#063 College Admission Strategies for Homeschool Families

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Rebecca Stuart – Orlowski  00:00

You know, we’re really documenting everything that goes on, you know, the student is documented, obviously with a resume. And then you know, parents will document that as well and eventually give those documents to the colleges. So, if there are barriers, for instance, AP exams for homeschoolers, that’s something that I think would be important for your audience to know is that, at least here in California, and I’m finding elsewhere, AP exams are hard to come by for homeschoolers, because they are school based tests, and a school counselor has to allow that. And since COVID, it’s been a lot harder. So in that 10th 11th grade, we are encouraging homeschool students perhaps to take college courses instead. Here in California, they’re really accessible. So a lot of home schoolers here take community college courses.


Lisa Robbins  00:57

While strong communication skills are at the core of any college application, for homeschooled teens is even more important given the extra hoops a student must jump through while applying. Rebecca Stewart or Loski is an independent college counselor who has been supporting homeschool families through the college bound journey since 2012. And personally, she knows this territory well as a homeschool mom whose own sons and been admitted to selective universities such as MIT, Princeton, Vanderbilt, the University of Pennsylvania, and Northeastern, I’ve invited her to share how to positively present homeschool students through the application process, while being certain every unique T is crossed, and all the i’s get dotted. I’m Lisa Mark Robbins, and I want to welcome you to College and Career Clarity, a flourish coaching production. Let’s dive right in to a great conversation with Rebecca.


Rebecca Stuart – Orlowski  02:03

Welcome, thank you so much for having me, Lisa. It’s great to be here. Wow, this I know is going to solve the overwhelm and problems. For many families who really need a roadmap through this process. I know it’s sort of unique that extra hoops is am I really saying it right? Because I don’t work with a ton of homeschool families, would you say there’s a lot of extra hoops that they have to jump through? I would say there are some extra hoops, not only for the students, but for homeschool parents. And in fact, I think what you described at the beginning, the focus on communication goes both for the student and the parents. So I would say if anything, you know, it’s a team, it’s a team effort.


Lisa Robbins  02:52

So those parents are going to need to be a little bit more involved on the homeschool side than when and you work with traditional students as well, that you do have a specialty with this population. So that and I like that because you’re able to not just speak to the homeschool side, you can kind of differentiate the process as well.


Rebecca Stuart – Orlowski  03:11

Absolutely. Right. Yeah. And you know, as we work with regular students, parents are typically not as involved some parents are but for homeschooling, it really is critical, particularly for independent homeschoolers who are taking care of everything themselves. So I sit here in San Diego, and there’s multiple ways to homeschool here in California. But what I’m going to address today, probably what your audience will want to hear are those who are independent. So the parent actually functions as the school counselor. So they’re called upon to write those documents that would normally be written by, you know, a public or private school counselor. So that becomes a really critical part. And I work with parents a lot just on those documents. In the same vein, those homeschool students are also called upon to give additional information about what their experience is like and why they homeschool why they came to homeschooling. What benefits has it given them. So on both fronts, the communication from both parent and student is really critical for colleges to understand exactly what their experience has been.


Lisa Robbins  04:21

Yeah, when you say that the parents in that seat and being that school counselor, I mean, that feels like a lot because we know there’s a lot that goes into that. If we back up a little bit. So we’re we’re we were kind of thinking and referencing that application process. What about before the end of the junior year, you know, freshman, sophomore, junior year? How would the homeschool families process look a little bit different? What tips would you have in that 10 to the 10th 11th


Rebecca Stuart – Orlowski  04:54

grade piece? Yeah, great question. I would say you know homeschooler Is are similar in many ways and other students right there, they’re still, you know, taking those appropriately challenging courses. They’re selecting activities that, you know, they’re interested in. Sometimes depending on where you live, I work with homeschoolers all over the country, you might need to be more intentional, right? You’re not in a school with, you know, hundreds of other students. So you have to really be intentional about finding your activities. So parents, and students are on the lookout, you know, are there you know, co ops, what kind of activities in the community can you do? It’s really important for them to show colleges that they are social, right, that question still comes up. What about socialization, not to promote my LinkedIn page, but I wrote an article about my own homeschooling experience. I think it was something called, you know, homeschool to college. And it talked about this idea that home schoolers not socialized when, in fact, most home schoolers are very socialized. In fact, they’re rarely home. So it’s sort of a misnomer. So, you know, homeschoolers are not home, they’re off taking community college classes, they’re volunteering in neighborhood, you know, organizations, they’re, you know, going on, you know, trips and doing all sorts of wonderful things. But yes, you know,


Lisa Robbins  06:28

you’re you’re like, we’re seeing our as a homeschool parent, we’re seeing our kids as little as you see your kid who is in the public, or the private high school, kid, if I want you when we’re finished recording of you can send me the link to that episode. And we’ll definitely get or that article that you had on LinkedIn if you could, because I think that would be a really fantastic resource for families to be like thinking outside the box, because like you said, if you’re at a public high school or private high school, there’s clubs to join and teams to join, and it’s kind of naturally there. So these students are going to be just as socialized. Right? But it’s going to take greater intention,


Rebecca Stuart – Orlowski  07:09

greater intention, and there are some barriers. So that’s probably something that I’d love to address here. For instance, my eldest son, he was a great baseball player. But here in California, homeschoolers aren’t allowed to play varsity sports. So, in freshman year, he played on an AAU team, he was co MVP. So he’s really good. Sophomore year, he had to sit out and we had to make the choice. Do we continue to homeschool? Or does he join a charter school so he can play baseball? For him academics trumped that because he was really advanced, he was taking upper division college level math and physics courses. And that would have been a compromise. A junior year, he was able to play baseball again on a one year team. And then he had to sit out in senior year. But here comes the communication part, right? We explained that he explained that I explained that in my counselor letter, you know, this is what happened. So that would be the benefit. You know, what, as we’re moving to our college applications, we’re, you know, we’re really documenting everything that goes on, you know, the student is documented, obviously, with a resume. And then, you know, parents will document that as well and eventually give those documents to the colleges. So if there are barriers, for instance, AP exams for homeschoolers, that’s something that I think would be important for your audience to know is that, at least here in California, and I’m finding elsewhere, AP exams are hard to come by for homeschoolers, because they are school based tests, and a school counselor has to allow that. And since COVID, it’s been a lot harder. So in that 10th 11th grade, we are encouraging homeschool students, perhaps to take college courses instead. Here in California, they’re really accessible. So a lot of homeschoolers here take community college courses. So those are some of the things that homeschoolers need to be aware of when they’re planning out their curriculum over high school.


Lisa Robbins  09:07

So there is really just weighing what’s in the best interest of that student at the time. And it sounds like you know, I’m in Cincinnati, Ohio. So what is the case and California may not at all be the case here might not be the case in Florida. So therefore, know what your students allowed to do. Because if you guys had lived in a different state, perhaps your son would have been able to play baseball. All right, do it right


Rebecca Stuart – Orlowski  09:36

kind of present. Oh, absolutely. Yeah. There’s laws in other states, like you mentioned, Florida, that actually I think it was called a Tim Tebow law, because he was a homeschooler. And so you know, because of him, you know, they allowed homeschoolers to participate in sports. And I’ve worked with a couple of homeschoolers in Cincinnati. And it’s a pretty friendly place to you know, do whatever you need to do. So there aren’t


Lisa Robbins  09:57

a whole continuum.


Rebecca Stuart – Orlowski  10:00

Exactly right. And I think context becomes really critical. So that’s where that communication is so important, both on the students part and the parents part is to, not to, you know, say, oh, feel sorry for me, but just say, here’s what happened. And here’s what we did instead. So like my son, he couldn’t play baseball senior year. So he ran like a 5k race, right? He just said, Okay, I’m a sports guy, I’m gonna just turn to running. And then I was a dancer. And I choreographed some things for a fundraiser, and he was one of my dancers. So you know, you have lemons, you make lemonade. And so I love it.


Lisa Robbins  10:35

Yeah, that sort of homeschoolers Can I think what I also heard in there, and I think about the work that you and I do with all students, regardless, is, do this while you’re going along, particularly parent be keeping your documents, writing it out ahead of time, even if it’s 10th grade, and you’re thinking, we’ve got so much time. Yep. And you heard something. And they’re like, ah, they better like, start documenting early. Right? No, that’s,


Rebecca Stuart – Orlowski  11:04

I’m glad you heard that. Because I get homeschoolers coming late to me, you know, when we’re scrambling to edit the parent documents and, or the resume. So yeah, so in just really briefly, parents have to do their own transcripts, right, counselor letter, and then something called a school profile, which you know, most high schools have, but this time, it’s the parents writing about their own home school. So these are significant documents. And I do like all my students, but particularly, I would say, my home schoolers to not only keep a resume of activities, but also keep a reading list. I think for homeschoolers, it’s particularly important. There have been historically schools that have asked to see a reading list from homeschoolers. And then homeschoolers will of course, use additional information whenever possible to talk about their experience.


Lisa Robbins  11:56

I’ve many years ago, had a homeschool family in Colorado that I was working with. And the student was applying to musical theater program. So that’s a bear in and of itself, right. And one of the schools did require that bibliography of every book, and they had not done any of this. So they had to go back and recreate it. So I’m just going to say to everybody, listen to Rebecca, she knows what she’s talking about. Because there’s a chance you might need it. And it was a bear for her to put together at the last second when she was busy homeschooling other of her children, too. Yeah,


Rebecca Stuart – Orlowski  12:31

I learned that, you know, I was experimenting with my eldest son, right. And he was my first right, graduated high school 11 years ago. And I remember trying to build that reading list sometime, probably in a senior year. And I live, we have a home library because he was a reader. And I’m just like, have you read this? Honey? What about this? Yeah, so let’s do it as we go along, starting in ninth grade, right, just keeping records beginning in ninth grade, the outnet sent a having said that there are some people who come to homeschooling later. And obviously, you know, that’s a different situation. So we make the best of wherever they are,


Lisa Robbins  13:07

and right, you step in and support them. But if somebody’s listening to this early, get your ducks in a row as you go, yeah. So that’s, you know, that ninth 10th 11th grade, how once we hit that end of junior year, we’re preparing for applications starting to write essays, all of the hoops that it’s a lot for any student to do. And, you know, I think of your own two, they applied to highly selective universities. So therefore, even more essays to write,


Rebecca Stuart – Orlowski  13:40

but what additionally, would a homeschool family have to do? Or maybe have to do? Might have to do, right. As I mentioned, you know, like using the Common Application, for instance, and actually MIT application, the University of California application, they all have something called additional information. Many kids use it many kids don’t for my home schoolers, I usually say it’s critical and necessary that you use that because if you go to a lot of college websites, they’ll even have a specific homeschool, you know, page and they say, tell us about your homeschool experience. So for homeschoolers that naturally you can use the additional information. You know, you talk about, you know what, what it was like, what was the curriculum you use? What benefits you know, did you have even what challenges did you face I had a home schooler this year who talked about very honestly that she wasn’t she was hesitant to homeschool. It was really her mom driving it but as she went on through high school, she recognized the value and the freedom that it gave her to pursue like she has a real passion to work with immigrants. She wants to be a doctor and work with immigrants so that you know that additional information allowed her to really dive into that. So On the student part, I would say that’s really critical. Also, homeschool students should absolutely take advantage of every interview that’s offered, you know, because I think some schools even really say necessary for homeschoolers, they might say optional for others, but they’ll say necessary for homeschoolers. So they should expect to do interviews. And then on the parents part, you know, making sure that those documents are up to date, tidied transcripts with course descriptions, that’s really important. So not just the single page transcript that you’ll see from, you know, public or private school student. But you know, parents are adding course descriptions, that counselor letters really giving a lot of information. And for my own families that hire me, I have sample documents for all of them. And that makes the process a lot easier for them. And then the school profile, you know, hitting the important things, why you homeschool? What’s your homeschool philosophy? What’s your curriculum? Like? What’s your grading scale? So really, like pretty much like a regular schools profile?


Lisa Robbins  16:03

I was thinking about what you were saying the piece of the interviews. So some colleges will have, you know, it’ll just be hidden on their website. It’s not like, anything pops up on the common app, to say, you know, okay, go schedule an interview, you really have to be not only in your application, but you have to be active over on the school website. And I would guess that that’s even more important for the homeschool families to see what those are. Because you might miss out. You know, I love your advice about really important that you take advantage of an interview opportunity to sit down with someone from admissions or an alumni interview. Because I can see that it would be helpful for him them to have that context, right. But you’re gonna have to be over on the school website seeing like, is that even an opportunity? Because they only have so many slots. They don’t have interviews for every single student who’s applying to college.


Rebecca Stuart – Orlowski  16:57

Yeah, and and I mean, that’s a great point. So when we make, you know, college spreadsheet, we might add material from the website, you know, here’s what the homeschooling section says, Because there often is additional information. And some, you know, some schools are going to require tests from home schoolers that they don’t from other students, right. So that’s really critical information.


Lisa Robbins  17:24

I was gonna ask you about that. How so? You know, test optional. We’ve had previous episodes on that here on the podcast, hot topic. You and I are in a professional Facebook group where it is always a hot topic of the week. How do you advise your families around has optional policies? And or if a schools test optional, or they always test optional for homeschool students? How is that working in this day and age as things have changed?


Rebecca Stuart – Orlowski  17:54

Yeah, no, that’s a great question. And again, I go back to communication like if it’s not clear at all, you know, I strongly you know, for homeschoolers, and non homeschoolers, but particularly for homeschoolers ask that’s what they’re there for. That’s what the admissions offices are there for. If it’s not clear, whether or not you need to test, we need to ask, we need to get the answer we need to and it sometimes it might be for more than one person, because a lot of times who’s working in the admissions offices is somebody maybe young, who’s never experienced a homeschooler. And they might give you an answer, and we’re, we have to continue researching because it’s not satisfactory. So it’s really you know, it’s really critical to gather as much data and information as you can err on the side of caution for most of my homeschoolers, I’m gonna be recommending tests, even if, you know, even if it says test optional. There are exceptions. You know, I do it on a case by case basis. You know, I had some students this year who definitely homeschoolers who applied test optional, they, you know, they got into some, you know, schools that they were looking at, but by and large, you know, those homeschoolers that are applying to, you know, highly rejected colleges. I’m gonna say, you know, test all the way for sure, you know, and then there are some schools like MIT that have reinstituted the test requirement anyway. So yeah, Purdue University. Yeah, another one University of Tennessee, right. And we’re keeping there’s a group of us in, you know, in the IEC world who are homeschool experts, we’re trying to keep a tab of those colleges that require tests from homeschoolers, but not from other people. So we’re starting to sort of build that what


Lisa Robbins  19:36

is like statistically because that’s, you know, you’re looking at a lot of those and I love to hear that you’re working alongside others are in the trenches with you. So you’re kind of crowdsourcing the information what percentage of schools would you say that our test optional, actually still require homeschool kiddos to have test?


Rebecca Stuart – Orlowski  19:56

Yeah, I can’t is there I can’t answer that you Yeah, I think we’re just beginning because I think policy right, we’re in March, and I think policy is still being set. So it’s probably a, it’s a fairly small percentage. But, you know, you can be very out there. And also, quite frankly, there are schools that recommend, you know, like Chapman University here in California, they recommended and I’ve seen homeschoolers who without a test score, who were very strong, get into schools, like, you know, UC Santa Barbara, or whatever, that don’t get into Chapman. And we have to wonder, is it because they were lacking a test score. So you know, even those that recommend it, I’m going to encourage students, or, you know, change the college list, if we encountered that last year with several students that, you know, like, I think it was University of Utah that we they just took it off the list, because the student was not going to take the LSAT, because, you know, I said, again, in California, where the University of California and the Cal States are test blind. So those are a big a part of many kids applications. And if that’s the major part of your application, it doesn’t make sense as solely to take a test for one or two, you know, colleges.


Lisa Robbins  21:06

Well, and you and I know that the data shows that most kids go to school within a few hours of home. Right. And so there are definite regional differences. You know, as I sit here in Cincinnati, Ohio State says on their website, while we’re test optional, we find test scores to be highly predictive of who’s gonna be I’m like, Oh, my goodness, just quit paying tonight, I believe will lead Right, right.


Rebecca Stuart – Orlowski  21:30

And that’s right. So in my homeschool world, you know, unless there’s a compelling reason, like I do have a youngest son, very different from my older two son, he’s a senior this year, and he did not apply to any school that required the test. So he didn’t take the SATs. And it was fine. He was admitted to his three schools, there, you know, less selective schools, and it was fine. So it really, you know, once we sort of have that school list built, you know, in junior year, then we’re gonna go okay, this, you know, you clearly need to take a test. And


Lisa Robbins  22:00

I hear you saying to like, if somebody comes to you late in the game, or they’re, you know, they start homeschooling maybe mid High School, while you’re giving great advice, A to Z, that it is possible with intention to get caught up, maybe tweak that college list a little bit, depending on how things are going all hope is not lost, you can still put a very positive voice into that application.


Rebecca Stuart – Orlowski  22:28

Oh, absolutely. I’ve had students come to me start homeschooling in senior year. Wow, I’ve Yeah. So I mean, I think that’s one of the things I love about working with students, you know, moving from one institution to another, it’s to give them that home. So yeah, I’m, I’m just remembering, gosh, probably three years ago, a student came to homeschooling in his senior year and, you know, got into schools like NYU and Berkeley. And it was fine, because there was a really compelling reason for why he chose to homeschool. And I think that’s the other piece that you were asking about, you know, what is the reason that you homeschool? Right, parents explain it, but particularly for students who come to homeschooling as a sophomore, junior or senior, as long as there’s an explanation. It’s not that different from a student changing, you know, schools, you know, private to public Public to Private whatever. We just need to know why right? colleges aren’t looking to, you know, reject you because you came to homeschooling, there’s there are many reasons, people opt to homeschool later in high school. And yes, all hope is not lost.


Lisa Robbins  23:31

We always say, regardless of who you are, as long as you communicate the why. And there’s solid reasoning behind the choices that you make, whether you’re a public school, private school or homeschool, you’re gonna be just fine. It’s just communicate that.


Rebecca Stuart – Orlowski  23:46

Yeah, I wrote. I wrote another blog called, I think it’s called context, character and communication. And those are big threes, the C’s that I think really matter to colleges. And so I encourage my students to, you know, read that and apply it


Lisa Robbins  24:02

right. Well, LinkedIn is the best place for people to keep in touch with you,


Rebecca Stuart – Orlowski  24:06

correct? Yes. So right now Facebook, I have Facebook as well, but LinkedIn, I people follow me on Facebook, as well as LinkedIn. So either one works, yeah. Okay,


Lisa Robbins  24:16

terrific. Well, we will link to that in the show notes as well as get me the that one article. That sounds really fantastic. And thank you for taking some of the guesswork out of what could be a confusing process for homeschool families, Rebecca.


Rebecca Stuart – Orlowski  24:32

Oh, it was great talking with you, Lisa. Thanks for having me again.


Lisa Robbins  24:39

Well, if you’ve made it this far, you’re likely homeschool family or maybe you’re just thinking about homeschooling. My college bound challenge for you this week is to visit a few college websites as a family. Depending on where you are in your college bound journey. You might already know where your students going to apply or if not Just choose some schools that come to mind that perhaps you or your team might be interested in. Then, when you get to the college website, go to the admissions page and seek out those requirements of the homeschool families. Look for what they require and what the processes and the exceptions that you might need to be aware of. And these might vary from school to school. And by the way, parents, if you’ve not yet started that bibliography that Rebecca asked you to do, then there’s no time like the present to start putting it together. Don’t thank us later. If today’s episode was helpful to you, please share it with a friend who needs this too. Sharing following the podcast rating and reviewing helps us resource more students to launch into a successful future. Thank you for listening to the College and Career Clarity podcast, where I help your family move from overwhelmed, confused to motivated, clear and confident about your team’s future.