Can Homeschoolers Go To College? How Homeschool Students Apply
Fact-checked by qualified homeschool instructors and based on work by Cafi Cohen, columnist for Home Education Magazine and Homeschooling Today.
Can homeschoolers get a college degree? Of course, they can! Both my spouse and I come from homeschooling families and successfully graduated college. Between our families and those of many of our friends, we have a wealth of homeschooling college prep experience under our belt.
If you or your child is interested in continuing to homeschool at the college level or in transitioning from homeschooling to a traditional university experience, it’s important to understand all of the educational paths available to you.
Related: The Ultimate Homeschool Supply List
Do You Need a High School Diploma to Go to College?
One of the first questions homeschool families of teens ask is whether a high school degree or diploma is necessary to get into college. There are several routes that homeschool families commonly take in order to get their children the credentials necessary to get into most accredited schools.
During the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, homeschooling became more popular. On top of that, a lot of students had to finish out their junior or senior years with distance learning, online public school, or some sort of in-person/remote hybrid.
If the students were enrolled at their local public schools during this time, they should have received a diploma just as if they were attending in person full time. This is not what most homeschoolers think of when they hear the term “homeschooling.”
The new distance learning model schools used during/post-COVID is not homeschooling. It’s remote public school.
Parents that are truly planning to homeschool their children usually take one of two basic routes: diploma, or certificate.
Ways to Get a High School Diploma as a Homeschooled Student
1. Try a Hybrid Public School / Homeschool Model
The first popular method for homeschooled students to receive a diploma is through a hybrid solution, in which the child is homeschooled during the younger years but enrolls in a public or private high school for all or part of high school.
The student then graduates high school with a state-issued diploma, the same as any other public school student. This solution allows families flexibility, addresses concerns about social interaction, and helps prepare children for a college-like setting.
Another incentive to get a high school diploma as a homeschool student is college scholarship eligibility. Attending the local high school for their final years enables formerly homeschooled students to apply for local scholarships and grant applications reserved for enrolled public school students.
Since not all states will allow homeschooled students to take individual classes or extracurriculars through their public school districts, attending a public high school part-time allows students to participate in sports, electives, school-hosted events, and academic clubs.
2. Join Distance Education Programs
To get a diploma while still homeschooling during grades K-12, families can also look into partnering with a qualified school that offers a distance education diploma program.
Distance education programs are typically available at private schools. The advantage to distance-ed setups is that the school maintains grades and transcripts for college prep convenience, and the student receives a diploma upon completing school.
3. Get a Parent-Issued Diploma
In a previous interview with Family Education, Cafi Cohen, author of multiple books on homeschooling, said, "Every homeschooler can have a document verifying graduation from high school because, as the principals and administrators of small private schools, all homeschool parents can create their own diplomas."
Parent-issued diplomas don’t need to hold sway at the college admissions level, she said, because admissions officers generally “rely primarily on transcripts, test scores, and letters of recommendation. Most never ask about diplomas because typical applicants, high-school seniors, do not yet have them."
How to Earn High School Certification / Credentials as a Homeschooler
The primary alternative to diplomas for homeschoolers is certificate programs. These work by having students prepare for and take a series of exams to close out their schooling and receive a high school equivalency certificate.
Probably the two best-known are the GED and the HiSet. Both are awarded via standardized testing. Students can take these tests at their local proctoring centers.
1. Get a G.E.D.
The GED is so ingrained in American pop culture that it’s become synonymous with diploma alternatives. Its initials, although often popularized with other slogans, officially stand for “general educational development.”
Test subjects cover four primary areas of study: math, reasoning through language arts (critical reading), science, and social studies. Students must be at least 16 and cannot be enrolled in a traditional high school at testing time. Practice test questions are available online.
2. Take the HiSET Exam
The HiSET Exam is a popular alternative to a GED. The HiSet Exam is a five-part test series comprised of reading, writing, math, science, and social studies questions.
On their website, the HiSET promises big results: “Your HSE [high school equivalency] credential will be accepted by every state, territory and jurisdiction, as well as by the U.S. Department of Education, the U.S. military and federal programs.”
The primary difference between the two test styles is in the language arts sections, which are split into two parts on the HiSET. Practice questions are available here.
How Homeschoolers Should Prepare to Apply to College
1. Take College Prep Courses
Homeschool families should look into entry requirements for their target colleges while their students are still taking high school-level coursework.
These include, but are not limited to, foreign language, upper mathematics (algebra, geometry, trigonometry, or calculus), core sciences (biology, chemistry, earth science), and English-language composition and literature classes.
Starting out with some general college prep in the students’ lesson plans will save time and money later.
2. Understand College Costs and Save for Tuition
Paying for college can be trickier for homeschoolers, because they’re typically not eligible for as many scholarships as their peers in public school would be.
To find scholarships and grants, they can search online, check their local library and clubs for local resources, or reach out to their preferred schools. Volunteer work may also connect them to scholarship opportunities.
Another common way to help cover college costs — as with many public school students — is military service. Students who serve may attend classes for their assigned military occupational specialties (MOS) during their service, or qualify to use G.I. Bill benefits later on.
It’s also not uncommon for homeschooled students to adjust their schedules so they can work part time and save some money before graduating high school.
Students who have connections to family farms or businesses often have a secondary advantage: They can gain work experience as well as do their schooling at home.
3. Research Dual Enrollment Policies
Some states have dual enrollment options for high school and college classes. Others will allow homeschoolers to take one or more classes via the public school system to enrich their home-based curricula.
Students with special needs may or may not also qualify for supports through their local districts. These policies vary widely, so families should consult their local superintendents and state laws to verify their options.
4. Take the Required Standardized Tests
Before they complete high school, homeschooled students should also plan to take the SAT, the ACT, or an equivalent standardized test. These tests are usually proctored through local schools or colleges and offered up to a few times each year.
The PSAT, which should be taken is recommended both as soft preparation for the SAT and because it can get the student onto college lists for scholarships and offers.
A common piece of advice is for homeschool students to take CLEP testing before or after graduation. These are standardized tests that can sometimes allow students to skip lower-level coursework if they receive passing scores.
Our experience is that willingness to accept testing or transcripts in lieu of additional coursework depends on the school.
5. Know If You Can Transfer Credits
Many public school and homeschool students choose to attend a community college for the first few years of higher education, and then transfer to a more expensive university later in order to save money.
However, transferring credits can be tricky, since not all schools will accept all transferred credits as the general education requirement they were originally intended to meet.
Always check with an academic advisor at the intended transfer institution first to confirm whether or not certain credits will transfer correctly if not taken through their program.
Improperly transferred credits can add months or years to the degree’s completion time and end up costing more money in the long run!
Additional Resources for Homeschool Families Applying to College:
For more information on the different higher education and future career opportunities available to homeschoolers and strategies for getting into the best college, check out this further reading:
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Kate is a journalist, editor, and mom to five adopted and biological children.