Parents often wonder if their homeschooled child is ready for college. As a school counselor that has been working with kids for five years, I often hear the question: How soon is too soon to begin thinking about college for homeschoolers? Depending on the student, you could start as early as eighth or ninth grade. What matters most for parents, is understanding how to help your child while not completely taking over the application process.
And, it’s never easy to stay calm while stressing about finances and trying to help them pick a career path. But, if you take the right steps toward preparing for college together, you should be just fine. With the help of a counselor or advisor, there are so many valuable resources available to help your child prepare for their future.
There’s no perfect formula for finding the right school or dream job, however, there is an effective process you can take in order to get moving in the right direction.
To get started, here are six helpful tips to get your homeschooled child ready for college.
- Gauge your child’s progress. Success of any kind depends on the individual. Whether it’s academic or athletic, some kids progress at a faster rate than others. If your child happens to fall into the advanced category, it’s important to recognize their success early on and take advantage of opportunities like college scholarships. In that case, even the beginning of middle school is an appropriate time to start weighing college choices. But, there’s nothing wrong with late bloomers. Just because your homeschooler may learn at a slower pace, doesn’t mean they aren’t able to achieve the same amount of success. Regardless, your role as a parent is to recognize the track your child is on and guide them down the path that will lead to success.
- Observe their interests. Kids often struggle with identifying what they want. As parents, you can provide a lot of insight early on in their development. For example, if you noticed that since the age of three your child was always very particular and cautious when coloring, that might lead you to believe they have a strong desire for the arts. Using that insight, open up the discussion with your kids. “Why do you enjoy drawing so much? Is that something you’d like to do when you’re older?” Perhaps your child says, “No mom, I hate art. It’s just something that I felt like you always wanted me to do.” Moving forward, you can look into some of their other interests. Or maybe they’ll say, “Absolutely I love art!” Then you can start exploring that as a career path by visiting art museums and looking into art-related fields such as graphic design. Simply paying attention to your child’s interests can help parents weigh potential career possibilities. From there, they’ll start to sense what high school courses they should take in order to be accepted into college programs that meet those desires.
- Encourage dreams, but be realistic too. As adults, we might look back and realize we chose career paths based on good job opportunities and not because it was our passion. Perhaps we figured a salary of $100,000 per year as an engineer would be worth it even if we hated the work. First and foremost, it’s critical for your child to identify their passion. At the same time, you need to be realistic with them. If they want to be a musician, that’s great. It’s possible they could be a great musician, especially if they have talent. But, being a professional musician is difficult and rare. That’s why you should have a backup plan in case that dream doesn’t work out. Find different types of majors, degrees, and job opportunities for them to theoretically pursue as a musician, but if it isn’t an option, what are their other interests? As parents, we need to nurture and instill different passions in our children to make them well-rounded individuals, as well as to set them up for success in college and beyond. Overall, it’s important to teach your kids about how to effectively prepare sound academic and career plans for their future.
- Expose them to reality. Getting your homeschooled child ready for college can be a challenge. Picking a school shouldn’t be about the lifestyle or football rankings. Homeschoolers have to be more focused and must consider setting and class size. If your family comes from a small town, a big city school is a major leap. Most homeschooling environments are very individualized. Freshman lecture halls at larger universities can hold up to several hundred students. Could your child adapt to that atmosphere? Some homeschoolers interact best at smaller schools with more concentrated classrooms. Others may flourish in bigger college towns that give them opportunities to step outside their comfort zone.In terms of careers, homeschoolers can always use more exposure outside the house. Get your child out into the community by volunteering or trying an internship with a local business. Put them in real-world environments so they can determine for themselves whether or not a profession seems ideal. If they find a fit, encourage them to research degree requirements and experiences to pursue in high school and college to add to their resume.
- Help guide rather than lead. Some parents tend to openly favor their alma mater when their child approaches their collegiate years. There’s nothing wrong with making a suggestion, but know when to step back and let them figure it out for themselves. After all, they will be attending for four years, not you. Now if your child expresses interest in Ivy League schools that cost $100,000 a year, and you only have $10,000 saved up, then it’s appropriate to step in and put finances into perspective. Parents should help direct after a certain point, but it’s important to let the student get started on their own. This will help them realize just how critical a four-year commitment truly is in their life. College transfer rates are pretty high these days for students enrolled in their first or second year, because too many kids make the mistake of failing to fully evaluate their decision.
- Don’t wait until the last minute. Time and again, families wait until senior year to get started looking for colleges. By that point, students are rushing the process and panicking. Preparing for college is not simple. Your child can’t sit down for an hour and fill out five applications. The process is too lengthy and you risk not having what you need to complete the application. First, establish a timeline. Start by coming to a homeschooling provider, and say this is what I want to do, what do I need to do to get there? Homeschooling families can always turn to Bridgeway counselors and advisors with questions, to schedule a time to speak, and even sit down together in person. Each year, you and your child should take baby steps toward reaching your goal.
We provide many resources including the Counseling Corner, which includes links and information on topics from looking at college characteristics, narrowing down the search, and what colleges look for in applications. In addition, there are also free online career assessments that students can take to identify their interests, preferred environments, and possible career options.
High school and college are never easy chapters in life. In the years leading up to college, your child might feel a variety of pressures and anxieties. That’s why it doesn’t hurt to start exploring your options early on and to start getting your homeschooled child ready for college. Remind them that you are here to support them no matter what, and open a line of communication. Once they know you are by their side, the future will suddenly seem much clearer!