By Christine Abrahams, Ed.D.
Many families can be nervous to homeschool during the high school years for fear of their children not getting into college and the mystery and difficulty of choosing a curriculum. However, high school can be the best time to homeschool if a parent is driven and organized and willing to put in careful effort to give their child a quality experience while putting an emphasis on preparing them for college.
Let’s start out with what most colleges want to see on a transcript. A transcript documents all the courses your child has taken, the grade, and the number of credits earned. Courses are often outlined in something called the “Program of Studies” which lists the course title, a brief description, and number of credits. As for the grade, every high school calculates grades differently from numeric to alpha and from weighted to unweighted. Regardless of how calculate your child’s grade, be consistent and be sure to note the grading system you used on your child’s transcript.
Insider tip: Colleges don’t care about weighted courses. Public schools add weight to honors classes and Advanced Placement classes to make parents happy. Colleges end up recalculating all grades into a 4.0 scale. They know that AP courses are harder which favorably impacts “strength of schedule,” which means that your child has taken rigorous courses.
How does all this translate to homeschooling? First, you will need to make sure your child gets enough core courses to satisfy colleges. Core courses fall into: English, math, science, social studies, world/foreign language. Usually public school students are required to take 3 years of science, math and social studies, 4 years of English, and 1-2 years of world language. The rule of thumb to get into a college is to take 4 years of all core courses, except world/foreign languages, which varies. These core courses are often referred to as academic units and, believe it or not, colleges count academic units each year.
An Example of A Core Course for “Freshman” Year
So, for “freshman” year, you should have your child study a subject in each core area as well as whatever else she’s interested in. This doesn’t mean that you have to conduct or even sign up for a “traditional” course. It can mean that your child is working on reading a particular type of literature, say fantasy, and has done some creative and analytical writing around those books. This is great. You should keep a reading list and other written or created artifacts (for your portfolio – more on that in a later article) and begin to write up your program of studies entry, which might look something like this:
Backgrounds for Literature & 19th Century American Literature — 5 credits
The course examines the origins of literature in such sources as mythology and the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. A solid understanding of the contribution of these sources of literature to Western literature is developed through comparative analysis and other critical writing. 19th Century American Literature traces the changes in poetry, novels, and short stories, as well as the essays of such writers as Emerson and Thoreau. As America changed from an agricultural to an industrial society in the 19th century, literature changed as well. Fiction, particularly the short story, is be examined in depth with special attention given to the contributions of Thoreau, Whitman, Hawthorne, and Melville. At least two major papers are required.
You can add a reading list to this or any text books as well as the specifics of the papers written. The name of the above course and credits along with the grade would be recorded on your transcript. All states require a certain number of credits for graduation. In New Jersey it’s 120 credits. The way courses can be assigned credits varies from district to district and from school to school. So for example, within my state, some schools award 5 credits for a full year class, but other schools award 10 credits. Check to see what the total credit requirement is for graduation in your state so you know how many credits your child will need. Then check to see how your local high school does it which can give you a good guideline. All of that information is usually posted on the high school website. Just be consistent on how you assign credits.
You can count things as internships in any area – science, math, etc. You can count any projects or any study abroad your child has done or even travelling with the family. But make sure you have artifacts to include in your portfolio and give the experiences concrete titles along with descriptions and credits for your Program of Studies. Here’s an example. Your family takes a trip to England. Prior to the trip your child prepares by not only studying British history, but also immersing herself in classic British texts. Here’s what an entry might look like:
The Britain Experience: Learning About England through Experience, History and Literature — 3 credits
This ten-day tour of England will include visits to the Lake Districts, Yorkshire, Stratford, Bath and London. The following texts are required reading prior to departure: Ivanhoe, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Idylls of the King, Canterbury Tales, Utopia, Macbeth, A Tale of Two Cities, Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, The Black Arrow, The Great Divorce and the Tales of Peter Rabbit as well as A Brief History of Great Britain by William Burns.
The student will be able to make comparisons of present day England to its past. In addition, the student will keep a daily blog of all experiences and reflections about her travels, how the themes in the literature which was read is or is not still reflected in British society and finally a commentary on the differences and similarities between America and England. The culminating blog post will be a critical analysis of the decline of the British Empire while comparing and contrasting the decline of America as a world power. You can read the blog posts here: ____________.
What Should Core Courses Cover?
The core courses should show a progression from freshman to senior year.
English: If you use the traditional labels for English, it would be English 1, English 2, English 3, English 4 or English 9, 10, 11, 12. Within each of those designation, you would have a description of what your child learned, the books read and the papers written.
Math: Most colleges want to see skills beyond Algebra 2. Assuming your child studied Algebra 1 at the middle school level you would have: Freshman year: Geometry; Sophomore year: Algebra 2; Junior year: Trigonometry or Precalculus; Senior year: Calculus. This sequence is important because students are expected to have been exposed to math through trigonometry by the time they take the ACT or SAT in the spring of their junior year. The ACT will test on pre-algebra, elementary algebra, intermediate algebra, coordinate geometry, plane geometry, and trigonometry. The redesigned SAT contains more advanced math including trigonometry, a focus on algebra (linear Equations, functions, inequalities); problem solving and data analysis (ratios, rates, percentages, graphs, linear growth, frequencies, probability, statistics) and higher level math (quadratic or exponential functions) and geometry.
Science: It’s best to make sure your child covers biology, chemistry and physics. These are key. To get a fourth year of science, see what your child is interested in. It could be astronomy, biochemistry, bioethics, quantum physics, anatomy and physiology, toxicology, pharmacology . . . the list is endless. A good place to find advanced science courses is your local community college.
Social Studies: Students should have a world history course, an American history course, and additional areas of interest, such as sociology, anthropology, political science, or economics.
World/Foreign Languages: It’s best to stick to one language. Try to have 3-4 years in one language. The language you choose is up to you. Colleges don’t have a preference.
How Can I Verify My Child’s Work?
Although your child can learn from any experience imaginable, colleges want to see classes taken from third-party, verifiable sources. I would recommend that beginning junior year (earlier if your child is ready) your child should take some community college classes in core areas. Alternatively, she can pursue these studies online at EDX.org or Coursera.org, both of which offer online college courses, some in real time and some pre-recorded. They have prominent professors from a number of universities teaching about anything and everything you can imagine. For a small fee and if you take their final exam, you can get a certificate saying that you completed the course. Both the online and community college options are excellent academically and can save you a lot of money in the long run, as community college credits are sometimes transferable to other colleges.
There is also the “Advanced Placement” (AP) option. These are high school level courses that can be used for college credit at some universities. College Board certifies the content and makes an AP course test available for you to take to demonstrate mastery. Often if your child scores between a 3 or a 5 on the AP test, colleges will either give you credit for their equivalent course or will give you advanced standing. You do not need to take an AP course to take the test; however, finding a high school that will let you sit for the test without being enrolled in the school can sometimes be challenging. You can find online vendors that offer AP courses, but you will have to register for the test at your local high school or surrounding schools. Try your local high school first.
Homeschooling through high school takes organization and forethought, but it can be rewarding and can give your child a unique experience. If done well, homeschooling can also be an advantage when applying to colleges as it can set your child apart from the rest of the applicants because of your child’s highly individualized course of study. Of course, homeschooling may not be appropriate for every child. Be sure to listen to your child’s needs and weigh their strengths to see which educational opportunity is best.