College-Prep Homeschooling: What Records Do Colleges Want?

Professor, Author

Every state has its own requirements regarding what records homeschools need to maintain. Colleges and universities may be able to use the records you’ve kept for your state or for your own sake, but they may need additional information or need your records in a different format. It’s a good idea to contact the colleges or universities that your child hopes to attend and ask what format they prefer for homeschool transcripts and portfolios and what specific information they require. You don’t want to provide too much or too little information or put the information into a format that would be frustrating for an admission counselor to sort through and try to understand. It’s best to ask questions ahead of time and make the admission process as smooth as possible.

At the most basic level, colleges and universities want to be able to quickly and easily identify the courses a student completed during high school that fulfill the college’s minimum admission requirements. Schools are also interested in your child’s grade point average (GPA), which has to be high enough to meet minimum requirements. All of this information is included on high school transcripts.

It is important to know specifically what the college or university’s course requirements are and to make sure the transcripts reflect them. For example, many schools require high school students to have three to four years of mathematics. Some schools further specify that students need to have completed at least one year each of algebra and geometry and the remaining two years should include courses somehow related to algebra. Certain schools may specify that students must also take trigonometry or calculus. When planning curricula and keeping records, keep in mind the requirements of your child’s preferred colleges.

It is also helpful to know what the school’s policies are for students who don’t meet the minimum admission requirements. Colleges and universities realize that students from smaller schools and homeschools may not have had the same learning opportunities as students from larger schools, and they occasionally make allowances for this.

For example, many colleges require at least two years of courses in the same foreign language and want to know how the student fulfilled the speaking lab portion of the courses. Many smaller schools may not be able to provide foreign language courses or if they do, the lab portion may have been extremely limited. Colleges and universities often handle situations like this on a case-by-case basis or by setting a policy that allows students to fulfill the missing credits by taking the appropriate classes during the first year or two of college. However, it’s better to get this information ahead of time while it can still be addressed in the high school program instead of waiting until your child applies for admission.

In addition to mathematics and foreign languages, many colleges and universities require three to four years of English courses with an emphasis on reading and writing, three to four years of natural sciences with at least one course that includes a lab, and three to four years of social sciences with at least one year of American government or American history. Again, individual schools may have more specific or more general requirements, so check ahead of time. Of course, it’s difficult to gear your curriculum and records to appeal to every school, but usually there is a commonality between the requirements for various schools. You can deal with exceptions on a case-by-case basis.

Beyond the basic courses, some schools may have preferred or required criteria for the types of extracurricular courses or school-related activities they want to see reflected in a student’s transcripts. These criteria are likely to be different for each type of school, but may include physical fitness/education courses (especially for military academies); courses that require volunteer work, church activities, or community involvement projects (especially for religious or private colleges); or involvement with sports, clubs, or any sort of school-related activities where students have opportunities to work with others in a group setting and act in a leadership capacity.

Strong academic marks are always a credit to any high school student who is applying to college, but 4.0 grade point averages and perfect scores on the ACT and SAT aren’t everything. Some colleges and universities emphasize diversity in their student populations. Well-rounded students with a variety of experiences and good grades help provide that diversity.

Beyond a list of courses and activities completed during high school, colleges and universities may require that students obtain at least minimum scores on the ACT or SAT tests to prove they are ready for college-level work. Although these scores are sent to colleges and universities via the testing service, you should know each school’s requirement for which test must be taken, by what date, and the minimum score that must be obtained. At some schools, students’ scores on these tests determine the scholarships they are eligible for. Some schools, such as the military academies, have their own admission tests students must complete.

Some colleges will accept a homeschool transcript as proof that a student completed high school, while others require that incoming students take the test to earn a GED (General Education Diploma) or the student take an SAT Subject Test. However, these requirements have been challenged on more than one occasion by the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA). If a school indicates that a GED or completion of the SAT Subject Test is required for admission and this presents a problem for you, you may want to contact the school to see if there are other options. Sometimes high school transcripts, achieving a certain level score on the ACT or SAT test, or transferring from a two-year school can be substituted for the GED. Currently, the GED is not required for federal financial aid. If you run into difficulties in this regard, contact the HSLDA for assistance.

Recordkeeping for college admission requirements

  • Prepare transcripts and course descriptions
  • Acquire transcripts from community colleges and other schools attended
  • Complete required high school courses
  • Attain and document sufficient grade point average (GPA)
  • Attain sufficient placement test scores (ACT, SAT, others)
  • Record extracurricular activities
  • Complete GED or other testing, if required

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