Preparing for College

Note: For a comprehensive look at resources and information beneficial for teaching teens see HSLDA’s Homeschooling Thru High School website.

As the ranks of home-educated graduates continues to grow, the number of these students seeking college admission increases as well. College entrance requirements often catch families by surprise. The purpose of this memo is to help families understand and be prepared for the college admissions process. As you embark upon the journey of preparing your children for college, keep in mind the following.


(1) Every college and university is different. We can describe what to expect generally, but you will find the application process varies from school to school as you begin your investigation. For example, a college or university might require homeschoolers to provide transcripts from parents, SAT scores, SAT II scores, ACT scores, or more than one of the above. Some schools even have their own entrance exams. Since few colleges today require homeschoolers to have a GED score, taking this test is not generally recommended. If, however, a college does request it, you may want to ask them to waive this requirement.
(2) Colleges often place requirements on homeschooled students which they do not require of their public school applicants. Although homeschoolers tend to be excellent and qualified students, their high school transcripts are not usually accredited by an outside agency. To maintain standing with their own accrediting agencies, some colleges and universities believe they must impose extra requirements on home educated students. However, in recent years, more and more colleges are now accepting well-prepared and accurate parent-created transcripts without hesitation.

Designing a 4-Year High School Program

College preparation should begin when the student starts high school (around age 13). Let us look briefly at what traditional high schools do and what colleges are used to seeing on applications. Below is a typical example of courses required for graduation by most high schools for those students planning to go on to college. There are five main academic subject areas: English, Math, History/Social Studies, Science, and Foreign Language. In addition to these core academic subjects, students usually add electives to supplement their high school programs. Electives require less work than academic core courses and are usually given either one-half or one-quarter credit depending on the hours that are logged. (Evaluation of credit hours is discussed later.) Although it varies somewhat from state to state, the plan looks something like this:

Typical College Prep High School 4-Year Program

Subject Suggested Credits Possible Courses
English 4 credits Composition, American Lit, World Lit, British Lit, Rhetoric, Creative Writing, Speech, Journalism, etc. Consider AP courses
Math 4 credits Algebra 1&2, Geometry, Trig, Pre-Calculus, Calculus, AP Calculus
History 3-4 credits Essentials: World History, American History, American Government Consider: Economics, Geography, Constitutional Law, and AP courses
Science 3-4 credits Physical Science, General Science, Earth Science, Biology, Chemistry, Physics Consider AP courses
Foreign Language 2-4 credits French, Spanish, Latin, German, Russian, etc. (at least two years of the same language are preferred)
P.E. 1-2 credits Physical education—many options are available
Fine Arts 1-2 credits Art, Music, Drama, Photography, etc.
Electives 4 credits Practical Arts, Life Skills, Computer Skills, Bible, Church History, etc.

Total Credits: 24-28 credits

Note that homeschoolers are not legally required to follow this list during their high school years. This framework is provided for purposes of comparison only. As a homeschool instructor you have a lot of flexibility to assess your student’s needs and abilities and select a course of study accordingly. Most colleges that want to see a transcript, however, will be looking for one which follows these general guidelines.

If you begin homeschooling in the high school years, you may need to focus more attention on academics than students who have been homeschooling most of their lives. Because the tutorial method of homeschooling tends to allow students to cover material in less time, homeschoolers are often ready for college work before they reach 12th grade. Therefore, carefully evaluate your own student to determine how much high school education is needed and what kinds of courses will benefit him or her. Keep an eye open for courses that will benefit his or her college career.

Let us take a closer look at what a four-year plan represents in terms of hours, weeks and years of class instruction. If you plan to prepare a transcript to use for college application, it needs to be accurate and generally conform in educational content to a four-year plan.

Each one-year course represents one credit towards graduation. Public school requirements vary from state to state; although 21-23 credits may be the norm, 24 credits minimum is recommended.

If you know what college your child wants to attend you should request the college’s catalog and note its admission requirements. Keep in mind that colleges usually list the minimum high school requirements in their catalogs or on their website, while a student who is offered admission typically exceeds the stated minimums.

If at this point your child is not certain he will attend college, your high school program still needs to be well-rounded and complete since your student will not be receiving any further formal education. The questions to consider in this case are: Are they ready academically for adult life? Are they equipped should they choose to pursue a college education at some later date?

Grading Guidelines

Generally, one credit equals one year or 36 weeks of 50 minutes per day per subject. You may have heard this referred to as a “Carnegie unit.” It amounts to a little over four hours per subject each week or 150 hours per year. Studies of public schools reveal that due to several factors, real academic on-task time is actually half that or less.

In compiling your list of courses, be sure to take into account non-traditional classes. Parents can adapt these courses to meet college requirements fairly easily. The flexibility of homeschooling allows for a much broader range of courses than schools normally offer. Homeschools are not confined to teaching just what public schools teach. Colleges and universities receive applications from all over the world and usually are not dismayed by seeing courses that may seem unusual when compared to public school courses.

Say, as an example, you choose to teach Nutrition. As you seek to fulfill high school requirements, this class can meet Health, Science, or elective requirements, depending on where you need it. Remember to include seminars, lectures, tours, field trips and vacations as you compile course hours. While these may not stand alone as a subject, they may be combined with other studies to form a course.

Feel free to make up the name of your course in a way that describes its content. For instance, “Contemporary Moral Issues” could meet requirements for Social Studies. It would include research on contemporary moral issues like abortion, gun control, religious freedom, euthanasia or homeschooling. The student would select a position and write a documented paper and report on each subject. A string of such reports would comprise a course. Preparation might include interviewing a doctor or attorney as a part of researching the topic.

You are limited only by your creativity. These courses will go further towards college preparation than simply perusing a textbook, memorizing facts and reciting them for an exam. Textbooks have their place, but you do not need to be limited to their exclusive use. Most young people find learning much more enjoyable if they use textbooks as a springboard to branch into other resources for learning. Remember, however, not to count time spent on a particular activity for two different credits. Activities may be divided, but not counted twice.

Listed below are some examples of non-traditional courses that homeschoolers have used.

Academic Courses Elective Courses
Nutrition Institute in Basic Life Principles
Public Speaking Back-to-Genesis Science Seminar
Sign Language State or National Park Programs
Rhetoric and Articulation Justice of the Old Testament
Linguistics Fashion Clinic
Shakespearean Plays and Sonnets Astronomy Programs and Lectures (could supplement an academic course)
Poetry Music Lessons
Creative Writing Sports Camps (could also be Phys Ed)
Russian Literature Calligraphy

You might also consider using unit studies for some courses. Unit studies are a method of teaching where an incident or specific subject like the Iraqi War is used as a springboard to study the entire Middle East under specific topics like geography, religion, history, culture, music, etc. An earthquake in Japan may set in motion a group of studies including geology, geography, oceanography, seismology, etc. Mini-studies do not necessarily comprise a course, but, over time, they can be added together. Various categories of studies should be kept in a diary or other record. Over a period of years, the necessary hours for granting units will be evaluated and recorded on a transcript.

Activities such as internships, apprenticeships, debate participation, and even a career development course may also have a place on your transcript. These courses should include specific educational value that can be objectively evaluated in order to award credit and a final grade. It is also possible to record smaller courses as one-half of a credit (20 weeks) or as a quarter credit (10 weeks). These courses typically are viewed as elective courses which are not required to be taken, but are chosen by the student to supplement and enrich his education.

The value of recordkeeping cannot be overstated as the primary ingredient to compiling a transcript for college. When a member of the admissions department at Harvard was asked what the department looks for on an application, he responded, “something different.” You can build an impressive high school transcript by expanding far beyond what conventional schools offer.

Preparing Transcript Records for College Entrance

Your transcript should be designed for the convenience of admissions directors who have to go through hundreds and sometimes thousands of transcripts. You can create your own transcript using the following information.

1. Your transcript needs to include grades 9-12. Classes are sometimes taken in the lower grades that count towards high school graduation, for instance, language or mathematics courses. These may be included at the parent�s discretion. Some courses may begin in the 8th grade and be completed in the 9th and would be included under 9th grade records. Keep in mind that textbooks used must be high school level in order to receive high school credit. Also, consider that even though some high school courses are taken in 8th grade, it is a good idea to continue taking solid academic courses through the 12th grade year since colleges do not like to see easy or light course loads taken in the senior year. If your child takes some high school courses in 8th grade, then continue having them take more advanced courses each year all the way through the senior year. Some colleges may be hesitant to accept courses for high school credit that were earned prior to the 8th grade.
2. Your transcript should indicate the grade level of each course. This may be determined at the parent’s discretion. At the beginning of each course, determine the method of evaluation you will use. Tests, quizzes, papers, etc. may all be used for evaluation purposes.
3. Work experiences or work-study, internships, and apprenticeships along with a short job description should be included. All information needs to be complete but concise. This information is typically included on a separate sheet which you can attach to the transcript.
4. An extra sheet of paper should be included to succinctly describe non-traditional courses. For example, Linguistics would be explained in one or two brief sentences.
5. Your transcript should indicate credits earned:
9 weeks = ¼ credit
18 weeks = ½ credit
36 weeks = 1 credit
6. Your transcript should indicate grades earned and your grading scale. For example:
A = 92-100 B = 84-91
C = 76-83 D = 67-75

You can determine the scale you want to work with, but be sure to include this information. Consistently use one scale throughout the entire transcript.


Indicate grade point average (GPA). This is normally computed with A = 4 pts.; B = 3 pts.; C = 2 pts.; and D = 1 pt.

To calculate a Grade Point Average, simply convert each letter grade to quality points, total the quality points, and divide by the total number of credits.

As an example:

English 1 credit A 4.0
Algebra 1 1 credit B 3.0
Physical Science 1 credit B 3.0
Spanish 1 1 credit B 3.0
World History 1 credit A 4.0
Art History 1 credit B 3.0
Total Quality Points/Total Credits 20.0/6 = 3.33 GPA

The yearly GPA and the overall GPA for all four years of high school should also be computed. For instance:

9th 3.0
10th 3.4
11th 3.2
12th 3.6

Cumulative GPA: 3.3
(Calculation: 3.0 + 3.4 + 3.2 + 3.6 = 13.2
13.2/4 = 3.3
This method only works if the same number of credits is taken each year; if credits vary per year, then a weighted average should be used.)

8. Your transcript should include your graduation date. Colleges want to know when your studies were completed.
9. Your transcript may include the scores of college admissions tests (SAT, ACT); however, most colleges request that the results be sent directly from the testing service and need not be included in the transcript. In addition, some colleges may also require a homeschooler to take placement exams that the college will give in order to place the student in the appropriate course level.

Many admissions departments ask for a letter written by the applicant telling why he or she wants to be accepted. The application form will indicate this, but it’s good to be prepared. In preparing your application or the letter, supply only the information requested. If admissions officers want to know more, they will ask.

College Application and Admissions

It is a good idea for your student to contact the colleges of choice two years prior to planned admission to secure their college catalogs and applications. Public libraries often have a selection of college catalogs. However, most of the necessary information is now available over the Internet. College websites are full of