior year, however, he was completely in love with math.
Could he make a living mathing for the rest of his life? Well, actually, yes, quite easily, as a matter of fact. So it was decided: math it is. His only stipulation was that college math must be new and different from high school math, which bored him.
Now he knew he needed a college with a strong math program, preferably a respected school of science. He asked a few scientists he respected for recommendations to start his list of prospective schools.
2. Set the school parameters.
This is where the parents weighed in. We strongly advised him to get his undergraduate degree from a Christian university. Since this was his first experience living away from home and his first time taking classes outside his house, we told him this was a good way to transition from homeschooling to real life and specifically academia. He can learn in a college environment without questioning if the faculty have his best interests — academically, morally, and spiritually — at heart, and he can practice living on his own within protective rules. To sweeten the incentive to choose right, we offered to pay room and board at the Christian college of his choice.
In addition, since he was looking for a degree in the sciences, considering higher education afterward, and perhaps pursuing a career in academia, we advised him to choose an accredited school.
Those were the only two parameters: Christian and accredited. He had his own financial considerations since he is solely responsible for tuition.
3. Consider campus culture.
From the list of colleges he had recommended to him at the beginning of his process and the names of Christian colleges his dad and I knew off hand, Gian already had a small list of schools to choose from. He did his own internet research to add to the list. And then he began checking out their websites and contacting their admissions offices.
From internet stalking, though, he learned a lot about the culture of the schools, and that quickly clarified the choice in his mind. He realized that having some amenities and opportunities were important to him. He also learned that he had preferences for student body size. He didn’t know how he felt about those things, though, until he started looking at their websites and brochures, getting a feel for how they advertised themselves.
Gian determined he wanted to study in a large school that offered state of the art technology and a variety of student experiences and opportunities. He wanted to ensure the student body itself was diverse in demographics. And he wanted the science school, itself, to be highly respected, having faculty with frequently published research.
Once he recognized his campus preferences, on top of his choice of major and our family parameters, Gian had narrowed down the thousands of colleges in America to a short list of only two or three possibilities. And very quickly, one rose to the top of his list.
He was fairly certain that was his school of choice, but he needed to make sure. He had, after all, not visited a single college yet! By this time, however, he had talked with the admissions offices of his top schools, obtained financial and admissions information from them, and even talked with a faculty member at his favorite school. Now it was time to visit.
He signed up for College for a Weekend at Liberty University the fall of his senior year (many colleges and universities have similar opportunities for high school students to visit). Since we had never seen this college for ourselves, his father and I flew up there with Gian. We toured the campus and talked to some faculty members and several students for over an afternoon, then we left Gian to stay for the weekend and we drove away, confident he would make the right decision for himself.
How to Help Your Teen Decide
I think the college decision is a little scary. We want to see our teens make the right choice, and we want college to be a good experience. We have our own good and bad college experiences to learn from, and we want to see our students not make the mistakes we did. How can we protect our young adults?
Keep it in perspective.
There are some truly big, scary decisions in life. Like whether to wholeheartedly follow the Lord. Who to marry and when. Stuff like that changes lives forever.
College is a little below that. Yes, there are horror stories about young people who have given up on their faith or ruined themselves financially because of bad college decisions. But quite frankly, most college mistakes don’t have to ruin everything for all time. Our young people will make mistakes. They will even sin. And they will learn from all of it. Choosing a college won’t send them to hell. How they handle the decision and the results is what ultimately matters.
Fight selective battles.
Some parts of the college experience will scare you more than others. Like maybe the spiritual battle or the financial hardship. Find your one or two main ones, and make those your parameters. That’s why we chose Christian college and you pay your own bills without loans. Those are the rules because abandoning the faith or going into deep debt are really the only ways we define college failure.
Let them choose.
This is a big decision, but young adults need decision-making practice. It’s scary to leave it to an immature teen, but our young people won’t become mature without experience. We can give them the experience of making a life-changing decision themselves; let them pick their college.
Let them pay.
Yes, college is wicked difficult to pay for now, exponentially harder than when we were students. But as the saying goes, “Life is hard, and then you die.”
Don’t spring it on your student all of a sudden, either. Make sure he knows all through high school that he needs to pay for his education. Remind him often that his grades mean money when it comes to scholarships (he won’t believe you, but he’ll learn). And keep reminding him when he gets his job that he needs to save for those first bills.
As soon as he decided for sure, Gian started the application process. And as soon as he was accepted, he began paying his bill. It sobered him up quickly to see his bank account drained so fast.
Let him go.
Driving away to college, whether across town or across the country, is a huge step into adulthood. Your young person is suddenly treated as an adult, with adult responsibilities and expectations. Taking care of his own academic, social, financial, and physical responsibilities prepares him for a lifetime of adulthood.
It’s time for us, then, to take a big step back. We aren’t looking over his shoulder anymore. We can’t clean up his messes or even tell him he has spinach in his teeth (is he brushing his teeth?!). Now it’s time to pray, offer advice (on the rare occasions he’ll call home), and watch God turn our young person into the adult he was always created to be.
Is your teen considering college? How do you help him decide?
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