School & District Management

College Admissions Adapts To Students Taught at Home

By Julie Blair — March 29, 2000 4 min read
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Many colleges and universities that once viewed home-schooled applicants with skepticism have recently begun to change that outlook, a new survey suggests, with some even going so far as to craft special admissions policies to simplify the assessment process for students who have been taught at home.

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Read or download a copy of “Home School Legal Defense Association 1999 College Admissions Survey.” (Requires Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.) Or purchase it for $5 by calling (540) 338-7600.

The survey of 513 public and private colleges and universities found that all but two of the institutions had policies in place to critique home-schooled applicants during the 1998-99 school year, according to a report released last month by home schooling advocates.

Sixty-eight percent of such policies were considered favorable to home-schooled students, evidence that dramatic shifts in attitudes have taken place in higher education over the past few years, said Christopher J. Klicka, the senior counsel for the Home School Legal Defense Association. The group oversees the National Center for Home Education, the organization that conducted the study.

The Home School Legal Defense Association, based in Purcellville, Va., lobbies for home schooling legislation, represents home schoolers in legal cases, and commissions research on the subject. It also helped found Patrick Henry College, a private Christian institution that will open next fall.

In the past, many colleges required that home-schooled students take a barrage of standardized tests and earn the General Educational Development credential in lieu of a high school diploma before applying for admission, Mr. Klicka said. Other institutions required them to score far above the college average on the SAT or ACT, or had no policies at all on home-schooled students.

A majority of institutions responding to the survey now consider the use of portfolios, a parent’s transcript, and SAT and ACT results as legitimate methods of assessing such students’ preparation, the report says. Such methods are advocated by the National Center for Home Education.

New Outlook

“Colleges and universities are changing their attitudes,” Mr. Klicka said. “They are becoming more aware of the evidence that home schooling really works.” Still, nearly one- third of the institutions surveyed require that home-schooled students seek a GED before being considered for admission, the report says. Another 3 percent of schools mandated that home-schooled students take several SAT II exams, which probe knowledge in specific subject areas, such as biology, history, and English.

Requiring completion of the GED high-school-equivalency program or a battery of SAT II exams is discriminatory, Mr. Klicka contended. Many home- schooled students fear they’ll be perceived as high school dropouts if they list the GED on their transcripts, he said.

Both the GED and SAT II tests, however, provide admissions officers the necessary context for assessing students’ abilities, said Barmark Nassirian, the associate executive director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, a Washington-based membership organization that includes some 2,500 national and international colleges and universities.

“The fact that every student’s grades are the one and only product of a unique teacher means we don’t have the clustering effect you get when you are dealing with grades ... from high schools,” Mr. Nassirian said. “When a traditional high school graduate applies, there is some contextual understanding, based on familiarity of the school, as to what those grades mean.”

Even if the admissions officer doesn’t have firsthand knowledge of the rigors of a specific high school, he or she can turn to a database constructed by the College Board that evaluates it, Mr. Nassirian said.

Uncertain Qualifications

Furthermore, parents who are grading their own children may not be objective, Mr. Nassirian said, adding that some home schooling parents are not even qualified to prepare curricula or teach it.

“You don’t know if one parent is a Ph.D. in physics and another a Ph.D. in literature ... or if the case is something a lot different than that,” he said.

The number of students home-schooled in grades K-12 has grown from approximately 800,000 in 1990 to 1.7 million in 1998, the National Center for Home Education estimates. Hard data on home schooling are hard to come by, and researchers differ on the number of students involved. (“Unexplored Territory,” Dec. 8, 1999.)

More than 200,000 students who participated in home schooling are enrolled in college, a number that will likely grow to more than 1 million in the next decade, the center predicts. A total of some 14.5 million U.S. undergraduate students were enrolled in colleges and universities in 1998, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

College-admissions counselors are generally supportive of home- schooled students and want to find ways to help them apply to college, said Irene M. Prue, the assistant director of admissions at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, Ga., who has studied the issue. “The more they know about the movement, the more positive they become,” Ms. Prue said.

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A version of this article appeared in the March 29, 2000 edition of Education Week as College Admissions Adapts To Students Taught at Home

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