If you’re a homeschooling parent, you will eventually face the tough decision (if you haven’t already) on whether or not to keep homeschooling your child all the way through high school.
Often, much fear and trepidation accompanies that process and, unfortunately, all too often leads to families deciding their student would be better off entering a traditional school program.
I get why many parents opt out of homeschooling high school, but much of the fear is misplaced.
I was homeschooled K-12 and when I reflect back on that experience there are a few common themes that emerge as being the big things that homeschooling contributed to preparing me for college and beyond.
These weren’t necessarily academic things. “Schooling” is in the word “Homeschooling” so it’s easy to get caught up in the academics of homeschooling high school, but it then becomes easy to forget that homeschooling has been shown to develop students that are more than just academic performers; they’ve more well-rounded people.
Considering adult life is the big thing that happens after high school, I think some of those ‘X’ variables of homeschooling are some of the best college prep I got.
5 ways homeschooling prepared me for college.
1. Taking care of myself.
It was with great surprise that I listened to a friend exclaim to me over dinner one night his sense of accomplishment having learned how to do a load of laundry by himself…. in the second semester.
Learning this “survival skill” of living on his own was this big accomplishment for him, but a matter of course for me. Why?
Chores. In our homeschool household, my siblings and I were on a rotating chore list that meant we did a different set of chores each week (cleaning, dishes, laundry, ironing, etc). By the time I graduated from high school I was capable of doing way more than just dressing myself and getting a shower. I knew the importance of regular laundry and keeping a living space clean.
2. Reading and critical thinking.
Every summer through elementary and junior high, my mom signed my siblings and I up for a reading program. I loved to read anyway so it was a nice excuse to read as much as I wanted, but this program went a long way towards getting me ready for higher education.
The theme each summer was different, and their were specific categories of books to read in order to score points. This meant that I was required to read books from a variety of academic fields while recognizing thematic connections.
By the time I hit high school and college, I had built up a large base of “general knowledge” that allowed me easier access to the different fields in the liberal arts.
Not only was I better equipped to handle the diversity of reading that college threw at me, but I could think about it in a more cohesive and complete sense.
3. Relating to adults.
I will be the first to admit that relating to my peers was a bit of a struggle going through high school because I had a small peer group that I interacted with on a regular basis.
Just my saying that may confirm your worst fears about the dreaded lack of socialization in homeschooling, but please keep reading.
One group I related to very well was adults. I could engage in conversation, work with, and express myself to my elders with a great degree of confidence. How?
My mom would have me call businesses to inquire if they carried a product in stock and its price (pre Internet), which taught clear communication and phone etiquette. I worked odd jobs around the neighborhood, which required negotiating prices. I was routinely sent out on errands to pick something up at the store, or drop something off. I engaged in the adult world independently early on.
When I got to college, this allowed me a far easier time of relating to my professors and university administration. I knew how to formulate questions and how to listen to the answers.
4. Work and finances.
There was something of a rule in our house: Parents paid for living/health expenses and sports, I paid for most everything else – new bike, acting class, etc. This required an awareness of budgets and a willingness to work for the money needed.
I don’t remember a time that I wasn’t doing something to earn some extra cash. Washing cars, collecting recycling, doing yard work – you name it. Being homeschooled allowed me the flexible schedule to find these work opportunities.
Out of that, I became very responsible with my money, learned how to keep a ledger of my expenses, studied investments, and developed a work ethic that has served me extremely well.
When I got to college, I was able to balance work and school, stay out of credit card debt, and graduated with enough money saved up to buy a car.
During a job search this summer, I discovered that adaptability is a work skill in high demand due to the fast changing world of work place technology.
Adaptability – the ability to adjust and incorporate changes to your environment smoothly and constructively.
Failure to adapt in college doesn’t mean a student drops out, but that she muddles through the best she can with what study and life tools she picked up in high school. Often, these tools are insufficient for the demands of the adult world.
For me, growing up in a homeschool environment where what, how, and where we learned were frequently in flux, I was primed to adapt to different learning environments.
Because I understood learning to be something that could happen anywhere about anything, I was mentally prepared for the rapidly shifting learning environment of the college campus. In fact, I welcomed it.
5 ways I wasn’t prepared.
1. Dealing with weird people.
I’ll admit, that phrase isn’t very nice, but let me explain. By “weird people” I really just mean anyone who rubbed me the wrong way. Whether that was temperament, sociability, or personality.
We all have those people in our lives – people we just have a difficult time interacting with. Well, college is a pretty big place, with a lot of different personality and behavior types.
I was a little overwhelmed.
Now, before you jump to the “unsocialized homeschooler” explanation, let’s clarify that the problem here was not that I couldn’t relate to people (see #3 above). Rather, the problem lay more with my ability to relate to my peers, which was not made easy given the fact that I’m an introvert.
However, adaptability (#5 above) came to the rescue. Not only did I learn to adapt to the diversity of the college environment, but frequently received the compliment of being able to positively engage with people of differing personalities.
2. Asking a girl out.
Pretty well-known part of the homeschooling experience: Dating in high school doesn’t always happen.
When I got to college and wanted to ask girls out, I was really hesitant. I just didn’t know how to approach it. In a lot of ways, I was making it more complicated than it needed to be, but not having previous experience to fall back on didn’t help me see that.
I could relate to girls without trouble, it was taking the next step to going on a date that seemed impossible.
I got the hang of it eventually, however, and have a wonderful wife as a result.
3. Handling unexpected freedom.
Not sure any student is ever ready for this one. It’s interesting that in so many ways, homeschooling absolutely prepared me for college. Academically, personally, professionally – I was ready to go, even ahead of the curve.
On all the big areas of concern that parents have about sending their kid off to college my parents had prepared me well to handle them (with the exception of the aforementioned girls).
But that first taste of near total freedom is one heady cup to drink.
Stay up late as you want. Eat whatever you want. Go to whatever movie you want. Do whatever you want (within reason).
All the talk and training in personal responsibility could be ignored with seemingly inconsequential results. Luckily, life has a way of helping you self-correct. After the initial rush of freedom came the dawning realization that one can use freedom, or abuse it.
4. Handling disappointment.
I’m competitive and was used to getting high grades by the time I got to college. A year in junior college cemented my confidence when I made straight ‘A’s.
I transferred to a four-year school thinking I had it figured out.
I got a ‘C’ my first semester.
Granted, I got ‘A’s everywhere else, but that ‘C’ shook my confidence and my GPA. The last several weeks of the semester, when I knew I wasn’t going to get a better grade, were me coming to terms with the disappointment of my performance. This was a wonderful learning experience and I’m thankful for it, but it was something I was not fully prepared for at the time.
5. Willing to listen.
I teach public speaking and one of the critical components of that course is to get students to recognize that good speakers are good listeners first.
That’s a lesson I had to learn the hard way.
Growing up in a house where discussion and debate where routine dinner table fare, and competitive speech and debate part of high school, it was easy for me to talk over people.
I went to college confident (good), well-spoken (also good), and outspokenly over-opinionated (bad).
Did homeschooling create that monster? Yes and no.
No, because my parents worked overtime to teach me humility and listening, I just didn’t listen very well.
Yes, because I knew I had read and studied more than most of my peers.
In some ways, this unwillingness to listen grew out of my misinterpretation of what homeschooling was preparing me for. It wasn’t supposed to be about making me the smartest kid in the room.
Thankfully, I had some great friends and teachers in college who modeled good listening and I’ve become much better at it. You can ask my wife. 🙂
Does this mean that homeschooling is unhelpful? Of course not.
Those five ways I wasn’t prepared? I still learned and adapted and I got that from homeschooling too.
I knew how to learn, how to observe and self-reflect.
Yes, I had blind spots going into college, but I also had tools that helped me adjust.
I think that’s the biggest takeaway here: Homeschooling taught me more than academics.
Look at that list of how I was prepared for college. Only one of those items is academic in nature – reading and critical thinking. The rest are life skills that were taught as part of everyday life.
When preparing homeschoolers for college, it’s easy to get caught up in the academics. However, it’s very important that you not lose sight of the fact that one of the unique components of homeschooling is its capacity to teach students life skills that are often difficult to attain in more traditional school environments.
If preparing your homeschooler for college seems overwhelming, take a minimalist approach to organizing high school while focusing on developing some of the life skills that will be of lasting value.
One of homeschooling’s greatest strengths is that it is a framework for education, not merely a program, which is really helpful for making college prep both a passive and active part of your homeschool lifestyle.